December issue 2010

By | Sports | Published 13 years ago

In a disappearing act that would have made even maestro illusionist David Copperfield blush, last month Pakistan wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider mysteriously fled Dubai on the day of Pakistan’s series-deciding fifth One Day International (ODI) against South Africa. After a few hours and a torrent of speculation, he reappeared in London requesting asylum.

Pakistan ended up losing the match, but by then the cricketing world’s eyes were fixed on a run-down restaurant in the predominantly Asian London suburb of Southall, where Haider was giving an impromptu press conference.

Even after a decade of scandals — match-fixing, captaincy coups, genital warts; you name it, we’ve done it all — Haider’s words shocked the conscience. He claimed to have received death threats after a cameo match-winning knock, which gave Pakistan an unlikely victory in the fourth ODI. Even this could have been written off as a crank call from a random nut job, but what was truly startling was that Haider thought it more prudent to take a clandestine flight to London than report the threats to his fellow players, officials or even someone from the ICC. Corruption in cricket, especially Pakistani cricket, is now so endemic that a player was forced to jump ship.

First, Zulqarnain Haider should be commended for his bravery. Yes, in this instance, running away was a courageous thing to do. When faced with the option of selling out cricket and country, Haider opted to give up his career. But instead of hailing Haider as a whistle-blower, the country’s cricketing establishment has gone on the offensive. Of course, one would expect the red-faced PCB, now so without credibility that even its own players don’t trust it, to dismiss Haider’s claims — and that they did with a vengeance.

Chairman Ejaz Butt questioned Haider’s motives for fleeing while ODI captain Shahid Afridi called him “childish.” But the response from former players was far more disheartening. Respected former captains Imran Khan and Wasim Akram both criticised Haider for his actions, saying he had brought disrepute to Pakistan cricket.

The logic espoused by Imran and Wasim will be familiar to two cricketers who, over a decade ago, also castigated the culture of corruption in the Pakistani dressing room. The last time Pakistani cricketers dared speak out against corruption, they became instant outcasts. In a classic case of blaming the messengers, the public blamed Rashid Latif and Basit Ali for revealing tales of corruption in the Pakistani dressing room. Basit Ali never played for Pakistan after that while Rashid Latif gained a reputation as a troublemaker and was in and out of the side for nearly a decade. No shock, then, that Haider is the first whistle-blower to emerge since that sorry saga. And if Ali’s and Latif’s fates are anything to go by, we will continue to bury our heads in the sand and write off Haider’s actions as that of a mentally unbalanced individual.

Now, more than ever, we should be awake to the match-fixing menace that is eating away at Pakistan cricket. With Salman Butt, Mohammed Aamir and Mohammed Asif in the dock for accepting bribes in return for poor performances, our credibility has never been lower. But at a time when we should be embracing those who are willing to speak out at great personal cost, we are instead vilifying a man who has abandoned his career because of the threat the gambling mafia poses to him. This is the tragedy of Pakistan cricket.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.