|Player:||Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif, Naved-ul-Hasan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan|
|Event:||ICC Champions Trophy 2006/07|
DateLine: 16th October 2006
Pakistan's team management on Monday put a brave face on a drug row involving Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, saying the team were geared up for the Champions Trophy battle against Sri Lanka.
The fast bowling duo were scheduled to return home Monday night after testing positive for a banned drug, just a day before Pakistan were to take on Sri Lanka in their opening Group B match here.
"Captain (Younis Khan) and I are disappointed that this has happened," said Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer.
"I am pretty confident that the team will take the adversity in their stride and rise to the occasion. I am sure we will play good, competitive cricket tomorrow."
Akhtar and Asif were prominent cricketers to be caught in the doping net after Australian leg-spin wizard Shane Warne, who was banned for one year just before the start of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
Akhtar, nicknamed the 'Rawalpindi Express' for his speed, has so far grabbed 165 wickets in 42 Tests and 208 in 133 one-day internationals.
Asif, an emerging paceman, has bagged 30 wickets in six Tests and 19 in 17 one-dayers.
The Pakistani captain said it was always tough to miss a pair of key fast bowlers before an important match, but it could have been worse had the news come during the tournament.
"We have to face it and move on. I think it could have been worse had it come during the tournament. But I am still positive and confident of a good performance," said Younis.
"It is tough, but it also makes me stronger. I think we have the replacements and won't face any problems tomorrow. The question is not about winning or losing. Our aim is to play good cricket."
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had arranged to test 19 players before the Champions Trophy from a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory in Malaysia.
"Two of our players, namely Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, have tested positive for Nandrolone which is a banned anabolic steroid. The PCB has asked for reconfirmation of the tests," said Pakistani team manager Talat Ali.
"The PCB has decided to withdraw the two players from the Champions Trophy immediately. The players will return back home on the first available flight.
"The ICC has been informed of this decision and discussions are under way with the ICC regarding their replacements."
The row is the latest to hit Pakistan cricket, which has been grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent months.
First-choice captain Inzamam-ul-Haq was banned for four one-dayers following his role in the fourth and final Test against England at the Oval where his side forfeited the match, the first such instance in Test history.
His replacement, Younis, initially stepped down apparently over the team's selection before being reinstated just a few days ahead of the ongoing tournament.
The PCB also appointed Nasim Ashraf as its new chairman in place of Shahriar Khan, who was removed.
The Pakistani coach admitted his team faced a stiff task against Sri Lanka, who have won three matches in a row in the current tournament.
"We have not discussed what impact this (drug row) will have on the team. It has happened so quickly," said Woolmer.
"Yes, they (Sri Lanka) are playing very well at the moment. They have a solid middle order and have the world's best off-spinner (Muttiah Muralitharan) in their side. They are not an easy team to beat," said Woolmer.
South Africa and New Zealand are other teams in this group, with the top two advancing to the semi-finals.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 AFP)