Chief Cricket Writer George Dobell fears for Keith Piper and questions Warwickshire...
Keith Piper's predicament illustrates once again the passionate and polarised responses the issue of drugs in sport evokes.
Piper was suspended by Warwickshire last night pending a hearing in front of an England & Wales Cricket Board disciplinary panel later this week.
For some the very suggestion that a sportsman has taken forbidden substances will result in calls for a lifetime ban. Others distinguish between performance-enhancing and recreational; a few can't see what the problem is.
Perhaps much of the disparity of opinion is generational; the much wider use of recreational drugs in society today has led to a more opened-minded view from many younger people. Whether that is a good thing is a matter of opinion.
Piper's misdemeanour, taken in context, is very minor indeed. The drug he is alleged to have taken is not performance-enhancing. It would be of little interest to the police and has no effect whatsoever on his cricket.
So why all the fuss? If we accept that cannabis is not performance-enhancing, we must conclude that the cricketing authorities' stance on recreational drugs is moral. Is this what we want?
By logical extension, should we presume that players will now be punished by their clubs for drink driving? Or for speeding? Or even adultery? If so the gentlemen on the ECB disciplinary panel are likely to be mighty busy.
Despite the relatively minor nature of Piper's offence, however, it threatens not just to end his playing career but seriously compromise his move into coaching.
If Warwickshire follow the horribly harsh precedent they set in the case of Graham Wagg, Piper will be banned from all club grounds and facilities; a grossly disproportionate response.
It would also be a crying shame. Piper is a natural coach with much to offer. His technical excellence and enthusiasm would benefit many up-and-coming cricketers.
Perhaps almost as importantly, Piper needs to remain in the game. Cricket is all he has ever known and a future without it is a bleak prospect indeed. That does not mean that the game owes him a living but it hardly seems worth destroying a career over a nebulous principle.
It is important not to absolve Piper of responsibility. He is a 35-year-old man and should have known better. He knew the rules and he flouted them. Let's not forget that this is his second offence, either. He really is his own worst enemy.
But there is hypocrisy at the heart of Warwickshire's disciplinary policy. They appear more concerned with being seen to do the right thing rather than truly protecting the welfare of their staff and, in the Wagg case, were all too quick to wash their hands of a young and impressionable man who had been under their guidance since he was a child.
Punishment is fine but there has to be room for rehabilitation, too, or the result is purely destructive.
Besides, evidence suggests that some senior club officials knew a great deal more about Piper's lifestyle than they care to admit. They were happy to turn a blind eye, however, and throw Wagg to the wolves in the hope that they would be seen to be acting decisively. It has been an ugly episode in the club's history.
There are many similarities between the cases of Wagg and Piper. Each time the player's behaviour had aroused fears among colleagues. Neither positive sample was a surprise.
So why had no-one stepped in? Why is the off-field man management so poor at a club where so much is excellent? Warwickshire must take some responsibility for these cases and learn lessons.
Good could yet come of this incident. Warwickshire could repair the damage they caused in mismanaging Wagg's ban. He should be invited back to further his coaching qualifications in the indoor school and be allowed to bowl under the supervision of Warwickshire's bowling coaches.
Furthermore, Piper needs help. The ECB are certain to impose a ban of some sort but the club can at least ease the player's transition into coaching. It would not be condoning his behaviour to utilise his skills but it would repay the sterling work he has provided on the pitch since 1989 and be a compassionate response to a sad incident.
A few weeks ago Piper said that without cricket he could have drifted into a life of "trouble". He was described as "vulnerable" by Paul Smith and Dermot Reeve over the last few days and the fear is that if he is simply thrown on the scrap heap his life may take a steep downward turn.
That scenario benefits no one.