Danish Kaneria relaxes at his Karachi home
© AFP

Features

Banish Danish

And so cricket has done. Kaneria's is the loaded story of a double exile

Osman Samiuddin  |  

After 57 minutes I finally let go. Fifty-seven minutes on an August afternoon in Karachi with Danish Kaneria, Rashid Latif and assorted, and my guilt got the better of me. I surprised myself with the energy behind my sermon. I've long known the life ban imposed on Kaneria, for spot-fixing while playing for Essex, was based on solid evidence. He has appealed on three different fronts since then, two of them in UK courts, and been denied each time. The last, in the Court of Appeal, was dismissed emphatically, even embarrassingly, as "totally without merit".

In the days when I was getting ready to meet him I steeled myself against precisely that moment. I would grill him, maybe even - hah! - draw an admission out of him. Or at least I could nudge him towards showing some remorse, which might become a first step to an eventual rehabilitation.

With many Pakistani players it is not difficult to attain a level of pallyness that is unthinkable in most other countries - and certainly not as swiftly achieved, if at all. The vicissitudes of being a Pakistan cricketer compel players to hoard allies in the press to do their bidding when times are bad, and their trumpeting when good. It's not an especially evolved equation.

Kaneria, whose career I had followed closely for a decade, had become more than a subject. We texted regularly, spoke often. I knew his uncle and brother, used to ask after his children. Now in the 57th minute, I did his bidding.

"One guy's life, you aren't just messing up his career, you are ending his life. This is the biggest issue. And anyway... [long pause]... I'm Pakistani, I've lived here, and I'm ashamed and regret how we've treated Hindus and Christians [Kaneria: no reaction; Latif: "Hmmmm"]. How can you finish a guy's life like this?"

I did not believe that Kaneria was innocent, and yet here I was sounding like his lawyer. I argued it was a human-rights issue. A man's right to earn had been taken away from him. I was being pathetic. I said nothing when Kaneria and Latif drew false equivalences with Mohammad Amir. I didn't retort that Amir had acknowledged his guilt and so had earned an opportunity for rehabilitation. I didn't say I was pretty sure if Kaneria acknowledged his, he might receive concessions on his punishment.

It could have been the presence of Latif, punching tiny holes in the case against Kaneria; Latif, the great corruption whistleblower, fighting for a player found guilty of corruption. He was dressed in starched, spotless white too. But I know ultimately it was my guilt. It was the three-tiered guilt of the majority: Sunni, Muslim and male - sect, religion and gender - in Pakistan. The thin white strip on Pakistan's flag representing minorities may as well be blood red. For the sake of accuracy, it should definitely be a non-fixed area, receding over time.

Kaneria grew up in a Pakistan that exists by the implication that India is for Hindus (and, increasingly, that Pakistan is not for minorities of any kind at all)

I didn't want to feel guilty, not for this. But Pakistan can be so twisted, sometimes it is impossible not to.

Rashid Latif took Kaneria into his academy in 2000. As to so many Karachi cricketers, he is to Kaneria a godfather. His presence in Kaneria's corner is odd: the man who exposed corruption within the Pakistan side, who paid for it with his own exile, taking up this fight. Halfway through the afternoon, Latif received a phone call. He chatted happily for a couple of minutes, as if to a friend. Once he finished, smiling, he asked me: "Guess who that was?"

It was Saleem Malik: the man whose wrongdoings Latif exposed, who Latif once attempted to entrap in phone calls, whose career Latif ultimately helped end. It was a profoundly distorting moment, so tangled I still haven't worked out what it could possibly have meant.

Rashid Latif's presence in Kaneria's corner is somewhat disorienting, given his record as a crusading whistleblower

Rashid Latif's presence in Kaneria's corner is somewhat disorienting, given his record as a crusading whistleblower © AFP

The case against Kaneria is not so tangled. As part of his defence, Kaneria claimed that on Pakistan's tour to the West Indies in the summer of 2005, he was introduced to Anu Bhatt by a PCB official. The ICC Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) describes Bhatt as an Indian businessman suspected of involvement in illegal cricket betting.

Kaneria acknowledged during investigations that he met Bhatt more than once thereafter, a meeting in November 2007 of particular note. Kaneria was with Pakistan on a tour to India. He and several other players attended a dinner at Bhatt's residence in Delhi. Kaneria, who would later tell the ACSU he thought Bhatt was in the oil business, accepted that he had received gifts that evening, including a mobile phone. When the ACSU visited Pakistan in April 2008 to speak to the players who attended that dinner, Kaneria was warned that Bhatt was "highly inappropriate company".

A man past despair:

A man past despair: "Days pass, mornings pass. What else is there to do?" © Associated Press

He didn't take heed. Across late August and early September 2009, while playing for Essex, Kaneria introduced Mervyn Westfield, a county team-mate, to Bhatt. According to court records and transcripts of an ECB hearing, Kaneria, preying on a relatively low-paid and non-established player, told Westfield he could make quick, easy money. Westfield agreed to concede a certain number of runs in his first over of a Pro40 game, against Durham on September 5, 2009. Though he possibly conceded fewer runs than the required number (ten; there is uncertainty over whether the minimum number was ten or 12), after the game Westfield was paid £6000 in Kaneria's car, in which two other Asian men were also sitting. One of them was Bhatt.

Eventually Westfield told a team-mate, Tony Palladino, who six months later reported it to club officials. In April 2010, Essex police announced they were investigating the match and questioned Kaneria and Westfield. Kaneria was released without charge but Westfield was eventually put on criminal trial in January 2012, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months' imprisonment. It was at the sentencing in February that Kaneria's world began to fall apart. Though no longer picked for Pakistan, he was still playing domestic cricket. The judge named Kaneria as the influence who led Westfield astray.

In June that year, an ECB panel found Kaneria guilty and banned him for life. They noted text messages and phone calls between Kaneria and Bhatt running up to the days of the fix, which "tend to give the lie to the suggestion made by Danish Kaneria repeatedly that he wished to keep this 'dangerous' man at arms [sic] length". Kaneria admitted to the panel that he had introduced Bhatt to Westfield. He confirmed Bhatt was in Durham for that game, with tickets obtained by Kaneria. Other players at Essex also testified that Kaneria had, on occasion, "sought to instigate discussion about spot- or match fixing".

I did not believe that Kaneria was innocent, and yet here I was sounding like his lawyer. I argued it was a human-rights issue. I was being pathetic

Kaneria has maintained through five years that he is absolutely innocent. But he has yet to present a compelling counter. In appeals, Kaneria's lawyers have focused on the unreliability of Westfield as a witness. Indeed, when Kaneria appealed against the ECB decision, there was a chance of the case against him falling apart because the primary witness, Westfield, refused to testify (nursing his own grievances against the ECB). The ECB eventually went to the High Court in London to issue a summons to Westfield. Latif and Kaneria suggest, without any evidence, there was more to this coercion than meets the eye and also procedural errors involved.

In 2013, Latif claimed Bhatt was a guest of PCB officials during home series in 2005 and 2006; the PCB rubbished the allegations and issued a legal notice to Latif. Nothing more has come of what is potentially an explosive allegation.

To me, Latif mumbled about putting his credibility on the line for Kaneria. Why, he asked rhetorically, would he get involved, given his past, unless he was sure Kaneria had been wronged? He was sure Kaneria has been wronged, but his most forceful arguments revolved around the punishment, not the verdict.

The migration of Pakistani Hindus to India, to escape many forms of persecution, is well documented. Figures from the last three years vary, but they show an increase on years past. Some reports reveal Pakistan Hindus exist in a manner of exile. It must mean something that two different Pakistani Hindus express their plight in near identical words: "I am a Hindu in Pakistan, but a Pakistani in India."

Minority report: Hindus from Pakistan gather outside the UN Information Centre in New Delhi, demanding they be allowed to stay in India

Minority report: Hindus from Pakistan gather outside the UN Information Centre in New Delhi, demanding they be allowed to stay in India © Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Each day that it has grown older, Pakistan has amplified the otherness of its religious minorities. It occurs on a scale that begins with daily, casual political incorrectness and ignorance; jests about Hindus on a par with those about other religious minorities, or those of darker skin, but jibes nonetheless. I was once told by an acquaintance of his son, who upon coming across an Indian Muslim said to his father he thought there were no Muslims in India.

Aatish Taseer records a telling conversation in Stranger to History. On a drive into interior Sindh, one of the men accompanying him asks the same dull question many do when meeting Indians in Pakistan: what differences do you see between the two countries? Usually the point of such a conversation is to steer it to an answer that validates the existence of Pakistan at the least, and at most extracts an admission of its superiority. Soon the conversation turns to Taseer's religious orientation, and here comes an added complication. His mother is Sikh and Indian, and his father, the Pakistani leader Salmaan Taseer (who would be assassinated a few years later for opposing Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws), is a Muslim.

"Yes, yes, so you're Muslim," the questioner says.

Taseer says he is nothing.

The questioner continues. "Come on, you're Muslim. If your father's Pakistani, you're a Muslim."

If he's Pakistani, you must be Muslim. That is, if he's Pakistani, then he must be Muslim and so must you. Pakistan is a homeland for Muslims is an Islamic Republic so all Pakistanis are Muslims right? Which makes Hindus in Pakistan what?

"I believe in Allah's greatness. If not today then tomorrow, the time will come because I am walking on the right path, on the path of truth" Danish Kaneria

At the far end of that scale are the deeper, more insidious prejudices fostered by quasi-state policies. The clearest evidence is found in the best-known work of KK Aziz, one of Pakistan's great historians. The Murder of History is a frightening study, a bloodless picking apart of the lies, distortions of history and hate-propaganda of 66 state-approved textbooks. These books were used in many schools for years, some until the early 1990s, indoctrinating suspicion of, if not hate against, non-Muslims. Hindus are a recurring target.

Kaneria grew up in a Pakistan shaped by these textbooks. He grew up in a Pakistan bloated with a burgeoning, informal network of madrasas teaching far worse. He grew up in a Pakistan that exists by the implication that India is for Hindus (and, increasingly, that Pakistan is not for minorities of any kind). Pakistan is not a country especially encumbered by political correctness. Few, if any, would have tread delicately around the fact of Kaneria's religion. He is lucky not to have been trampled outright. How can this murder of history not burn somewhere inside him?

A few times over the last decade I asked Kaneria whether he felt discriminated against. He always insisted he hadn't. I used to ask him especially during Inzamam-ul-Haq's captaincy, when the Pakistan side became deeply Islamicised and the only other minority player, Yousuf Youhana, converted to Islam.

Never. Not even, I wondered, though I never asked him, when journalists insisted to his face that his name was Dinesh, not Danish, and he would jokingly offer to show his passport as proof? Hopefully he never heard some journalists, on long, wicketless days, call him "Saala Hindu", or joke that he should be sent "back to India". I thought maybe Kaneria's was the classic minority stance: to bristle at even the suggestion that he is treated differently in his own country. I stopped asking after a while. He had, after all, made it. TV channels did stories on him celebrating Diwali with his family. And there was a great socio-economic gulf between him and the migrating Hindus of interior Sindh. Other minorities, like Shias, Christians and Ahmadis, had taken over as targets.

Kaneria filled the legspinner's vacancy left by Mushtaq Ahmed, taking 261 Test wickets in 61 Tests

Kaneria filled the legspinner's vacancy left by Mushtaq Ahmed, taking 261 Test wickets in 61 Tests © AFP

When I asked Kaneria again that August afternoon about whether his religion had made a difference in the spot-fixing case, it was not he but those assembled around him who said yes.

Later, when I asked him about his persistence in fighting this case, he said this: "People ask me what I will do in the future. When I started cricket in school nobody then could have said I will reach Pakistan level, to play on such a big stage, being from a minority, and also I was really bulky and fat. Nobody could have said that. But I had some hope."

It was the first and only time I had heard him bring up his religion as an obstacle of any kind. Yet, as a challenge, he seemed to be treating it at the same level as being fat. A few months after we met, he wrote a letter to the ICC asking for assistance. Towards the end, he wrote: "Belonging to a Hindu minority community in Pakistan, I struggled and worked hard to become part of the Pakistan Cricket Team and develop into a world class spin bowler."

Was it a plea or a show of pride? Was it just a simple statement of fact?

When we met, the force of Kaneria's grievances felt somehow insufficient. He seemed like a player who had suffered merely some selectoral slight, not a man whose entire livelihood had ceased abruptly

Depending on what you make of the above, here is a contention. Kaneria is in an exile squared. Or at least the sense of his original exile, as a Hindu in Pakistan, is exacerbated by his self-inflicted, secondary exile, from cricket. The one has nothing to do with the other. The fact of Kaneria's religion should not lessen the gravity of what he has done. No circumstances compelled him to do what he did. He was one of the first names in any Pakistan Test XI in 49 of 54 Tests the team played since he became a regular in October 2003. His religion did not prevent him from flourishing as a cricketer.

But I cannot bring myself to accept he will face the same experiences as other Pakistani cricketers who have been found guilty, or are yet to accept what they did. That would require a reconfiguring of the country. Unlike Inzamam, or Saeed Anwar, or Mushtaq Ahmed - all sanctioned by Justice Qayyum - he will not be able to use the cloak of his religion to mask his sins. In fact, it's tempting to wonder whether he has not confessed because of fears that his minority status might work against him. (Equally it could be that he is aping those players, a generation before his, who never admitted to wrongdoing and got away with it.)

Under the ban Kaneria cannot play any cricket that falls under the auspices of the PCB. He cannot be seen at any PCB ground. He cannot train at any PCB facility. He cannot be seen publicly with former team-mates. The whirl of travel, train and play is gone. Stasis has set in. He now has empty days to fill.

Physically he gets by. "I wake up in the morning. I have membership at the Karachi Club, so I go to the gym there. Then I come back. At 3-4pm I go to KPI [the Karachi Parsi Institute Ground, where he trained growing up], then I get back around 7-8pm. At KPI I do my bowling, batting, my training. I get back in the evening tired, watch a match, eat dinner, then sleep, day over. Every day."

An exile twice over: as a Hindu in Pakistan, and as a man excommunicated from cricket

An exile twice over: as a Hindu in Pakistan, and as a man excommunicated from cricket © Associated Press

Mentally, this purgatory should be more difficult. But when we met, the force of Kaneria's grievances felt somehow insufficient. He seemed like a player who had suffered merely some selectoral slight, not a man whose entire livelihood had ceased abruptly. It has been a truly dire period. In April 2013, he lost his father to cancer, barely a week after losing his ECB appeal. He was in England at the time, away from his father. His career earnings and savings are gone, lost in a succession of legal battles (the ECB wants £100,000 in legal costs). Habib Bank, his domestic side, had secured him a salary. Gone. "Where I was before, at zero, I'm standing there again. Right now my brother is working, Allah give him health, he has really supported me, he has seen the whole case also. From his push, the car is running."

So four properly hellish years, yet they had not eaten away at his bearing and countenance as might be expected. He looked fresh and well-groomed, as fit as he ever managed - that is, like that thin guy inside whom a fat guy is dying to break out. Maybe I was wrong to expect despair or desperation. He had felt that when the PCB stopped picking him in 2010. It became acute when he was stopped from playing all cricket in 2012. By now, perhaps, despair had just run out.

"It passes, days pass, mornings pass. What else is there to do?"

Why do you still train and keep fit?

"Who knows? I will be back one day right? The sun goes down but it comes back up the next day right? It will come up. But at its own time."

This Bollywood-lite self-help musing was typical Kaneria. He has one such saying for most situations and I have never been able to get rid of the impression they are said for effect rather than from some deep conviction.

Pakistan is not a country especially encumbered by political correctness. Few, if any, would have tread delicately around the fact of Kaneria's religion

Maybe he still didn't really believe this was the end. We tried to settle on the right feeling. This, I said, must feel like one of those bowling spells of his. Dead pitch, set batsmen, 33 overs in, a wicket to his name, continuing in the hope three or four more will come if he just persists. This is that scene.

"Sometimes I go into depression but I get out of it very quickly. I know if I do, my mother will go into it as well. I cannot afford that at all. Then two kids, then my wife. They will be affected. You know how women can be. My brother is strong but not that much. When I got a life ban, not a single tear came from my eyes. My whole household was crying, including my brother. Not me. I asked him what's wrong. He said, you've got a life ban. I said, so what? It'll go."

He has cranked up his faith. As a response to crisis, perhaps from guilt, as atonement, it is the classic response of the faithful. Religion had always been an important part of him, of course, but always, I thought, at the level of landmark: Danish Kaneria, only the second Hindu to play for Pakistan. He would speak like his team-mates - his countrymen - in hoping Inshallah we win, in gratefulness Mashallah we did.

But a deeper pleading to Allah underpinned our conversation last August. Nearly every response carried an acknowledgement, an understanding, of a force greater than human agency. But there was so much eagerness in leaving everything to that force, it also felt like he was entirely abdicating his own agency. (It is not unusual that he uses the word Allah. I've always thought he uses it generically.)

"It has been a really tough time but I believe in Allah's greatness. If not today then tomorrow, the time will come because I am walking on the right path, on the path of truth."

"I just pray that Allah has some mercy, He is the only one who can do that."

"I can't turn the other way. Allah gave me the good times as well, didn't he?"

"Who knows what Allah tried to save me from in doing this to me?"

"Roti will come. He has promised, it will come."

Mervyn Westfield had to live not only with the humiliation of a ban, but also time in jail

Mervyn Westfield had to live not only with the humiliation of a ban, but also time in jail © AFP

At one point I had to interrupt and ask him where this was coming from. If it had existed before, I had not known this side of him.

"Osman bhai this is what gives us strength. If you leave this, where will strength come from? This is what we're holding on to. That is where we're getting strength from, if we leave it where will we get it from then?"

I probably imagined it but for the only time that day, I thought there was a little desperation in his voice.

Latif accompanies Kaneria on Thursdays to the shrine of the Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi. Sat atop a hill overlooking Karachi's Clifton beach, the shrine is a loud and gaudy release from the tightening religious strictures of the city. Without discrimination, it attracts people of all faiths. The old, cute belief is that the shrine has protected the city from all manner of coastal disasters. Not so much, clearly, from man-made disasters, and in 2010 the shrine was the target of a twin suicide bombing.

Kaneria's paternal grandmother used to go religiously. His father used to go every Thursday until he fell ill.

"He is sitting, Ghazi baba, to protect me. This is it. This is what will protect me. What else is there in the world?"

What if he doesn't, I said, asking Kaneria one final time what he would do if he never plays proper cricket again. Each time he had answered that he hadn't even considered it. This last time, the merest crack.

"How can I think it? Until you have breath, how can you? But I've thought that if it doesn't happen in this lifetime, it will in another lifetime."

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National and the author of The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Comments