Sri Lanka’s Perera eyes comeback after doping blunder – Uncapped Vince and Ball in England squad

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Sri Lankan cricketer Kusal Perera (right), shakes hands with Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara (left), as Sri Lankan Cricket President Thilanga Sumathipala looks on during a press conference in Colombo on May 12. (AFP)
Sri Lankan cricketer Kusal Perera (right), shakes hands with Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara (left), as Sri Lankan Cricket President Thilanga Sumathipala looks on during a press conference in Colombo on May 12. (AFP)

COLOMBO, May 12, (AFP): Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kusal Perera targeted a swift return Thursday to international cricket after officials admitted the analysis of a doping test which triggered his suspension had been botched.

An emotional Perera told reporters he had suffered “tremendous mental stress” after testing positive for a banned anabolic steroid in Qatar last year but insisted he always knew he would be eventually cleared.

“I had not done anything wrong, but I went through tremendous mental stress,” Perera said at a press conference staged by Sri Lanka’s board.

“I want to start practising and get back to international cricket at the earliest.”

The 25-year-old said he was hopeful of being fit and ready to play in the home series against Australia at the end of July, linking up with his team-mates who are currently on tour in England.

“I thank my fans and the board who stood by me during this trying period. I knew I would be cleared. I am relieved all this is over and I want to get back into form.”

While Perera was suspended during Sri Lanka’s tour of New Zealand last December, his positive result came from out-of-competition testing at a laboratory in Qatar accredited by the world anti-doping authority (WADA).

But the International Cricket Council (ICC) lifted the suspension with immediate effect late Wednesday when it described the test as “an atypical finding” that could not be construed as evidence of doping.

“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,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said in a statement.

“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.”

Sri Lankan board president Thilanga Sumathipala said his organisation had managed to get Perera’s test results overturned after hiring a British law firm which advised them to commission independent scientific tests.

The tests found no evidence that Perera had taken a banned substance.

“He has been exonerated without a hearing, but based on the scientific evidence we provided,” Sumathipala said adding that the board expected the ICC to reimburse the $100,000 costs of the tests and legal advice.

The ICC said it was seeking an urgent explanation from WADA and the Qatar laboratory that tested Perera’s sample.

However, the Doping Analysis Laboratory insisted there was nothing wrong with their results and blamed a problem with “interpretation”.

“It’s crystal clear there’s no problem. It’s nothing to do with the laboratory, it’s to do with the interpretation, the procedure,” lab chief Costas Georgakopoulos told AFP in Doha.

As a result of the suspension, Perera was ruled out of Sri Lanka’s World Twenty20 title defence earlier this year and was not available for selection for the ongoing three-Test tour of England.

However a Sri Lankan board official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Perera could be called up to join the team for a series of one-day internationals that will be played after the Tests.

Meanwhile, uncapped duo James Vince and Josh Ball were both named Thursday in England’s 12-man squad for next week’s first Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley.

Hampshire batsman Vince could well make his Test debut in Leeds, given there is now a vacancy following the retirement through illness of James Taylor.

Nottinghamshire paceman Ball, meanwhile, looks set to compete with Steven Finn for the third seamer role in an attack set to be led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Vince, 25, already has five England limited-overs caps. His batting style has been compared to that of former England captain Michael Vaughan.

The Hampshire captain has made a sound start to the season, including scoring a hundred against county champions Yorkshire at Headingley in Leeds, northern England.

Ball, also 25, has made his case with 19 Championship wickets for Nottinghamshire so far this season.

“Both Jake Ball and James Vince thoroughly deserve their opportunity, having performed well with the England Lions (the national A or reserve side) and starting the season in good form with their respective counties,” said national selector James Whitaker in an England and Wales Cricket Board statement.

“James has been a consistent performer for Hampshire and England Lions over the past few years.

“He is already well-regarded by the England coaches in the short format and now has the opportunity to showcase his skills at Test level.”

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