Zulqarnain Haider confirms threats and retires
In his first public comments since fleeing from Dubai and arriving in London on Monday, Pakistan wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider has confirmed that he received threats from unidentified people following his team's one-wicket win in the fourth ODI against South Africa and was told to get in line for the fifth match. As a result of the threats Haider - who is seeking some sort of protection in the UK - has announced his retirement from cricket.
"The way my situation is right now I am retiring from international cricket," Haider (24) said. "There is too much pressure on me, I have received threats, my family has received threats."
The issue of threats brings the matter within the ICC's purview, and its chief executive Haroon Lorgat said the governing body was in regular contact with the PCB. "Clearly this is in the first instance a team matter for Pakistan cricket but the ICC is willing to provide assistance to the PCB and the player," said Lorgat. "We understand his plight if reports are indeed true, but we can only help if he is willing to engage with us."
Lorgat did concede, though, that Haider erred in not informing the ACSU. "I think we have to build the confidence amongst the players that the right thing to do is to speak to the ACSU officials if they have got anything that they want to declare," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I don't think it was wise of him to have done what he did, because it doesn't solve the problems for him as well and the right thing would have been to speak to the ACSU."
Haider outlined his encounter with the person who approached him, without giving too much detail. "When I went out of the hotel to eat dinner once, he came up. He was alone but I felt there were two to three people behind him. I can describe him. He spoke Urdu but I cannot describe the accent accurately. He said you will make lots of money if you join us and help us. If not, then staying in the team could be difficult and we can make things difficult for you. I don't know why I was approached and others weren't."
Speaking to Geo, a leading Pakistani news channel, Haider was guarded about events of the previous 24 hours but seemed to indicate that he had sought some kind of "protection" from British authorities. He is thought to have been detained at Heathrow by immigration authorities for nearly four hours, before he moved to an undisclosed location.
"The fourth ODI, the things I was told to do I didn't, and the fifth ODI, what they wanted done I didn't do," Haider said. "That is why I did what seemed right to me and I came here. I can't tell what kind of threats I received to the country because my family is still in Pakistan."
When asked further about the nature of these threats and who they might have come from, Haider was unwilling and unable to reveal much more. "I am not accusing anyone of being a match-fixer. I only got one guy telling me that if you can't do this or that, there will be problems, or fix the fourth of fifth ODI. I don't want to say who it is, neither do I know so much about who it is. I have only played two-three ODIs." Asked specifically if he thought players within the team were involved, he said, "I am not saying they are or are not. Only God knows that. But I did what I thought was better for everyone. I just didn't want to sell my country, my mother. The country is like your mother and if you sell that you are nothing."
Haider also confirmed that he took his passport from the team management on the pretext of buying a SIM card for his mobile and left on Monday morning. Questions have been raised by a number of former players and board officials themselves about why he didn't approach the board first to report the threats, as is required by the anti-corruption code of conduct. "I felt if I told them, it would get worse for me and my family so I thought to come here. I know about British rules as I have been coming here for the last nine to ten years. They protect you.
"If I had told the PCB or players, it would've gotten out and then who knows? I don't feel it would've been better to tell anyone or authorities there. If I had told any of the other players, it might have put them in trouble also."
Though he didn't confirm that he had sought asylum in the UK, he did strongly indicate that he was seeking some form of protective status. "I cannot say where I am. I am not in a detention centre. Immigration authorities helped me a lot. The British government is such that if you are on the right path, they will protect you. They have rules [as far as asylum is concerned] and you can't enter until you have given reasons why. Immigration asked me what I would do. According to the rules they said go like this but hire a government lawyer. I don't have money right now to hire a private one but if this is the cost of walking on the right path, then so be it, I will bear it."
As the interview went on, Haider became emotional, ending it with a plea that his family - currently in Lahore - be helped and protected. "Help my family somehow. If it can be done, send my family here. For their security. I have my daily wages from the South Africa series and that is it. I will communicate with someone to see if they can help me financially."
Haider has not yet contacted the Pakistan High Commission in London. "We are not involved. Not to my knowledge. He [Haider] has not approached us as yet," an official at the High Commission said. When asked if the Pakistan board had approached them, he did not confirm or deny, saying that the "PCB should be handling it."
Pakistan's sports minister Ijaz Hussain Jakhrani, however, said the country's government didn't support Haider's actions. "The government will not support any move from Zulqarnain to get asylum in the UK. We don't support his actions and believe he should have come to us if he was under threat from anyone," Jakhrani said. "He didn't have confidence in the national team management or board (PCB). We don't want to interfere in the internal matters of the board but we certainly want to know why this has happened as it affects the image of the country."
ESPNcricinfo understands the PCB discussed various options of dealing with the matter, including contacting the high commission in the UK and asking them to offer Haider protection. This suggestion, however, was overruled. Haider's family in Lahore said he has not been in touch with them since his arrival in the UK.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo