Pakistan cricket has recently been seeing almost more action off the field than on it. The bizarre case of Zulqarnain Haider missing for several hours, however, goes beyond anything we have seen before. The young wicketkeeper who was seen leaving the team’s hotel in Dubai, hours ahead of the fifth and final ODI against South Africa, was next seen at Heathrow Airport where he reiterated vague allegations, previously made in SMS messages and on his Facebook page, that he had been receiving threats and was being pressurised to ‘throw’ the contest. He later announced that he has decided to retire, at least until the situation improves.
The saga is another piece in the puzzle of the ongoing accounts of scandals that have shaken Pakistani cricket, since this summer’s ‘spot-fixing’ scandal. There are many doubts and questions. There is a possibility that young Zulqarnain may simply have decided to seek residence in the UK. The timing of his move, so soon after he had played a key role in Pakistan’s win in the fourth ODI, makes this somewhat less likely. Most young cricketers who have won the honour of wearing national colours would be reluctant to give up a future in the sport and the prestige that success would bring — unless there was significant provocation.
Perhaps we will know more with time. Haider has faced detailed questioning in the UK and was held at immigration for several hours. The International Cricket Council has indicated it is following developments. The fact is that match-fixing scandals that from time to time sweep over Pakistan cricket have gone on for too long; the most recent set of rumours refuses to die. The problem is that, since the 1990s, when match-fixing first surfaced as a significant phenomenon, we have failed to do enough to get to the bottom of matters. There have been too many cover-ups and too many conspiracy theories. The kind of decisive action seen in the past in India and South Africa has not come here. This time round the mystery needs to be solved. We do not quite know what we are up against, but we need to look into the role of everyone involved and determine what factors would compel a promising young cricketer to jeopardise his career in this fashion.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2010.