A grateful nation looked up with pride at the young heroes from Pakistan as they lifted the ICC Under-19 World Cup trophy in Dhaka on 5 March, 2004. There was a great deal of expectation that these youngsters would blossom into some of the world’s top cricketers in the future. The captain of this team was the aggressive young opener from Karachi, Khalid Latif who also had the honour of being the highest scorer for Pakistan in that tournament, scoring 291 runs.
It took another four years before a much-improved Latif followed his Under-19 exploits with ODI and T20I debuts for Pakistan against Zimbabwe. While he was unable to establish himself in the Pakistani batting lineup and his appearances for Pakistan in the ODI format dried up, he remained on the selectors' radar with sporadic international appearances in the T20I format and also joined the Pakistan Super League side Islamabad United in 2016.
The shorter and more glamourous format of the PSL provided Latif a good platform to showcase his batting skills and he was subsequently picked for Pakistan’s tour of England in 2016 to play in the only T20I at Manchester.
On that tour, a Pakistan side which had earlier been thrashed 4-1 in the ODIs seemed to find its feet and two fantastic heroes as their openers in the shape of Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif in the T20I game at Old Trafford. What Pakistan fans saw that day from Khalid Latif seemed to point to a future of great promise and it appeared that the batsman’s long wait on the sidelines was now a thing of the past.
On 7 September, 2016, an enthralled and packed Old Trafford was turned into a sea of green as Pakistan supporters danced with joy watching Latif announce his re-introduction to international cricket with an accomplished innings of 59 runs off 42 balls. No one could begrudge Latif’s unbridled joy at playing his part in an incredible opening stand with Sharjeel Khan. For followers of Pakistan cricket, this seemed to be a watershed moment for a team that had of-late, struggled to hold its own in the limited-over formats of the game.
Now firmly established as a T20 specialist, Latif saw himself selected for the ‘home’ series against the West Indies and played an instrumental role in Pakistan’s convincing 3-0 victory over the visitors in the UAE. The news, as far as Latif was concerned, was getting better and better. With Sharjeel at his side, there was talk of one of the most effective opening combinations in T20 cricket in the world at that time.
For Pakistan fans who had waited for years with patience watching many teams produce aggressors at the top of the batting order, this was a time to rejoice as it was clear that in Latif, they finally had a hard-hitting batsman of their own and a batsman who was a great foil for Sharjeel.
To the neutral observer, the shameful events of 2010 where Pakistan’s top cricketers were found to be embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal and punished with five-year bans, would have been reason enough for any cricketer to have avoided corruption at all costs or to even dream of being involved in corruption. To those who had seen the impact on Pakistani cricket and the mental anguish associated with corruption, it was inconceivable that a second scandal involving cricketers from the same country would ever come to light again.
However, on 9 February, 2017, while playing for Islamabad United, Sharjeel lost his wicket for just one run to his name. Within hours of this event, claims of corruption against him came to light where it was alleged that he had acted in conjunction with Latif in an act of spot-fixing in the match against Peshawar Zalmi.
The PCB to its credit, acted with urgency and withdrew both cricketers and suspended them from all forms of cricket and instituted an Anti-Corruption Tribunal to look into these very serious allegations that threatened to reverse progress made by the PCB against this menace over he past years.
It took more than seven months of bureaucratic and legal wrangling before the Anti-Corruption Tribunal arrived at its verdict, finding Latif guilty on all six charges of corruption and imposing sanctions of a five-year ban from all forms of cricket as well as a fine worth PKR 1 million (Rs 6.2 lakh) against the disgraced cricketer.
To many, the stories of the Pakistan cricketers involved in the 2010 scandal would have served as enough caution to any others wanting to take the same path but sadly this was not to be.
Latif had it all in his hands. He had performed consistently in domestic cricket, waited patiently for years to make a name and establish himself in the Pakistan team, but just as it seemed that there was light at the end of the tunnel for his career, he walked into the darkness of corruption.
If rumours are to be believed, Khalid will launch an appeal against this verdict and the sanctions but even in the unlikely event that he succeeds, his international career is all but over. The sad fact of the matter is that instead of remembering Khalid Latif as an honest cricketer who triumphed in the end with hard work and commitment, history will simply recall him as a consistent performer who waited for his chance, then got it and threw it away due to greed.