Tragic death exposes dark side of cricket

Al Jazeera’s Lee Wellings attends inquest into the death of English cricketer Tom Maynard.

The circumstances of young cricketer Tom Maynard’s death last summer are unbearably tragic and uncomfortable.

Now England and Wales cricket bosses need the right action in response, tightening their drug testing and doing even more to address some of the lifestyle choices of young cricketers.

An inquest has laid bare the sequence of events that led to a cricketer who’s broken into the England Lions team being hit by a train in south London while fleeing from police.

The inquest was to determine the facts, not the guilt. Sadly it was Maynard himself who made decisions on the summer night that ultimately cost the life of this popular, talented, charismatic young man.

The son of Matthew Maynard, a Welshman who batted for England, 23 year-old Tom was catching the eye with his performance for Surrey last summer.

Away from the cricket field he was drinking too much and taking ‘social’ drugs including ecstasy and cocaine.

Ten days before his death, Tom and friends/team mates Rory Hamilton-Brown (Surrey captain at time) and Jade Dernbach (an England bowler) were part of a drink-related incident in Brighton. It left Tom hit and injured by a car and all three disciplined by Surrey.

At the inquest Hamilton-Brown admitted that the players would sometimes drink heavily, though at other times there would be no drinking at all, depending on the match schedule.

But things were clearly getting out of control with Maynard in particular, and the evidence from a pathologist in court showed he’d used cocaine regularly in the three months before his death.

On the fateful day last June, Surrey were beaten by Kent in a one-day match. Nothing untoward about defeat and not being happy about it, said Hamilton-Brown in court but lessons from Brighton hadn’t been taken in at all.

They didn’t have a match the next day yet what followed made difficult listening in court. A heavy drinking session. From beers to vodkas over many hours, from alcohol at home to pub to club, these were young men pushing and breaking the limits.

Maynard was also taking drugs.

Both cricketers and Maynard’s girlfriend Carly Brown under oath said they were unaware of him using drugs at all. What definitely happened is that Maynard set off at 0330 in the morning to his girlfriend’s house, more than three times over the driving limit for alcohol.

He didn’t slow down at a junction in his Mercedes, ignored a police request to stop and when the road was blocked off he fled on foot. After the chasing police office lost him there was a point where he tried to cross the rail tracks.

The jury decided the death was accidental. His motionless body was hit by a train at 0500 in the morning, with inconclusive evidence he was electrocuted first.

The pain of losing a life and talent has understandably mattered more than the need to find out why Tom Maynard decided to drink so much, to take drugs, to drive his car, to cross the line by such a distance.

But could Surrey have done any more? Could the county game have done more? Could the England and Wales cricket board keep players on the straight and narrow?

Dernbach was asked how many times he is drug tested at Surrey.

‘Some years maybe eight or ten. But other times only once or twice.’

These tests are clearly not watertight. Once or twice a season? For any player? That’s not enough. Dernbach himself accepted that if Maynard had been tested and found guilty of using drugs, performance enhancing or not, he’d have been banned for two years. The ECB have vowed to step up their testing for recreational drugs.

The ECB needs a more consistent approach on exactly how testing is done, ensuring there aren’t big discrepancies from county to county and player to player.

The joint Surrey/ECB statement released as I was writing this (in full below) shows they agree with me about the need to develop and educate. Cricketers have always pushed the limits more than some others in sport as the games and the hours invite socialising with team mates, often to excess. But despite the ECB and Players Association making earnest efforts to support and educate some players clearly haven’t got the message.

The Coroner even ended the case by calling on Surrey CCC, cricket and all sports to use hair analysis in drug testing for the depth and longevity of information it provides. This is not an issue for English cricket alone. Cricket clubs and indeed sports clubs across the world can learn from this and the World Anti-Doping Agency will have followed the case closely too.

Some will take the view that Surrey and the ECB are no more to blame than our own bosses would be for lifestyle choices of employees. But they can improve knowledge on who is misbehaving, and can try to help prevent players succumbing to the temptations that this unusual lifestyle can throw up.

This story is closer to home than most I’ve covered for Al Jazeera. I live near Wimbledon where the tragedy unfolded and I’ve followed Surrey throughout my life. I had watched and enjoyed Maynard playing in the days and weeks before and agreed that he was likely to play for England in years to come.

Waking up to discover a young sportsman has died was chilling. But in these circumstances? It’s horrifying and I join those whose thoughts are with the family in Wales.

And that’s why Tom’s story in all its horror needed to be told.

An inquest was to determine the who, the how, the where, the when but it’s the why that counts now.

And the role drink and drugs played needs to be considered by everyone involved in English cricket.

Surrey/ECB statement

In the light of today’s verdict, ECB and Surrey CCC would like to re-iterate that this incident was a terrible human tragedy and again extend our condolences to the Maynard family and to Tom Maynard’s many friends and colleagues within the professional game.

While the ECB accepts that recreational drug use is a part of modern society, we do not condone it and will take all reasonable steps to prevent its use within the game. We also believe we have a responsibility to educate all our players and are committed to supporting any player who needs help in this area.

Surrey CCC began its own investigations into conduct at the end of last season and introduced a team-wide anti-drug policy which all players and management are required to abide by. Working in partnership with ECB and PCA further recommendations have been initiated.

The ECB Board has recently agreed to develop an out of competition testing programme to encompass recreational drugs, in co-operation with the PCA.

These measures will supplement ECB’s existing anti-doping programme which involves in and out of competition testing through UK Anti-Doping in compliance with the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code and financial support which ECB provides to PCA for player education and support programmes.

The ECB’s testing programme applies to all registered County players and up to 200 tests are carried out on average each year. This approximates to around 35-40 per cent of the overall number of registered professional players. Last year one player (Abdur Rehman of Somerset) tested positive for cannabis following an in-competition test.

England players are tested in addition as part of the ICC’s own anti-doping programme for all international cricketers which are also WADA compliant. To date, no England player has tested positive under these programmes.

ECB and Surrey CCC would like to end by echoing the statement issued by the Maynard family earlier today. The results of this inquest do not define Tom Maynard or alter in any way the tragedy of his passing. Tom was a great man and a great cricketer and will be remembered forever by everyone who had the privilege to know him.

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