‘I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I've just crossed. There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I've never felt so alive, so hopeful -- and I've never felt such energy.’
Andre Agassi’s open admission to have used crystal meth, in his autobiography, titled ‘Open’, published in 2009, left his fans and people who knew him collectively mortified. But more than Agassi’s admission to have indulged in the usage of an illegal drug, what struck people’s nerve was the fact that he walked free, without being banned, charged or fine, by conveniently lying to the ATP that he’d ‘accidentally’ ingested it due to his friend spiking a harmless soda with the said substance. Agassi got lucky not once but twice, for walking away free from getting fined or suspended aside, the eight-time Grand Slam winner also let off the hook easily post his revelations, with the backlash for his comments being minimal. And, as we know, his reputation stands intact, untarnished, till this very day.
You’d imagine that for elite athletes, the margin of error would have been almost non-existent, back in the day, but history has shown us that the aforementioned statement simply did not hold true. We’ve heard of the Herschelle Gibbs ‘hangover’ story, we’ve heard of Andrew Flintoff’s ‘drunk ton’ tale and we all know of the South African cricket marijuana scandal. There is one thing common between all three incidents I just mentioned: in neither case were the players involved punished heavily - in fact, two of the three cases only came to the light of the public recently and they went unpunished and unnoticed back in the day - and, on top of that, all the incidents were borderline glorified to highlight the ‘swaggy’ nature of the athletes involved.
But those days are dead and buried. We don’t live in such a society anymore, nor will the same acts go unpunished if they were to happen today. The demands of the ruthless modern-day society are such that the only hope for an athlete to survive and excel in their field is if they stay clean and stay completely out of trouble. And thus, it is indispensable for young and upcoming cricketers to learn and understand the grave consequence that a supposed ‘small’ mistake can have in their careers; the Alex Hales saga is a fascinating case study into the same, which, consequently, can also be used by young cricketers as the perfect example to understand the need to be ‘perfect’.
English cricket, last year, endured a massive controversy in the form of Alex Hales getting thrown out of the World Cup squad for the usage of an illegal drug and, fair to say, the aftermath of the controversy has sparked quite a few debates and divided opinions amongst the elites in the cricketing fraternity. Weeks prior to the World Cup, Hales tested positive for the presence of a recreational drug in his body - his second such offence - after which he was subsequently banned for 21 days and eventually thrown out of the final World Cup squad.
The opener issued an apology for his actions, which let the team down, but he has since been completely frozen out of the national set-up, with skipper Eoin Morgan publicly making it clear that there was little chance of Hales making a comeback to the English side anytime in the immediate future. Only a couple of weeks ago, Hales was excluded from a 55-man camp in the country to restart training post the Covid-19 outbreak; that is how far behind he has fallen.
To understand the severity of Hales’ punishment, it is important to realize that he, at the time of getting banned, was not just another player; Hales, prior to his suspension, was one of the first picks in England’s white-ball side and, on top of that, was also one of their more experienced players. Yet England, who felt that the opener betrayed the trust of all his teammates and almost sabotaged their four-year buildup to the World Cup, got rid of Hales in the blink of an eye and, till date, have maintained that he’s a country mile away from making a comeback - despite him setting the stage alight in the best T20 competitions in the world.
There have been raging debates estimating whether England have dished out a punishment too harsh for Hales but putting the ‘right and wrong’ argument aside, taking just the facts into consideration, which is Hales completely being frozen out of the setup for putting a foot wrong, gives us a clear picture of the brutal, unforgiving nature of the world the athletes find themselves in. And for any young cricketer who is either on the verge of breaking through or is already an established performer, there cannot be a better reality check than the Hales episode; one mistake was all it took for the international career of a guy at the top of his game to completely fall to pieces.
But as much as Hales’ downfall was completely down to his own stupidity, it is also important to understand that never in the history of the sport have athletes had to exist in a world where every activity of theirs is examined using a microscope. In today’s world, players are called out and fined for tweets they sent out when they were fifteen, are lambasted for having a drink after losing a game and are fired and suspended for remarks they made years ago; the margin for error is zero and thus it is of paramount importance for the people in the game, especially younger cricketers, to understand that nothing other than a clean slate would suffice.
A clean slate doesn’t necessarily mean that every single athlete who takes up the sport must strive to be a role model for common men, but it sure does imply that it’s inadmissible to goof up. There are, of course, the Hardik Pandyas and the KL Rahuls and the Kyle Walkers who are lucky enough to have not faced serious consequences for their actions, but it is important to weed out the exceptions and focus on the actual risk factor which, depicted by the example of Hales, is pretty darn high.
There is one message clear from the whole Alex Hales saga: individuals are responsible for their own actions and regardless of the enormity of the mistake, the severity of the consequences they face is solely down to them. Tread with care if you want to sail smoothly and if you don’t, be ready to drown; don’t be hoping for a person in the middle of the sea to lend you a helping hand, no matter how big or famous you are, for that’s not going to happen.
Alex Hales should not be made an example of, but, rather, his story must be used as an example by the cricketers of tomorrow to learn, unlearn and strive to mould themselves into disciplined characters who won’t dare slip up even if they are summoned upon in the middle of the night. “Maybe people can learn from it and not make the same mistakes,” said Mary Joe Fernandez on the back of Agassi’s comments and here, too, maybe cricketers can learn from the Hales saga and realize the sheer value of the opportunity they have in their hands.