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What cricket tells us about Imran Khan
Prime Minister Imran Khan

What cricket tells us about Imran Khan

Imran Khan has excelled in many fields - cricket, philanthropy, and politics to mention a few – but the field that has always defined his personality is cricket. It would not be wrong to suggest that he started his career as a philanthropist and politician on the back of a successful career in cricket. Achievements have never been shy of him, and whatever he goes on to achieve, cricket will always find itself associated with him.

On the day he was elected as 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan, the headline used by Dawn, the leading English newspaper of Pakistan, was “Imran Khan clean bowls Shahbaz Sharif”. Cricingif takes this opportunity to look at some interesting aspects of Imran’s cricket career that are key to understand his character.

Fight for the dreams

At nine years of age, Imran Khan went to see a Test match with his mother in Lahore. That was where he first had an urge to become a Test cricketer. Nine years later, he was bowling to Sir Colin Cowdery in a Test match in Birmingham. His next cricket dream was to win a Test series in India and World Cup. He achieved both in the last phase of his career. After cricket, his first dream was to build a cancer hospital in the memory of his mother, who died of cancer. Shaukat Khanum Cancer Memorial Hospital today is a state-of-the-art facility and has spent 270 Million US Dollars on the treatment of patients.

But his biggest dream was yet to come – that of giving justice to the people of his country.

To achieve that Imran entered politics in 1996 and formed Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement of Justice). For some it was Imran chasing a fantasy, for others it was a leap of faith, but for him, it was another chapter of struggle.

From becoming Test cricketer to winning a World Cup, making a cancer hospital to joining politics, forming a political party to becoming a Prime Minister, Imran’s life has seen a constant and successful struggle of 56 years.

Say no to mediocrity

Opinion is divided on Imran, the politician, but there is no dispute over Imran’s stature as a cricketer. Scyld Berry, the renowned cricket journalist and former Wisden editor, labels him as the biggest cricketer to come out of Asia.

Imran played the sport at his very best. According to the International Cricket Council’s Rankings, no bowler in the last 104 years has had a better phase than Imran. On the back of his performance in 1982, Imran achieved a rating of 922 points, the highest for any bowler since 1914. And when his bowling powers started to become weaker, he transformed himself into a better batsman. His batting average (52.34) in Tests as captain is better than the likes of Sachin Tendulkar (51.35), Clive Lloyd (51.30), Alan Border (50.94), Sunil Gavaskar (50.72), Javed Miandad (50.08), Ian Chappell (50.00) and Viv Richards (45.11). There is no dispute over Imran being a complete cricketer.

With his leadership, he transformed an ordinary team into world-beaters winning the World Cup, Nehru Cup (a sort of mini world cup), Test series in England (twice) and India and made Pakistan number one Test team in 1988. The greatest team ever to play the sport, West Indies of the 1980s, could not beat Pakistan in three consecutive series. It was Imran’s captaincy that made Pakistan the only legitimate challengers to West Indies in that period.

Instilling confidence in youth

If there is one thing Inzamam-ul-Haq has repeated more often than his pet phrase Jonsa, it is his conversation with Imran Khan in a flight from Christchurch to Auckland before the semi-final in World Cup 1992. Inzamam had gone eight games in the tournament without a 50 and was lacking confidence but all Imran needed to motivate him was a boundary he hit off Danny Morrison in the last match of the group stage in Christchurch.

Imran told Inzamam that the boundary he hit is a sign that his form is back and a big innings is around the corner. It earned Inzamam so much confidence that in the very next match he architected one of the greatest innings in World Cup history scoring a 37-ball 60 to take Pakistan to the final.

Imran played a vital role in grooming many youngsters and polished their cricketing skills. Wasim Akram often recalls that Imran always used to be in his ears so much as that once he stopped himself from bowling a delivery to which Imran shouted: “why are you not bowling”. Wasim replied he had not been told what to bowl.

Leading from the front

If you are an under-30 cricket fan, you are unlikely to have watched Imran live. You’d be forgiven for thinking Imran was a regular number three batsman (the position he came to bat in the final of the world cup in 1992). In his entire ODI career, Imran batted at one drop only on four occasions – all in must-win matches and three of those in the world cup.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So, when Pakistan lost an early wicket in the final in Melbourne, Imran took the challenge on himself and moved to three. He stitched a 139 runs partnership with Javed Miandad to take Pakistan to safety. He had also come to bat at three in the semi-final in Auckland and prior to that in the group match against Sri Lanka in Perth. The only other time he came at one down was against Australia in the World Series in 1984.

He has also been vocal against the strategy of using best players in the lower-order. Working as a cricket expert during India’s ODI series win in 2006 in Pakistan, he criticised Inzamam for coming at five and using Younis Khan at six.

Country before personal glory

Test cricket has seen 141 years and 2316 Test matches but only one captain that declared the innings with his own score in the 90s. In the last series of his career and perhaps with the knowledge that he may not get another opportunity to score a Test century, Imran Khan declared the innings seven short of 100 in a bid to pursue a win against Sri Lanka in Sialkot. With himself not out on 93, lead 153 runs and about an hour and a day left in the match, Imran put Sri Lanka to bat again. The match was drawn but Imran’s decision to not go after his seventh century showed the selfless side of his sporting personality.

For that particular reason, he also declared the innings when Javed Miandad was 20 adrift from 300 against India in Hyderabad (Sindh) in 1983. No other captain in history has declared with a teammate so close (280) to a triple-century. Pakistan went on to win the Test by an innings and 119 runs. Imran’s message was clear that a personal glory cannot come ahead of the country’s interest.