Pakistan news October 7, 2011

Zulqarnain Haider returns to first-class cricket

For the first time since fleeing Dubai on the eve of an ODI, Zulqarnain Haider is back playing first-class cricket. He kept wicket for Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Division One on October 6 - taking three catches on the first day of the match against Faisalabad - and said it felt like he was "starting from scratch".

Haider infamously went missing during Pakistan's series against South Africa in the UAE in November 2010. He later said he had flown to London because he had received death threats from bookies in Dubai and simultaneously announced his retirement from international cricket. However, he returned to Pakistan in April this year and in May said he wanted to abandon his retirement.

Haider is now intent on reviving his career but says he has no regrets about the accusations he made of match-fixing being rampant in cricket. "I know I almost put my career at stake for which I have no regret," he told ESPNCricinfo. "In fact, I have inspired upcoming players to speak up against happenings around them instead of just going with the flow."

After his return to Pakistan, Haider struggled to find a team, with no one wanting to sign him for the Faysal Bank Twenty20 tournament. ZTBL agreed to include him in their squad for the first-class season, and Haider, who is 25 years old, says he is looking for a fresh start and would like to make it back to the international stage. "I have started my career again and it feels like I'm starting from scratch. I don't know what prospects I have at the moment but cricket is my bread and butter and I had to get back to playing for my livelihood. I am young and have already lost plenty of cricket for various reasons. I don't know whether I will be selected for the top level or not but right now I am focusing on my game and the rest is up to the selectors.

"My passion for cricket is still alive and I am optimistic that I can put in performances that will catch the selectors' eye. Playing for the country is always an honour and that desire never dies."

After he fled to the UK last year, Haider had claimed he received threats in Pakistan domestic cricket as well, and suggested the ICC tap players' phones since "a lot of people are involved" in match-fixing. The PCB set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding Haider's flight to England, and suspended his stipend contract. The ICC's investigative arm, the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU), had said they wanted to wait for the PCB to finish their probe before getting involved, but the report from the committee said there were no clear motives behind Haider's flight.

The bookies behind the threats to Haider were arrested by police in Sialkot in April, after Haider had returned to Pakistan, but Haider was fined 500,000 rupees ($5,800) by the PCB for violating their code of conduct when he left the series in the UAE midway without informing team management. The board also put Haider on probation from the national team for a year, and said he had had no proof of any wrongdoing against any player or official of the board. Haider said he realised he should have informed the board and seniors in the team of his predicament rather than leaving the tour without notice.

However, he stands by the claims he made and says he knowingly took a risk by speaking out about corruption while his career was still at a nascent stage. Referring to Shoaib Akhtar's recent comments about ball tampering and Shahid Afridi's criticism of the Pakistan board and team management, Haider questioned why these players had waited so long to come forward with their statements.

"I know to the world I am a fool but to me I did the right thing," he said. "I was well aware I was risking my career but I opted to follow the righteous path. I am not like Afridi and Shoaib who when done with their career are now coming out busting the system. On the contrary I was at the beginning of my career and I raised my voice against the odds, putting my career at risk without any fear.

"Both Afridi and Shoaib have earned a lot of respect and money through the system, and now when they see things are out of their hands they have started lashing out the at entire structure and culture of Pakistan cricket. Why at the end of their career?"

Haider had played just one Test and four ODIs for Pakistan before his departure from Dubai. He got his opportunity in the wicketkeeper's slot after Kamran Akmal's horror tour of England and had helped Pakistan level the series against South Africa in the UAE with a cameo in the fourth ODI.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent

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