Zulqarnain in UK, mystery over exit from Dubai
Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Pakistan wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider, who has been missing from the team camp in Dubai since Monday morning. Television footage showed him arriving at Heathrow, confirming an earlier PCB statement that they had information he was on his way to the UK, but there has been no official word from the player or the board of his arrival.
The PCB, which has set up an inquiry into the issue, said it was working with the ICC's anti-corruption unit following indications that his disappearance could be linked to his performance during the current ODI series against South Africa. In London, Bloomberg quoted Pakistan's high commissioner to the UK as saying Haider would be given any consular assistance as required, but did not specify whether it had been sought.
The drama began shortly before Pakistan were due to play South Africa in the deciding match of their ODI series, when it transpired that Zulqarnain had not travelled with the squad to the ground. The first indication that something was wrong came from a cryptic message left as a status update on the player's Facebook page. "Leaving Pakistan cricket because get bad msg fr 1 man fr lose the match in last game." The "last match" reference is possibly to the fourth ODI of the series, a closely-fought thriller in which Haider's unbeaten 19 took Pakistan to victory with one wicket and one ball to spare.
At the ground, no official explanation was forthcoming. Captain Shahid Afridi said Haider was resting while Waqar Younis, the team coach, suggested the team manager would be better placed to speak on his whereabouts. Shortly after that Nadeem Sarwar, the PCB's general media manager, said the management had found out that morning that Haider was missing - he is believed to have left the team hotel at 6 a.m. Dubai time. He'd left with his passport, which is usually kept with the management but which Haider had sought a few days earlier.
That version was confirmed by an official PCB statement, issued shortly after noon GMT. "Haider left the team hotel on Monday morning without informing any member of the team or management. [He] was in possession of his passport and there are indications that he has left for London."
As the day wore on, the situation became more confusing. A TV reporter for Geo, a leading Pakistani news channel, said that he had received a text message from Haider earlier on Monday in which the player asked for security for his family and indicated that he might fly to the UK. In Lahore, senior superintendent of police Rana Faisal said security had been provided for Haider's family. "We have deployed a dozen police officials at Haider's residence, so that they can be guarded properly if there is any threat," he said.
Sources in Haider's family, meanwhile, indicated that the atmosphere within the squad might have contributed to his decision. One source told ESPNcricinfo that Zulqarnain was suitably excited after the fourth ODI victory but, in a call to family members the next day, he spoke of tension and pressures within the side getting him down.
Raza Haider, Zulqarnain's brother, said the wicketkeeper had reportedly received threats. "I spoke to Zulqarnain after the fourth ODI and he told me he had received some kind of threats after that game, but he gave no details," Raza said.
Haider's career has not lacked incident. He was one of three Pakistani players arrested in Abu Dhabi on charges of possessing alcohol in 2006. The players, on tour with Pakistan A team, were later released. Though Haider had played a Twenty20 international for Pakistan - against South Africa - in 2006-07, he made his Test debut only earlier this year.
He replaced Kamran Akmal for the second Test against England this summer, and made a fighting, widely-lauded 88 in the second innings. He picked up a finger injury during the game and flew back soon after, missing the rest of the tour. He did indicate at the time that he was unhappy at being sent back so quickly, though the issue did not go much further. He was selected again for the current series and has figured in the headlines again, on and off the field. Haider was fined by the PCB on Sunday for breaking team curfew during the ODI series against South Africa.
As a result of the confusion, Pakistan announced their XI for the final game early and made three changes; Umar Akmal, Shahzaib Hasan and surprisingly, Mohammad Yousuf, came into the side. Akmal will, in all likelihood, take over Haider's role. Yousuf only arrived in Dubai yesterday, after recovering from an abductor strain, and wasn't expected to take part in the ODIs at all.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo