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The Mystery of Zulqarnain Haider

The dust has not even begun to settle on the spot-fixing scandal that rocked cricket over the summer. The investigation into the three players involved – Salmon Butt, Mohammed Aamir and Mohammed Asif – is still ongoing. However, once again, match fixing and Pakistan are in the news.

On Monday morning, Zulqarnain Haider failed to appear at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium for the final one-day international match with South Africa. The first indication that something was amiss was a cryptic message left on Zulqarnain’s Facebook page:

“Leaving Pakistan cricket because get bad msg fr 1 man fr lose the match in last game.”

The last game referred to the fourth one-day international last Friday, where Zulqarnain’s unbeaten 19 led Pakistan to a penultimate ball victory with only one wicket remaining.

Shortly after the fifth one-day international began, an official PCB statement stated that “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.”

Further concern was raised later that afternoon when a leading Pakistani television reporter claimed that he had received a text message from Haider requesting that security was provided for his family and that he was considering flying to London. A dozen police officials were deployed at Haider’s house to protect his family from any possible threat.

Mystery surrounded the whereabouts of Zulquarnain throughout most of today. It was confirmed that he had arrived at Heathrow yesterday, but had gone into hiding in London. Reports were coming out that he had announced his retirement from international cricket under pressure of death threats for refusing to fix matches.

Earlier this afternoon, he met with officials from Scotland Yard and the ICC Anti-Corruption unit at his unidentified hotel in London concerning the allegations of possible match fixing threats. More information emerged after a telephone interview with Geo News:

“I was told to cooperate or I would face lots of problems. This person approached me while I had gone out of the hotel for dinner. He told me cooperate with us and you can make a lot of money. He said if you don’t cooperate, you will no longer be part of the team and we can make life very difficult for you.”

“I received death threats to lose the fourth and fifth one-day internationals against South Africa, but I could not compromise the dignity of my country. I would rather flee away than sell out the dignity and respect of my motherland.”

So, it would appear that he was threatened by match fixers to deliberate throw the last two internationals against South Africa, but refused to do so. Having refused, he feared for his safety and fled to London.

However, it raises further questions. Before the series, the Pakistani team were given strict guidelines on what to do if they were approached by anyone looking for them to fix certain outcomes or matches. They were to report it to either the captain or the Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB).

So why did Zulqarnain feel the need to sneak out of the country without informing any of his teammates or management? Indeed, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has its headquarters in Dubai, where Zulquarnain was located. Why did he not go to them directly?

It raises the suspicions that Zulqarnain had serious misgivings about approaching members connected with the team. Given recent events and prior allegations, it must have been difficult for him to know who to trust. Maybe he should have gone to his captain, Shahid Afridi. However, in the back of his mind would have been the memory that his previous captain was Salmon Butt, who was implicated as the ring-leader in a fixing ring over the summer.

He clearly had a lack of faith in the PCB and the team management. Maybe he did not trust members within the PCB? Maybe he felt that they would not have been able to deal with the situation?

In the past, neither the PCB nor the ICC has shown a great desire to tackle the problem head-on. Indeed, it has almost seemed as though they would prefer to brush it under the carpet and move on as though nothing had happened. Maybe he felt that a similar situation would happen?

There is a good chance that nobody that others in the Pakistani team and management were even involved. However, he clearly felt that there was a credible threat, and he took the most risk-averse step, which was trusting nobody.

It may have been in the back of his mind that the English had shown over the summer that they were willing to stand up and investigate the issue of spot fixing. Maybe he felt that approaching them would be his best chance? Or maybe it was simply that his visa from the summer was still valid, so he could enter the country without problems?

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding what exactly happened to cause a promising young cricketer to seemingly throw away his dream and flee to London. However, he is clearly scared enough by the threats to have done so. For a young man to stand up to the gambling rings takes real bravery, and if that turns out to be the case, Zulqarnain Haider deserves great praise. And who knows, maybe he will be able to work with Scotland Yard and the ICC to blow the case wide open.


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