James Lawton: Flight was only option given Pakistan's history of support

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Of all the reactions to the flight of Pakistani cricketer Zulqarnain Haider from his team and those from whom he might have reasonably sought protection, advice and comradeship, the most sickening – and illuminating of an extremely dark place – comes from the former captain Asif Iqbal.

As the 24-year-old wicketkeeper Haider was announcing his retirement from the international game because of threats to himself and his family, Iqbal said, "He's made a huge mistake – he should have gone to the team management and told them what he has been telling the world through the media. Had they not taken any action, then he might have resorted to this."

This is not a statement from a complacent madhouse only if you forget quite how the management Asif Iqbal has in mind handled the potential destruction of the teenager Mohammad Aamer, who languishes under provisional suspension after being involved in the spot-fixing scandal.

Whatever the extent of Aamer's guilt, one fact blazed back in the summer and now burns even more hideously with Haider's claim that he had come under intense pressure to throw the final games in the one-day international series with South Africa in Dubai. It is that this is a team management – and federation – so inadequate for purpose, so remote from the realities of decades of suspicion about the integrity of their game, that you wonder how it is the team's whites are successfully laundered between games.

The idea that Haider, after receiving his sinister text messages, would have been wiser to throw himself back into the arms of his team than slip away to the airport for a flight to London would be laughable if the context was not so grim.

Could he have relied on the sympathy and support of his team coach, the former great fast bowler Waqar Younis? Some of the Younis's antecedents are certainly not encouraging. Ten years ago the probe into corruption in Pakistan cricket by Justice Qayyum, the most exhaustive ever undertaken and one that led to the stripping of the captaincy from another legend, Wasim Akram, found Younis an extremely reluctant witness and administered both a fine and an official question mark over his behaviour.

Here was perhaps not the haven Iqbal so blithely advocated as Haider threw his clothes into a bag and flew away. Was there any greater incentive to seek the help of those officials who in the summer were apparently powerless to prevent the alleged spot-fixer calling young Aamer's hotel room and addressing him thus "Hey, fucker"?

What kind of protection is offered by the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption unit? Not a lot. It has been essentially toothless in dealing with the evidence of corruption in Pakistani cricket. The ICC is now surely under the fiercest pressure to act rather more decisively than in the past. What can it do? It can place a ban on Pakistan, saying that in the current atmosphere they simply cannot be treated as morally credible opposition and that the suspension should be maintained until there is clear evidence of a will for genuine reform.

Yes, the challenge is an epic one but it can no longer be ignored. Someone with the authority, and unblemished record, of the former captain Imran Khan must be appointed to lead a clean-up operation that might well benefit from a powerful hose. Only when it is done can Pakistan be allowed back into the game they have, for all their wonderful ability, undermined too outrageously – and for too long.