Zulqarnain Haider… another victim of the shady world that has infiltrated cricket © Getty Images
Zulqarnain Haider, born April 23, 1986, was a wicket-keeper for Pakistan who will be remembered for his disappearing act on the morning of a One-Day International at the United Arab Emirates. Threatened by bookies, he fled to London and retired from all forms of the game, stating nothing mattered more than safety. Karthik Parimal looks back at the peculiar career of this unfortunate cricketer.
The Pakistan cricket team, albeit unintentionally, has attracted significant deal of controversies — although, thankfully, their on-field performances have seldom been affected by it. During recent times, especially prior to the 2011 World Cup, the news that filtered out from the camp was often worrisome than good. Much of it had to do with the dreaded F-word that hounded the cricketing circuit, and while some were caught blatantly indulging in the forbidden pleasures of the money in it — the spot-fixing incident during the tour of England being the case in point — a few fell off the wayside fearing its whiff. Wicket-keeper Zulqarnain Haider, who was Kamran Akmal’s understudy for a brief period of time, belonged to the latter category.
In the November of 2010, during a bilateral series against South Africa at the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Haider mysteriously disappeared, generating a multitude of conspiracy theories. While some cited differences within the team as a reason for his sudden scoot, some rightly pointed out to threats, although it wasn’t revealed where he’d received them from. A few days later, it came to the forefront that he fled the country, and the tournament, fearing his life, for he and his family were threatened by unidentified people, who apparently told him that “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.”
Short career before premature retirement
He broke into the international arena in the February of 2007, for a T20 game against South Africa at Johannesburg, which the hosts won by 10 wickets. That inauspicious beginning was minor in comparison to what was to follow in the later stages of his career. He was dropped unceremoniously thereafter, but he went back to the drawing board, performed well in the domestic circle and returned stronger to the big fold three years later, for a Test against England at Birmingham. It was a series that was later marred by spot-fixing allegations — which eventually turned out to be true — against Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer.
Haider made 88 in that Test, which was to be his first and last.
He featured in four One-Day Internationals (ODI) a few months later, against South Africa in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). No significant scores were registered. It was before the fifth game of this series that the drama, which eventually led him to call it a day on his young career, unfolded.
The mysterious disappearance and the subsequent revelation
On November 8, 2010, the morning of the fifth and final ODI, Haider did not board the team bus that left for the ground. The previous night, he was fined for arriving five minutes later than the cut-off time at the hotel room, for stringent measures with regards to players’ whereabouts had been taken following the spot-fixing scandal. With regards to the vanishing act, the powers that be within the team dished out vague answers to questions put forth by the media, who grew curious following a mysterious status update by the wicket-keeper batsman on a social networking site a day before the match. It read as follows: “Leaving Pakistan cricket because get bad msg fr 1 man fr lose the match in last game.” It was perhaps a reference to the side’s loss in the previous (fourth) ODI.
The disappearance took centre stage and the match seemed irrelevant for a while. Within hours, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) released a statement indicating they had information that Haider was on his way to the United Kingdom. Later that day, television footage of him arriving at the Heathrow airport confirmed the speculation. His actions flummoxed many as they waited to hear with bated breath the explanation from the horse’s mouth.
On November 9, 2010, Haider — aged 24 at the time — announced retirement from all forms of international cricket, citing pressure and threats to family as reasons. He stated that a man (a bookie) approached him post the fourth ODI and threatened him for not doing the things he was told to do. “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,” Haider told ESPN Cricinfo.
He sought asylum in the United Kingdom, refusing to return to Pakistan for fear of his life.
What followed next?
The PCB refused to blindly accept Haider’s version of the story, suspending his contract immediately. A fact-finding committee was set to investigate the turn of events. The research unearthed some noteworthy points. Apparently, he had made enquiries about settling down in the UK an year before fleeing. Also, Wahab Riaz, his fellow teammate and a good friend, declared Haider showed no signs of worry on the night before the dramatic day. However, it was eventually stated that there was no clear motive behind his disappearance.
Five-and-a-half months later, on April 17, 2011, he met Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, who assured him and his family safety upon return. The PCB kept its promise, ensuring a smooth arrival and accommodation. Later that month, eight bookies were arrested at Sialkot, some of who confessed to having threatened Haider.
In May of that year, he decided to abandon retirement and communicated the same to the PCB. He returned to First-Class cricket in October 2011, keeping wickets for Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. However, he’s yet to return to the international stage.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )