Since Zulqarnain Haider arrived at Heathrow earlier this week, there has been an attempt from certain quarters to malign him as unpatriotic. So let’s look at the facts. In the Leeds Test against Australia this summer, Haider scored the highest number of runs on the Pakistan side. Although we lost the match, his 88 runs in the second innings made our loss respectable. Yet he was not given a test cap, customarily given to players to commemorate the match. Instead, he was punished by being sent home on the basis of an “injury” though he repeatedly said he was fit to play. More recently, in the 4th ODI against South Africa in Dubai, Haider was instrumental to a Pakistan win but had to leave Dubai mysteriously and amid threats, most likely because he played his best and not as he was expected to.
The pressure to cheat may be more sinister at the international level, but also rears its ugly head domestically. Reportedly, Haider refused to be influenced as captain of the Lahore Eagles. As a result, he was removed as captain ahead of a match against the National Bank of Pakistan. In that match, Lahore’s first-time bowler, Usman Sarwar, conceded 78 runs in three overs, leading Salman Butt to score 92 off 25 balls. It is little wonder then that our young and talented fall prey to corruption. Not every 24-year-old will have the guts to withstand such pervasive pressure. But when someone does show that resolve, like Haider, we owe him our unflinching support.
Deep down we all know that had he turned to the Pakistan Cricket Board he would not have gotten justice. So many allegations, so many inconsistencies have preceded this controversy and yet nothing has come of them. Why are some upset then that Haider flew to London? What kind of false notion of national pride are we hanging on to? To be sure, the links of these betting syndicates will undoubtedly transcend Pakistan’s boundaries. India and Dubai are places that immediately come to mind as potential venues of bookie rackets. Judging by the ICC’s lackadaisical reaction and unimaginative approach in rooting out corruption from the game, it would be unsurprising if the reach of the betting syndicates was further and wider.
This is not about Pakistan but about cricket and about right and wrong. To those who cannot see beyond the idea that Haider claimed asylum and is seeking an exit from Pakistan, all I can tell them is that for a cricketer like Haider there are far easier ways to immigrate. Canada, Holland, Ireland all have young cricket teams and would be willing to pick up talented cricketers from Pakistan and expedite their immigration papers. Besides, between money (of the kind Haider would have made had he succumbed) and a British passport, money goes a lot further.
Corruption may be widespread in Pakistan but we need to be proud of the fact that we have honest and patriotic individuals like Zulqarnain Haider who, at great cost to themselves, refuse to sell out the motherland. He will surely face several obstacles along the way and there will be times when he may question his resolve because it is not easy to expose the corruption of the powerful. But in this trying time we must, as patriotic Pakistanis who wish to root out corruption from our land, stand with him.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2010.