The England and Wales Cricket Board has softened its recreational drugs policy and dropped the clandestine 21-day ban that led to Alex Hales missing out on the World Cup last year.
Hales has not played for England since the start of last summer after the Guardian revealed he was sitting out matches for Nottinghamshire because of a three-week suspension, rather than the “personal reasons” the club stated at the time.
This punishment, which also included a fine worth 5% of his annual salary, came after Hales had failed a hair follicle test – the method used to detect recreational drug use – for the second time in his career.
But under the revised code for 2020, a second offence now results in a 10% fine with no suspension and remains confidential; only a third such violation triggers any kind of playing ban (12 months) and public disclosure.
An ECB spokesperson said: “We can confirm that there has been an update to the Recreational Drugs Policy for 2020. This was part of a broad consultation involving stakeholders from the wider game including first‑class counties and the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
“The policy takes into account the important consideration of player welfare whilst ensuring there are meaningful sanctions for each violation. There was further consensus from all parties that any bans will be made public.”
The removal of a cricketing sanction at two strikes could in fact be viewed as a reduction in deterrent, not least with salaries on the rise under the ECB’s new £1.1bn broadcast deal.
But the policy change at least ends the situation whereby a player misses games and the paying public is misled, with only senior officials at their club and the ECB, as well as the CEO of the Professional Cricketers Association, privy to the real reasons.
It saw Ed Smith, the national selector, and the captain Eoin Morgan oblivious to Hales’s true situation when naming the batsman in their provisional World Cup squad last year. Already on a final warning following the Bristol street fight in 2017, Hales was then removed on the eve of the tournament because of what Morgan called a “breakdown in trust”.