Warwickshire's decision to terminate the contract of Keith Piper with immediate effect is sad but inevitable.
From the moment Piper was banned until the end of the season by the England and Wales Cricket Board his fate was sealed. The club could hardly be expected to continue to pay the salary of a man who had made himself unplayable. Aged 36 by the start of next season, his playing career is surely at an end.
The decision is also consistent with the stance taken against Graham Wagg, though whether being consistently harsh is admirable is a moot point.
Both players failed tests for recreational drugs - Piper the Class C graded cannabis and Wagg the more serious Class A drug, cocaine.
The club will take a more active role in the rehabilitation of Piper, paying for residential treatment and an extensive course of counselling. A future career as a coach is the carrot during what is hoped to be a successful course of treatment for Piper.
If that seems inconsistent, Warwickshire argue, not without logic, that Piper?s offence was less serious than Wagg?s.
Indeed the club?s stance has won support from one or two unlikely sources in the last day or two. Responding to a report in The Birmingham Post last Saturday, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers? Association, Richard Bevan, released the following statement:
?Following a report in The Birmingham Post, the PCA would like to make it clear that it does not hold Warwickshire responsible for the situation Keith has found himself in. And while in cases such as these the game?s stakeholders, that is the counties, the governing body and the players? union, must examine the effectiveness of their shared role in implementing drugs policy, it is ultimately the player, who, in an era of heightened awareness of what constitutes a breach of the rules, must shoulder greatest blame.
?In Keith?s case we feel that the county has played its part in helping the player to manage the problems in his personal life. Following his punishment, Keith has only just come to terms with his situation and really begun accepting help.?
Fair enough. Keith Piper and Graham Wagg have certainly been foolish. They knew what they were doing was against the law of the land and risked their careers anyway. Of course they must take the blame.
The Post?s point has always been that there were double standards applied. Remember, this is the club that signed Ed Giddins while he was serving a ban for taking cocaine. The point has been made in these pages before but, for a final time, here goes:
There is overwhelming evidence that Dennis Amiss was warned, from a coach and members of the playing staff, that there were concerns about ?lifestyle? issues relating to Piper long ago. Indeed, even at the time when Wagg?s contract was terminated, Amiss was aware of worrying reports about Piper.
In the words of the PCA solicitor, Ian Smith: ?Warwickshire knew at least eight years ago that Keith Piper had a drugs problem. They were like a parent who suspected that their daughter has just started sleeping around; they had fears but didn?t really want to find out the whole truth. They never confronted him because they were terrified about what they might discover.?
Amiss argues that the club acted against Piper in 1997. He was banned for one match for failing an in-house drugs test and there has been only speculation (much of it scurrilous), but no proof, ever since.
Furthermore, the lurid revelations of Dermot Reeve suggest there has been ?a culture? of drug-taking at the club for some time that the current administration have failed to comprehend or stamp out. Were does the buck stop?
The Post has also consistently made the point that Warwickshire have been harsh on foolish, but hardly evil, players at either end of their careers. Both are vulnerable and could do with help from the club they have served.
Personally I would prefer the ECB not to test for recreational drugs at all. The ECB is, in effect, taking a moral or political stance against law-breaking which sets a dangerous precedent. Can we, in future, expect to see players banned for drink driving or speeding? One could make a compelling case for arguing they are far more heinous crimes. It?s a matter for the police and sets the game an impossible task.
Even if one believes that Piper and Wagg had to be banned, there were alternatives. They could have been encouraged to work in the indoor school and coach young players. That way they could have repaid their debt to the club while maintaining their own career plans.