Zulqarnain Haider: Cricketer, whistle-blower and hero

Zulqarnain Haider is an unsung hero. He may have danced too many steps, but it takes guts to dance at all.

Noman Ansari December 21, 2011
At the spot-fixing trial of Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt, and Mohammad Amir, the most startling piece of news came towards the end. According to various reports, the lion’s share of the spot fixing money, distributed by now disgraced sports agent, Mazhar Majeed, went to cricketer Mohmmad Asif. The question immediately begged itself, why did the majority of the money go to one cricketer?

BBC’s Gordon Farquhar speculates in his blog:

“He said £2,500 went to Amir, £10,000 to Butt, who was looking wretched in the dock at this point, and £65,000 to Asif. Asif? The man who said in his defence the no-ball was just a coincidence, and that he'd never had anything to do with this, and had never taken any money? Why did Asif get the lion's share? Well, according to Majeed's counsel it was because they needed to give him a big payment to keep him loyal to their group. Mr Justice Cooke asked for a repeat. We hadn't misheard. Could the implication be that there was another fixing clique in the dressing room who were seeking his services?”

Think about it for a second. Aside from the now three convicted cricketers, another competing betting clique allegedly exists in the national cricket circle. And one can take an educated guess, and say that it was this group that caused wicket keeper Zulqarnain Haider to flee to England, seeking asylum in fear of his life on November 8, before the fifth ODI cricket match against South Africa. This was the match after Haider had played a very cool and level-headed innings in the fourth ODI, and hit the winning runs. This was also after Haider had made his test match début in the disgraceful series in England, where he nearly scored a hundred, playing bravely after his team had collapsed.

After hitting the winning runs against South Africa, he said he was told by the management that he was possibly being dropped in favour of batsman Umar Akmal (a part-time wicketkeeper at best), to “rebalance” the side. He later received anonymous phone calls asking him to become part of a betting circle, or face dire consequences. After flying to England and seeking political asylum, he and his family received further threats, which were later verified by law enforcement agencies in Pakistan.

Was flying to England seeking asylum an overreaction? Probably. But it took great courage for him to react at all. It would have been easier for him to accept large sums of money for the occasional under-performance.

Let’s put cricket aside and simply think of Haider as an employee of a high profile organisation. Three of his colleagues had been caught conducting fraud, after decades upon decades of allegations. The majority of co-workers that remained, who he barely knew, were all under the microscope. He, being a new employee, after putting up an excellent job performance, was suddenly told that his position could be filled by a part-timer - a pretence that seems suspect at best - as he twiddled his thumbs. And suddenly, in a situation already suspicious and alien, his life was being threatened if he didn’t give in to corruption.

Fact is that whistle-blowers throughout history have been discredited by the companies they threaten. Their entire lives are combed through for any black marks on their character, so that they can be disgraced in public.

Everything from Haider’s intelligence, to his mental faculties, were ridiculed in public by his co-workers and the organisation he represented. Others alleged that his motivation was to gain British nationality, not realising that with a few years in the cricket team, he would have had enough money to live comfortably where ever he pleased. He put everything, including a fine career at risk, to stand up for he felt was right.

And according to this article on Cricinfo.com, some of the bookies that had been threatening him were later arrested. Haider couldn’t have been the first cricketer to have been threatened by bookies, so why is it that we heard nothing reported by his predecessors? The last time a Pakistani wicket keeper took a stand against corruption was when Rashid Latif stood up for what was right, during a series in South Africa in the 90s.

In my books, Zulqarnain Haider is a hero. He may have danced too many steps, but it takes guts to dance at all.
Noman Ansari The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)
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