Kusal Perera, the Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-batsman, is free to resume playing cricket with immediate effect after the ICC lifted the provisional suspension imposed on him for doping. The ICC said there was no decisive evidence that Perera, who was suspended in December 2015, had used performance-enhancing substances after a detailed examination of the Qatar-based testing facility’s finding 19-Norandrostenedione – the banned substance – in Perera’s sample.
The withdrawal is the result of a sustained challenge from Perera’s legal team, who according to the ICC “in a recent letter”, had “suggested for the first time that the Qatar laboratory might have misidentified impurities in the samples as 19-Norandrostenedione, given the very low concentrations of that substance found in the samples”.
In response, the ICC said it hired an independent expert to review all of the Qatar laboratory’s findings. Though the expert concluded the lab had correctly identified the substance in the samples, the expert’s view was that the lab’s finding was not sustainable. This was because, “for various scientific and technical reasons, it could not be ruled out that the 19-Norandrostenedione was produced naturally in the player’s body and/or formed in the samples after the player provided them.”
The ICC then relayed these concerns to the lab, which has now “withdrawn the Adverse Analytical Finding and is instead reporting an Atypical Finding.” The lab said no further testing on Perera’s samples were warranted, but did recommend “the monitoring of the player’s steroid profile moving forward”.
Essentially, the case has been struck down, because the independent expert cast doubt upon the scientific and technical means by which the lab arrived at the conclusion that there was 19-Norandrostenedione in Perera’s urine.
Perera, who maintained his innocence throughout, missed the entire tour of New Zealand, a bilateral T20 series against India, the Asia Cup, and the World T20, due to the provisional suspension brought on by the charges against him. He was also not named in Sri Lanka’s Test squad for England. Perera featured in all three formats for Sri Lanka prior to the suspension, and had also been the Test wicketkeeper and no. 7 batsman.
“Had it not been for the diligence of Mr Perera’s legal team and the ICC’s own desire to uncover the explanation for the reported findings, the consequences could well have been different, and that should be of concern to all involved in the fight against doping,” ICC CEO Dave Richardson said. “We regret what Mr Perera has had to endure, and would like to commend him for the manner in which he has conducted himself throughout this period We wish to make it clear that there is no evidence that Mr Perera has ever used performance-enhancing substances and we wish him well in his future cricketing endeavours.”
Perera has not been training with the Sri Lanka team, putting a dent in the likelihood of his being added to the 17-man Test squad presently in England. However, it remains a possibility. In any case, Perera is likely to be in the fray for the limited-overs matches that follow the Tests.
Unlike in Yasir Shah’s recent doping case, the ICC had not previously named the substance found in each of Perera’s samples. However, the withdrawal of charges after as many as five months, does throw the World Anti-Doping Agency’s testing mechanisms, and the processes at the Qatar lab in particular, into question.
“The ICC is troubled in this case by the fact that the Qatar laboratory has issued an Adverse Analytical Finding that has then had to be withdrawn,” Richardson said. “Whilst I am confident that this is an isolated incident in respect of tests commissioned by the ICC, we are seeking an urgent explanation from WADA and the laboratory in an attempt to understand what has transpired and what will be done to ensure it does not happen again. We will also immediately review our own internal processes to see whether there might be additional steps over and above those required by WADA that the ICC could put in place in order to give international cricketers further comfort.”
Perera has largely laid low through his suspension, and has had the support of Sri Lanka Cricket. SLC had been particularly involved in finding him legal counsel. As 19-Norandrostenedione is a directly performance-enhancing substance, he faced a ban of up to four years if the findings and their consequent charges had been upheld.