Round of a lifetime

There are few things more dull than hearing about somebody else’s fishing expedition, or a round of golf. You had to be there to enjoy it. So I’ll spare you the details of the SAfrican round at the Ernie Els course in Dubai. At least until the end of the column.

In the meantime, our attention is focussed on Zulqarnain Haider, the 24-year-old wicket keeper who fled to London on the night before the fifth one-day international against South Africa. Pretty big call for a guy to give up his international career after a couple of Tests and four ODIs. He’s either nuts or he’s scared for his life.

Sadly, it seems inevitable that the former verdict will play out. The PCB and current squad have already distanced themselves from the man in flight and it’s only a matter of time before everybody else aligns themselves with the view that his behaviour was irrational and his ‘evidence’ unsubstantiated. That will be the easy and convenient way out. And it will happen.

And perhaps he is a paranoid young man with tendencies to over-react. But for a youth whose lifetime ambition, to play for his country, was clear from the age of 13, it would take quite a fright to throw it away ‘overnight’. An alternative thought to the notion that he was terrified by the ‘threats’ made against him might be that he was more terrified by the realisation that the fulfilment of his dream would involve certain patterns of behaviour that he found abhorrent. As one former Pakistani player told me years ago, “you think it has nothing to do with you for a long time and then suddenly you find yourself surrounded by it. It is very hard to escape.”

Perhaps, forearmed with that knowledge, Haider believed his only option was to flee. It’s interesting how little public support there has been from his teammates. Or former teammates.

Watch and listen over the next few weeks how Haider’s ‘evidence’, statements and comments are evaluated and subtly stripped of credibility. He can neither speak freely nor afford a lawyer to construct his argument. Soon he will be made to feel like a foolish kid who misunderstood something and over-reacted causing enormous embarrassment to the global game. He will then ‘disappear’ for a year or two and, hopefully, reappear in some format.

From the moment he was selected, Haider was always different – not just to the majority of Pakistani cricketers, but to any international cricketer. He is smart (apologies to the majority), he is inquisitive, he is polite and friendly, and he had no automatic ‘defence mode’ when I met him four years ago. He stood out. He was different. Not just to his teammates, but to the majority of international cricketers. He was instantly likeable to the likes of you and me. He was ‘one of us’. At least, that’s how it felt.

Hopefully, the people who run cricket will not become obsessed with his ‘evidence’ and its legal veracity. Instead, they might do well to consider the strength of feeling that would persuade a young man to throw away his career dream and concentrate on what prompted him – even if he can’t articulate those things himself.

Which brings us, with no logic whatsoever, to the golf. It was a pre-ordained result. Me and Dave Richardson (handicap 6) against Vintcent van der Bijl (17) and Patrick Compton (18). How could we lose? But we did, and comprehensively. My old mate Compton, who’s career-best round of 83 had been set at Royal Durban some 20 years ago, was so excited about the prospect (and reality) of the Big Easy’s desert layout that he shot an absurd 80. Holed putts from 50 feet. Hit a 3-wood from 215 yards to ten foot. And holed it. Bastard.

Few things can make one smile more during competition than seeing an opponent enjoy a career high. Especially when he is old and grey and decrepit and clearly rubbish (but is thrashing you.)

The marvellous (but very competitive) Richardson accepted his fate with extraordinary grace and even managed to calm his partner down. Just.

Calm and honest heads will be required in the weeks ahead, too.

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