Cricket is not a gentleman's game anymore. Though this statement has been vindicated in the past, it is currently being augmented in an explosive manner in the form of the ongoing fiasco concerning Pakistani wicket keeper, Zulqarnain Haider. Just when Pakistan cricket and its fans could ill-afford another trauma in this cursed year of 2010, here came the bewildering news of Zulqarnain Haider going missing just hours before the final match of a classic ODI series against South Africa which Pakistan eventually lost.
Anyone who follows and comprehends cricket, should know by the history and dynamics of it that it is just not a mere sport. It is a massive world encompassing the game contested in the ground, entertainment and money. Sadly, the last one is counted as the pivotal factor whenever this beautiful sport is plagued with controversies and scandals, and thus plays a pivotal role in developing the above stated perception. From one end of the cricketing world to another, financial gains and corruption have resulted in hijacking the true essence and spirit which this sport embodies and ultimately has put it to shame.
Betting is a menace which is not alien to cricket. It has been present probably since its inception, yet betting and illegal money have always been the hobby for the wronger rather than the men in flannels until the last few decades. Since the 1990s, cricket has seen numerous scandals of monetary corruption and match fixing involving various men representing their countries, which has jeopardized its image and forced a view that the corruption is inseparable from the game and according to Paul Condon, cannot be uprooted.
From the infamous controversy of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh being involved with bookmakers to the monstrous revelations of Hansie Cronje in 2000, cricket corruption has shown its colors even in the most professionally competent cricket boards of the world.
The year 2000 also saw the crackdown on match fixing by Indian cricket and Pakistan's Justice Qayyum inquiry, both of which left more than 1 billion cricket worshiping subcontinent people stunned.
Only in this decade, there have surfaced numerous damning scandals and incidents which have proved that the cancerous betting and monetary corruption have penetrated well and truly in cricket world. The recent IPL mess in which its chief administrator, Lalit Modi was suspended amid corruption claims is a grave consequence of monetary mismanagement in the game.
Till today, the deaths of the disgraced former South African captain, Hansie Cronje, and former Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, remain a mystery and are indicated by some to be murdered by mafia betting syndicates, who have thoroughly maligned the once-called gentleman game.
Earlier in the year, when the spot fixing controversy concerning 3 world class Pakistani players surfaced, Geoff Lawson, who had been the coach of Pakistan team, provided an insight to the world about the virus that cricket is subjected to in the form of the mafia that endangered the lives of people connected with the game. He revealed that during his term as the coach of the team, one of the selectors of Pakistan team had been threatened of his daughter being kidnapped if a specific player was not selected for a match. To further corroborate the threat possessed by the betting mafia, a recent incident involving English player, Usman Afzaal showed how dangerous these syndicates can be.
The latest episode of Zulqarnain Haider claiming to be given death threats seems to be the latest in this context.
A devoted and fighting cricketer who had a permanent place in the team till he left for UK is now so mentally traumatized that he has put his career on line, retired and is said to be seeking asylum in England. What in the world forced him into such a mental state and to take such life defining actions? There have already been many opinions and commentaries done, varying from it being an attention seeking stunt to tarnishing the image of the country. Whatever be anyone's take on it, he needs to be understood and the issue needs to be addressed in full length. Zulqarnain has already spoken out a bit on the match fixing elements he has dealt with in his career which have already caused a stir, yet his whistle blowing related to the death threats should be the one making heads roll, that is if he comes out with any.
Where all this will end up, nobody knows for now, but there is a definite exigency for the administrators of the game to tighten the screws. Cricketers, of all, need to be provided maximum security. The onus is on the ICC who has often been accused of lacking professionalism in such scenarios, even though ACSU has been its major tool to check on the prevalent betting and match fixing in the game. Moreover, cricket boards need to step up and apart from protecting their own players from these menaces, need to support ICC. Having said that, no matter how concrete and credible steps are adopted, one thing is indisputable- today's gentleman's game is a far cry from the one played by W.G. Grace and his men. Sigh.
- This piece of mine was also published here in the Pakistan English daily, Express Tribune.