Sharjeel Khan was destined to become a great, already described as Pakistan’s version of David Warner. His burgeoning talent and ability to hit the ball over the field had started to get world-wide acclaim.
Just last year, he landed a Twenty20 blast contract with Leicestershire worth 70,000 pound and was in line for a lucrative contract with the Caribbean Premier League. His three half-centuries in the One-Day International series in Australia must also have attracted the attention of some Big Bash League teams.
He was the toast of Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League. He scored the only century in the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League. After watching his PSL hundred, Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s head coach, wanted Sharjeel to exploit his big-hitting power in the longest format too, and got him selected for the Test tours of New Zealand and Australia.
But the PSL which made him, brought his downfall.
On Friday (February 10), came the news that shocked everyone: Sharjeel and Khalid Latif were provisionally suspended from the PSL after they were found in breach of the Anti-Corruption Code, not having informed authorities of an approach from a betting syndicate.
A former Pakistan international, who cannot be named, was behind the trap. He phoned Sharjeel to meet a man for a deal and the left-hander fell in the trap. Sources said the deal was worth five lakh rupees ($US 5000). Sharjeel was given a specific coloured bat grip to use in the Islamabad United match so that betting mafia could know that he was “in the deal”.
Latif’s five-ODI and 13-Twenty20 International career never took off, and at 31 he did not look like going further than a place in the Twenty20 squad. But Sharjeel’s career was shaping well.
“It’s tragic,” said Iqbal Imam, a former first class cricketer, and Sharjeel’s mentor. “Sharjeel was destined for great, giddy highs but he fell to staggering lows. I still don’t believe this because Sharjeel has worked so hard to reach this far and would not have spoiled it in minutes.”
Sharjeel hails from Hyderabad, some 100 miles from the vibrant city of Karachi. From his early days, he was an aggressive batsman who always looked to hit the ball over the field.
Sharjeel was drafted in the Pakistan team after he made his mark at the domestic level, specifically in Twenty20 cricket. Dav Whatmore liked his aggression, as did Waqar Younis who replaced the former Australian in 2014.
Sharjeel blossomed on the tour of Ireland, hitting a rapid 152 in the first ODI, and then showed flashes of brilliance on the England tour.
Ramiz Raja, the former Pakistan captain, lamented Sharjeel’s sudden fall. “It’s very, very unfortunate,” said Raja. “We worked so hard to make the PSL a super product but these players don’t realise it and despite being advised regularly on how to avoid pitfalls they don’t learn, and that is very sad.”
Pakistan has a notorious history of losing players through corruption. They lost three seriously talented players in Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt in 2010. Amir is back after completing his ban and the other two are in line for future selections.
In 2000, Salim Malik and Ata-ur-Rehman were banned for match-fixing, while six other players – including Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq – were fined.
But the lessons were not learnt.
Javed Miandad, another former captain, said the example of Pakistan selecting Amir (after the seamer had served his ban) allowed players to believe they could get away with wrongdoing.
“We suffered because we did not implement the Justice Qayyum inquiry report on match-fixing, and the latest episode of Sharjeel happened because we brought corrupt players back in the team,” he said. “Players feel that they can do anything and get away with small fines or a short ban.”