Specter of Doping Accompanies a Flashier Form of Cricket

“I would rate the risk of doping in cricket as high,” Ings added, “and the quality of the sport’s coordinated global antidoping efforts as poor.”

The I.C.C., which governs the game worldwide, said it conducted 547 drug tests in 2016 — suggesting that a reasonable proportion of top male international cricketers were tested, although testing is less common at lower levels and in the women’s game.

The council has announced plans to introduce blood testing starting in June, largely to monitor the potential use of human growth hormone, which does not show up in urine samples.

“I don’t think you can possibly say drug free, but we are doing all that we can to police cricket,” said Sally Clark, the senior legal counsel for the I.C.C.

The fear inside the game is that while cricket has had spasmodic concerns with drugs before, it now faces a much more sustained threat, perhaps similar to what baseball encountered two decades ago.

“The I.C.C. and the World Anti-Doping Agency view that the power-based skill set required in T20 makes it a sport that fits a similar profile to baseball,” said Tony Irish, the executive chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations.


Andre Russell was barred for a year for failing to file his whereabouts with doping officials.

Bikas Das/Associated Press

Test cricket, the most traditional and slowest form of the game, rewards scoring runs while taking minimal risk; matches last five days. But in T20 cricket, the goal is different. With matches completed in only a few hours, teams try to score as quickly as possible, with shots that are hit over the boundary for six runs being particularly important. The emphasis on the power those big hits require — over more careful shot-making — means that performance-enhancing drugs have the potential to make a big difference for batsmen.

Performance-enhancing drugs also could be appealing to bowlers, just as they were to some baseball pitchers seeking to match the increasing strength of batters. Bowlers have an especially high risk of injury, so drugs that increase endurance could help them bowl more, and therefore play a fuller part in T20 leagues.

But for cricketers of all types, the use of performance-enhancing drugs has become more attractive because of the sheer amount of money available in T20 leagues. Contracts in the region of $1 million are common in the Indian Premier League, a six-week tournament. The popularity of T20 cricket has led to the formation of other leagues, too, and all of them compete for the services of the world’s best players.

So where once leading cricketers might have expected to have almost half a year off, now they can play virtually nonstop, moving from one T20 league, and one rich contract, to the next. Russell, for example, played for seven T20 teams in 2016, winning five titles.

“Risk is a function of motive and opportunity,” Ings said. “Motive in cricket exists because selections are highly competitive, contracts involve massive sums of money and injuries are common.” A player who gets injured, he said, risks losing his contract, and affecting his next one.

Effective antidoping education has been made trickier by the diffusion of top T20 leagues, which sprawl from India, Australia and Hong Kong to England and the Caribbean. Since many players are based in their home countries less frequently, that “makes educating players consistently harder,” Irish said while acknowledging “more could be done from a global educational perspective to prevent issues arising and avoid the need for punitive punishment.”

Enforcement also remains an issue. Despite missing three tests in 2015, Russell played on for 11 months — a period in which he helped the West Indies win the World Twenty20 tournament — before he was suspended.

With the number of domestic T20 leagues growing, it may be impossible for the I.C.C. to monitor antidoping efforts in cricket. The I.C.C. conducts out-of-competition testing on cricketers who have played international matches in the previous two years. But players who have not played international cricket in this period, or have retired from the international game, are not subject to I.C.C. testing.

For such cricketers, drug testing depends on national governing bodies and antidoping authorities. Although all 10 full-member countries in the I.C.C. have antidoping codes in place, there are inconsistent standards of testing across the different leagues. So players in less-heralded competitions could have particular reason to be tempted, knowing how good performances could increase their chances of being picked up by a more lucrative league.

Even in England, which considers itself more vigilant against drug use than other leading cricket nations, only 193 drug tests were conducted on professional male or female cricketers in the 12-month period that ended in March, meaning that around two-thirds of players were not tested. In England, no tests were conducted in domestic women’s competitions last year (although there were tests in international matches).

“It seems a low number and not much of a deterrence,” said Paul Dimeo, an expert on doping in sport from the University of Stirling. “It also makes it to hard to ascertain if there is a risk of doping behaviors occurring.”

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