x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ex-Pakistan captain Imran Khan baffled by defection

Khan, who has not yet been in touch with Pakistani cricket officials, said he did not believe Zulqarnain Haider's story that he has received death threats.

Former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan said yesterday that he was baffled by the defection of Zulqarnain Haider from the team camp in Dubai.

In an exclusive interview with The National on the sidelines of the Celebration of Entrepreneurship conference in Dubai, Khan said that although he had not yet been in touch with Pakistani cricket officials, he did not believe Haider's story that he has received death threats.

"I have absolutely no idea why this has happened but the whole thing seems deeply suspicious to me. I don't know what is the reason behind this but I cannot believe it's simply some threats from the mafia. It makes no sense to me. In my 21 year cricketing career why did no one ever threaten me?

"Politics is different, there I'm challenging the biggest mafias who stand to lose if I come into power. I'm attacking them and clearly they are threatened by me but in this case I'm quite perplexed by this. It's too suspicious to me. It can't be that some mafia figure has threatened him. It makes no sense. Why would they threaten him?"

He said it distressed him to see his countrymen having to play Test cricket in another country but it was only one aspect in a "senseless war on terror".

"The whole war on terror upsets me. It is destroying and devastating our country. Cricket is just one part of this war on terror where we can't even play in our own country. It's just one aspect and there are much worse aspects where innocent people on a daily basis are getting bombed and killed. Compared to the overall damage this is a very minor aspect, just one of the fall-outs of this insane and immoral war where there are no defined objectives."

Like every other cricket lover in a nation of cricket lovers, Khan was devastated by allegations of spot rigging made by the News of the World against four of the current Test stars, Salman Butt, the captain, Mohammed Asif, Kamran Akmal and the young wonder boy Mohammed Aamer.

"It was very demoralising when the scandal hit the papers. It's one thing Pakistani people took pride in and the team wasn't doing particularly well, it was getting thrashed. On top of it you heard about this spot-fixing, players taking money for bowling those no-balls, it really affected the people, given the situation with the war on terror and the floods, it was very demoralising.

"You want to give people the benefit of the doubt but if I was a player and I was innocent I would have straight away taken the News of the World to court. When our chief executive moronically blamed the English team they immediately threatened to sue him and he had to apologise. When they approached me I advised them they had to do the same thing, take the News of the World to court."

He said that the fact that Aamer was from a poor background made no difference at all although his "heart went out to Ahmed."

"Everyone can be tempted, whether you're from a poor background or a rich background. It all boils down to the character of the person. If he is guilty he should be punished. He's old enough to know better. My heart is with Ahmed because he is the best young talent in world cricket today but to think that he did this with his eyes closed is wrong. He knew what he was doing was wrong and if it is proven that he was guilty of this crime he should be punished appropriately, maybe less than the other senior players but to save Pakistan cricket for future generations there has to be punishment."

He said he would rather see a Pakistan team without the gifted young Aamer if he was guilty of taking money, than seeing him restored to the side in any kind of compromise.

"If someone can take money can take money and betray their nation. Maybe there would be mitigating circumstances on him for his age. Maybe they could say he was misled by the senior players. The senior players should definitely be banned for life. In his case it could be a little less of a sentence but it should be exemplary so that it send out a message out to future generations that crime does not pay."

On the subject of the current Ashes series, he thinks that England can beat Australia this time.

"You would always think that Australia would win except this time where I think England has a chance. Ashes are won by a team who has better bowlers. A bowler who can get 20 wickets in a match can win. For the first time England's bowling is better than the Australians after a long time.

"Australia is no longer the team it was. I can't see any match winners in the Australian bowling. It's a competent side but not an outstanding one. Australian batting is not as good as it used to be. It's not because of some great players that have come into the England team, it's just that the Australian team has declined.

"A team that has lost five match winners like McGrath and Shane Warne and Gillespie and batsmen like Hayden and Gilchrist it cannot be the same. Australian cricket is very strong, it will come back again but it's the same as when Mike Gatting's team won the Ashes way back in the 80s, it was because the Australian greats had all gone. They were going through a vacuum and it's the same situation now."

pkennedy@thenational.ae