November 16, 2010

The curious case of Zulqarnain Haider

There's plenty in Haider's story that does not compute, but equally there is the fact that he wouldn't have given up his career if his claims weren't serious

A confession: over a week on, little of the curious case of Zulqarnain Haider makes sense to me. Certainly nothing in it makes the kind of sense that much of the British press has made of it. In that simplified, romanticised narrative he is already the sole knight raging against the darkness that engulfs all of Pakistan. It's no fun - and probably not very healthy - to be the cynic, but with more questions than answers at this stage, I cannot buy into this so readily.

Is he really cricket's latest whistleblower? As I last understood the job description, whistleblowers reveal the rottenness of an entity they are a part of, usually at great cost to themselves. Rashid Latif outed several people in his own side in the mid-90s, including the captain. He was a whistleblower.

So far Zulqarnain has outed an Asian man who speaks a little Urdu. To the ACSU: good luck finding him in Dubai, short of neither Asians nor Urdu-speakers. ESPNcricinfo understands the ACSU has not been told a great deal more so far than what Haider has publicly said. This is not whistleblowing yet; this is finding an incredibly convoluted way of reporting an approach by a suspect personality.

The other revelation is concerning a domestic 50-over game from March 2009, and it isn't much of a revelation. Haider was dumped as captain of Lahore Eagles ahead of the game, against National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), because, he says, he refused to pick players imposed upon him. The scorecard has a bizarre, men-against-children look to it. Two players who played for the Eagles hadn't played before and have not played since; one of them conceded 78 runs in three overs. As part of the narrative, this game is thus fixed, Haider faced threats then as he did now and so domestic cricket in Pakistan is crooked; moreover an NBP side with Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Kamran Akmal is a fine bit of clinching evidence.

Why let the truth get in the way of a good yarn, eh? One of the players selected was no cricketer but no fixer either; his father is a local Lahore administrator who desperately wanted his son to play a representative game. It is the kind of forced selection that the subcontinent's domestic- and junior-level cricket is littered with. It is a problem, but of a different type entirely.

The Eagles, incidentally, are the poor cousins of Lahore, the second-string team in which play the second-string talent of the city. They had lost three games fairly convincingly before this one. Above all, the match wasn't even televised, and TV we know, is the oxygen of bookie-dom.

With these kinds of exposés Haider is simply an asylum-seeker, not a whistleblower.

And much else besides should be questioned. Why did he leave updates on Facebook for all to see? And go to a TV reporter first instead of approaching the PCB or the ACSU? That, I find difficult to dispute, says more about Haider than it does about either the PCB or ACSU. The PCB is inept, incompetent, disgraceful, but to assume they may be in cahoots with the underworld is still a considerable leap. And Tim May's argument that the ACSU cannot be trusted to keep secrets is irrelevant here at best. The one thing that is blindingly clear is that Haider is not a man looking for anonymity.

To swat the story away, as some have, on the basis that Haider is no player of significance is to be blind. He was the wicketkeeper, a position Pakistan should know only too well, is uniquely capable of affecting the course of entire matches

Nor did he approach anyone in the team. It's been easy to forget over the last few months that there remain characters in and around Pakistan cricket untainted by such muck; could not even one, such as Younis Khan, or Abdul Razzaq be spoken to in confidence? Haider says he wanted to protect the team by not telling them. And telling the rest of the world instead protects his teammates how?

Why wait four days and play one game before leaving? Why go to the UK and leave your family in the hands of Lahore police, which as every citizen of that beautiful city knows is in no hands at all? These questions are not to dismiss him or his deeds. These are logical questions that must be asked of a man who has taken a grave step.

Indeed, there is no need to be as dismissive and vindictive as some of the reactions from the rumpus that passes for a cricket fraternity here.

The approach itself is as believable as not. Who would still approach a side under such scrutiny? Or is it simply that the hooks are in that deep? But to swat it away as some have on the basis that Haider is no player of significance is to be blind. He was the wicketkeeper, a position Pakistan should know only too well, is uniquely capable of affecting the course of entire matches. Approaching a wicketkeeper, in fact, makes immense sense. Calling into question his mental health, as the team manager has done, is in outright bad taste.

What little I saw of Haider as a cricketer I liked. He isn't a great wicketkeeper - and the bar has been set remarkably low by Kamran Akmal - but clearly there is something in him that functional teams should like; a little fight, a little heart, something that equates to more than just the parts.

But a significant part of me looks at how energetically he hunts for media attention (and how much of it he has already attracted in a short career) and then to this episode, and does so with real worry and suspicion that none of it may be of any real consequence. Another smaller part can't help but worry why else someone would give up a budding career as an international cricketer if not because of something very serious and disturbing, something of immeasurably greater consequence.

The lack of any real resolution between those parts is the real frustration of the last week.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2010, 1:21 GMT

    Why not believe him? He's got as much to lose as much to gain. He could make money by not rocking the status quo and playing for Pakistan, get a lucrative club or county contract in England in the summer, as have his team mates, and allow the PCB to weather the storm and turn on their accusers, allowing it to blow over and carry on as normal, which always happens. Or maybe just, he will become a pivotal figure, like D'Oliveira, Olonga or in a differnet sport Ali, who takes a stand, and is looked upon kindly by history. How many have not questioned the perceived wisdom at the time and are now considered cowardly or foolish. Maybe he is just in it for his own ends, but unlike those who have taken bribes, he's going about it in a less furtive and damaging manner. Any financial gain he makes if any will at least be transparent and legal.

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 22:22 GMT

    there is a lot behind the noble game of "cricket"......and someone could not cash it so Haider gets the blame for it .... why does the world hate Pakistan, whats so bad in it . Most of the Brits are arrogant no one cares , I am Indian most of us hate each other just because we belong one state, SA "used to be "quite racist .............. everybody has problems it just depends how you present .the ICC has a role in Pakistans decline without doubt . I can say one thing Pakistan needs IMRAN KHAN

  • shalal on November 18, 2010, 22:14 GMT

    Osman Samiuddin must be the only person in the world who doubts the possibility of a bookie approaching a Pakistan cricketer! I agree with gmathew. We are shooting the messenger but what is even more disturbing is that we are in the process ignoring the message as well. Cricket in Pakistan has to be purged from this evil of corruption. Anyone who puts their hand up and speaks against it needs to be respected and admired. Whatever Haiders story , his heart and soul is in the right place.Not to forget that if Kamran and Adnan Akmal were his main rivals , he would have been guaranteed a fairly long test career-so quite a sacrifice to simply spin a yarn!

  • Nicholas on November 18, 2010, 20:00 GMT

    I am completely mystified as to what is going on in the Haider affair, but I offer the following comments:

    1. In England, when the Pakistan batting was crumbling in all directions, Haider made a fighting 80-odd; part of the innings played with a broken finger. This did not strike me as the actions of a coward.

    2. Kamran Akmal would not be selected in my club's 3rd team as a specialist wicketkeeper.

    Whether these two things are in any way related, I have no idea.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2010, 22:28 GMT

    This was a very well written article that really poses a lot of relevant questions in this affair. It has to be said though that Haider is not doing this for no reason, and it seems unfair to impute some sort of fame seeking quality to it all. It has to be remembered after all that he is doing this under threats to himself and his family. People under that sort of pressure will act irrationally. I think this explanation goes some way to answering many of the questions posed.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2010, 18:19 GMT

    To add to the 'loopholes' like why did Zulqarnain leave his message on Facebook, or why would he break the news first to a news reporter, its also valid to ask why he would give interviews to only one Pakistani media group? No other Pakistani or British news channel or newspaper was able to get hold of him until three days after reaching UK while Geo aired three separate interviews in one day and even showed him having food in his hotel room!

  • Fahad on November 17, 2010, 17:35 GMT

    I think the article is apporpriate, to the people saying it is a Pakistani writer ignoring the issue and defending the PCB, I think you are not reading the same article as I just read. Osman has simply stated there are a lot of unusual parts to this story that don't quite add up but is still giving the benefit of doubt to Haider. Haider seems like an honest player to me and as a supporter of Pakistan and Pakistan cricket, I hope he does have information to get rid of all of the corrupt players and administrators. Osman is simply stating facts, that up until now, no information, no names etc have been given to the police, ICC, Pakistani media, foreign media etc. He will have to divulge any specific information during his asylum hearing so we will have to wait for that. Just like Osman, I also give him the benefit of doubt, but anyone would admit that the story is highly unusual. I think that there are at least a couple corrupt players still in the team and I want them to be exposed.

  • Grant on November 17, 2010, 16:51 GMT

    One reason for his irrational sounding actions occurs to me. He is a scared young man who brooded, dithered than panicked. His actions are not rational because we often aren't when we are frightened and out of our depth. This might not be true, Osman might be nearer the truth, but it is a believable one.

  • P Subramani on November 17, 2010, 12:07 GMT

    'dmqi' has got it absolutely spot on. And like he has said, Kamran Akmal has been cleared to play in the World Cup I learnt through Cricinfo. The manner of Haider taking to his heels in the midst of a series for the reason he has stated is definitely for public consumption. He must be a Punjabi not unlike Miandad.We all know that they are fighters. These people do not just run away. They stand up and fight even if there is nothing to fight about. Even if the threat came from a quarter closer to the mafia. I personally think that the PCB's hands are not clean in this murky episode. I cannot believe that Haider is just willing to give up his only source of livelihood and the prospect of National recognition only because a dark shadow in an alley ran after him. It is simply not true. The thing that emerges is that the Akmals are very influential in Pakistan. Considering how much Pakistan has been affected in society, it could be anything.

  • mohammad on November 17, 2010, 10:32 GMT

    Kamran Akmal's brother, an unknown wicketkeeper with poor records has been brought back within hours of Zulkarnain's run away. That tells the whole story to me. PCB/selection committee could not find Kamran's replacement in half dozen year and now found his brother in hours. What is the chance that Zulkarnain has been threatened to run away to have Adnan Akmal in the team by the same group who did not find Kamran's replacement in years? Now wait for Kamran's inclusion in the team as a batsman so you will have the great Hanif Mohammad's family's example of 3 brother's playing at the same match. Anything is possible in Pak cricket.

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