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The Ten: Customs Wrangles

by Wisden Staff

In an increasingly globalised game, cricketers are au fait with the jet-setting lifestyle. That’s not to say it isn’t without its complications though. Crispin Andrews picks out 10 examples.

10) Neesham’s ‘drugs’ bust

For a few days last August it seemed that Jimmy Neesham might be challenging Jesse Ryder for the title of bad boy of New Zealand cricket. Sure, Ryder has been on drinking binges and had the odd run-in with a bathroom window, but not even Jesse has had his cricket bat searched for drugs. Neesham was playing in the Caribbean Premier League for Guyana Amazon Warriors and was in the USA, travelling to his next game. The customs officials obviously didn’t like the look of the strange-looking hockey stick and drilled a few holes in it to take a look inside. Neesham posted a photo on Twitter but later admitted the bat actually belonged to his teammate Lendl Simmons. The customs officials obviously didn’t recognise Lendl, so perhaps he 
told them about his famous uncle, Phil? 
Bad move. In the USA, Phil Simmons is an Albuquerque optometrist who was sent down for drugs trafficking in 2010.

9) Holey unacceptable

In 2009, Dilwar Hussain, a Blackburn club cricketer, ordered eight bats from Lahore, Pakistan for members of Gujrat CC and Nile CC at a cost of £475. He’d arranged for DHL Pakistan to ship them over but when they arrived the bats and some pads he’d bought were full of holes. This time, customs said they were looking for bombs in the bats. Bat bombs? Had they been reading too many superhero comics? Or perhaps they remembered that three years earlier a Blackburn car dealer had been jailed for trying to organise a car-bomb attack and believed the town to be a hotbed of terrorist activity. Neither UK nor Pakistani officials would own up to doing the drilling and poor old Dilwar never got his money back.

8) Starc reminder

In 2012, UK customs officials deported Mitchell Starc from Heathrow because the Aussie left-armer didn’t have the right visa to stay in the country and play for Yorkshire. Starc spent four hours being questioned by customs officials and was told to pop off home, fill in the right forms and come back the following day. That’s around 67 hours and 35 minutes in the air – not even Geoffrey Boycott needed that long to get a hundred on a Headingley green top. Yorkshire officials were furious, initially blaming Cricket Australia before the buck was passed to Starc’s agent. Starc eventually made it to Headingley but the Tykes refused to foot the bill for his unscheduled day-return trip.

7) Dereliction of duty

In 2011, Indian customs officials kept hold of the World Cup trophy which was on its way to Mumbai because the ICC refused to pay a £30,000 duty. The duty was a mandatory fee that would enable the trophy to pass through Indian territory but the ICC didn’t fancy parting with the cash given that it would later be re-exported, meaning that when India won the tournament a few weeks later they were presented with a replica with the tournament logo – not the original trophy with the ICC logo. The ICC claimed that this was common practice, and that the original trophy always remained at ICC headquarters in Dubai. Critics suggested they were being a bit tight-fisted.

6) Funky juice

In December 2008, UK customs at Gatwick Airport confiscated five cans of fruit juice belonging to former England allrounder Chris Lewis. No doubt the poor chap told the officials that he needed the juice to stay hydrated, as he was suffering from a bit of sunstroke after a holiday in St Lucia. Inside the cans, however, was £140,000 worth
 of liquid cocaine. Lewis denied the drug smuggling charge but was given a 13-year prison sentence.

Lewis: doing porridge for fruit juice

Lewis: doing porridge for fruit juice

5) Boom Boom explodes

Shahid Afridi was at Karachi airport on
 his way back from the 2012 Asia Cup final win against Bangladesh when jostling 
fans attempting to grab his autograph knocked his three-year-old daughter Ajwa to the ground. Understandably livid, Boom Boom gave it the long-handle and slapped the nearest offender around the chops before Afridi’s brother stepped in to calm things down in an incident that was briefly explosive but didn’t amount to much. Now what does that remind you of?

4) England’s wall of silence

With the Ashes media frenzy reaching unchartered levels of hysteria, England, perhaps unwisely, decided the best way to avoid further fanning the flames was to say nothing at all – absolutely nothing – when they touched down at Alice Springs airport for a tour match. Questions about the chastening defeat at Brisbane and Jonathan Trott’s decision to return home weren’t
 so much rebuffed as completely ignored, with Kevin Pietersen, headphones wrapped around his ears, repeatedly saying “I can’t hear you” in answer to whatever was said to him. In truth it all looked a little silly but at least it got a rise out of the Aussie press.

3) Imran grounded

In October 2012, US officials in Toronto took Imran Khan off his plane bound for New York. The leader of the Pakistan Movement for Justice Party was on his way to a fundraising do when officials decided to question him for an hour about his views on drones and jihad. Imran has long been a vocal critic of US drone attacks in northern Pakistan which he says kill many innocent civilians – claims the US government denies. Eventually satisfied that Imran was not a terrorist, the officials let him continue his journey. Too late for his New York fundraiser, though.

2) The sky’s the limit

Pakistan Customs once had its very own cricket team. From 1972 to 2010 the team competed in the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy and won the Patron’s Trophy in 2001, with star players including Mohammad Sami, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Fawad Alam. After the 2010 season, Customs officials disbanded their team. Complaints from opposition players that mysterious drilled holes had started appearing in their bats and pads were never substantiated.

1) Spin it to win it

In 2013, Australia’s immigration department rushed through Fawad Ahmed’s application for Aussie citizenship. The Pakistani-born leg- spinner was in Australia on a short-stay visa but claimed refugee status, saying that religious extremists back home 
had persecuted him for playing and coaching cricket. The fact that Australia had just lost 3-0 to England and had been searching for a world-class spinner since Shane Warne retired had nothing whatsoever to do with the fast-tracking of Ahmed’s visa, of course. As it turned out, Australia’s battery of quicks proved more than enough for England’s batsmen last winter. Ahmed is yet to make his Test debut.

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