'Threatened' Pakistan keeper flees to spark new match-fixing riddle

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The Independent Online

The extraordinary saga of scandal and corruption surrounding Pakistan cricket took yet another twist yesterday when Zulqarnain Haider, the team's wicketkeeper, fled to London just hours before he was due to play a one-day international against South Africa in Dubai. Before fleeing he posted a cryptic message on his Facebook page suggesting he had been threatened, with the message implying the threat had arisen from his failure to fix a match.

Pakistan cricket authorities were left baffled by Haider's disappearance and reported him missing to local police and the anti-corruption unit of the ICC.

The player subsequently arrived in London; he was filmed at Heathrow airport as South Africa sealed the one-day series against Pakistan 3-2 with a 57-run win in Dubai. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said Zulqarnain had not told them he was going to leave the team hotel, let alone why he should make such a dramatic departure.

The PCB confirmed that the player had asked for his passport on Sunday evening, "for personal use".

"A full inquiry will be held into the circumstances surrounding this incident and no further comment will be made until the facts are known," the PCB said in a statement.

Zulqarnain's message on Facebook said: "Leaving Pakistan cricket because get bad message from one man for lose the match in last game." The 24-year-old hit the winning runs on Friday in the fourth one-dayer at the end of an unbeaten knock of 19. That levelled the series at 2-2.

Zulqarnain's brother, Reza, speaking from their home city of Lahore, told Reuters that Zulqarnain was fearful after receiving threats. "The last time I spoke to him he told me he was getting threatening messages and to pray for him," said Reza, adding his family was in touch with Zulqarnain and concerned about his safety. "We would like to know a lot of things, like why did the PCB management give him his passport, were they aware of the threats he had got?" Reza said.

The PCB appeared to be more concerned with Zulqarnain going AWOL than the apparently sinister background, with the PCB's legal adviser Tafazzul Rizvi saying the player had breached his contract. "He will definitely face an inquiry and disciplinary action. But we are concerned about this whole situation," Rizvi said. Police in Lahore said they were investigating the player's disappearance, and had sent officers to his home in the city "to avoid any untoward incident."

The performances of the Pakistan cricket team have been under closer than usual scrutiny since the fourth Test against England at Lord's in August. Three players were accused of being involved in spot-fixing after a middleman – agent Mazhar Majeed – accepted £150,000 in cash from the News of the World, saying he could guarantee three no-balls, which subsequently happened.

Pakistan's captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were suspended by the ICC and remain so. A separate police investigation is continuing as the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service explore whether any of the players have committed a criminal offence. A charge of defrauding a bookmaker is unlikely because no bookmaker was known to have been defrauded.

A Pakistani TV station, Geo TV, reported that it had received a text message from Zulqarnain yesterday morning saying he was about to leave for England, and that his family back in Pakistan would be getting extra protection.

Zulqarnain was one of three players fined £80 each in recent days by the Pakistan team manager, Intikhab Alam, for breaking strict curfews placed on the squad. "We have reminded the players that there will be no tolerance on discipline and after these three players returned late to the team hotel by five minutes, they have been fined and issued show-cause notices," Intikhab said.

Separately, the PCB has begun legal action against the former South Africa coach, Mickey Arthur, and called for him to refrain from publishing what it calls "whimsical" claims about the Pakistan team. Arthur has voiced "strong suspicions" of match-fixing by Pakistan three years ago, and the PCB has now served a three-page legal notice on Arthur not to repeat the claims in his upcoming autobiography.