Zubayr Hamza and the Test that doesn't exist (sort of)

A tale of drugs, official stats and cricket's weirdness.

Something very cricket happened recently, a thing that makes no sense, but also kind of had to happen.

Zubayr Hamza was suspended for a drugs violation for having Furosemide in his system. It looks like it was an accident, so he was given a lenient penalty. He was still suspended because the substance was still in his system even if it wasn’t on purpose. That part is fairly normal. You see that in many sports around the world.

The problems occurred because he played a match after his initial violation. He played when he should have been suspended. That does happen in sport. It’s not that extraordinary.

But then what followed was that the ICC said that Hamza’s Test wouldn’t count. In fact, they said his individual starts wouldn’t count. Now that is very interesting because the ICC don’t run official stats. No one technically runs cricket stats. They just exist.

From KK’s follow-up tweet, you can see that Cricinfo and Cricbuzz have different stats for Mohammad Shahzad. There are discrepancies across many players. There aren’t even full scorecards for all international matches, and it’s a bit of a perpetual shitshow. I am sorry if you now feel uncomfortable, knowing that no one is in charge of what an essential thing, I am sorry.

And as I have covered before, there are still people who argue that Jack Hobbs has 197 first class hundreds or 199. It’s one of my favourite nonsensical things about cricket. The man made so many hundreds we can’t agree on how many. There are no official counters. Cricket existed for a long time before the ICC existed, people just counted stats, and so there are heaps of discrepancies.

A few years back, a player asked me for how many runs they had scored in a league. I gave them a number, and then the league gave them another one. I don’t know who was right.

So yes, the ICC are saying that his official stats should reflect the suspension. But even the ICC know this doesn’t make any sense. They are just trying to follow the WADA regulations. So their thinking is actually fairly sound in some ways. The only other things they can really do is take away Player of the match and tournament awards, and Hamza will no longer be in the rankings. Which they have done before.

Other than that, the ICC doesn’t really handle stats and records. Remember the ICC is not even in charge of Test cricket. This was a bilateral series, even though it was part of the World Test championship. One of the few things they are in charge of happens to be drug sanctions.

WADA probably don’t care that much, unless someone makes the fastest hundred while technically being suspended. But in truth WADA have never been that interested in cricket, and if a World Record was broken for batting or bowling, I don’t think they’d notice. I mean, we don’t even use the phrase World Record really.

Also, the innings still will have happened. That is part of the problem. There really is no way to stop that, and that is before factoring in that this is a team game. It all gets more weird.

So even if we had proper official stats, you can’t just take Hamza out of them individually. In that Test match he played, New Zealand won, but what if South Africa did. Is that still a fair result with a player who was actually on banned substances at the time?

Do you just take his runs off the total, which is one way to do it, but being that most Tests aren’t that close, it might not affect many of them. But Hamza isn’t just runs, he is also catches, runs saved, runs run for the player at the other end, and run-outs.

And so it’s a delightfully cricket thing to ignore all the tricky parts of our game, and just focus on the one thing that doesn’t exist at all. His official individual stats.

We focus on the Test matches, but Hamza actually played in four matches in total, a first class game and two other list A games. Weirdly enough, Hamza was on the losing side three times. And so I suppose from a team point of view, it doesn’t matter enough.

But, his team won a single match, when Western Province chased 197, and they won off the final delivery with nine wickets down. It sounds fun, and in that game, Hamza made 19 runs, which in the end were pretty important.

However, no one really cares about list A cricket anymore, if they ever did. I doubt Cricket South Africa will release any statement about that match. Western Province will have beaten Lions for the rest of time, even though one of their players has been retroactively suspended from that time.

Oh, and incase you don’t know much about Zubayr Hamza. He’s a top-order batter from South Africa who in six Tests, who has yet to live up to the potential he has shown in first class cricket. In the five day game he’s averaged 17.66 so far.

Except, that’s not quite right, because officially, he has now played only five Tests and averages 18.10. Also share a thought for Matt Henry and Kyle Jamieson, who took the wicket of Hamza in that Test, and now it’s a mystery faceless wicket.

Cricket is such a magnificent game.