I was a great fan of Imran Khan as an all-rounder and a captain. Despite being a celebrity and a national hero, his conduct and demeanour appeared to be dignified, graceful and mature. Though he gave the impression of being a bit snobbish, his admirers, like me, willingly overlooked this negative personality trait as his instinctive shyness. Unlike his other teammates, he never went down for a “sijda” in front of the spectators to express his gratitude to Allah, in an unformed manner, for a personal or his team’s achievement. Even after taking the wickets of legendry batsmen, he exercised restraint and self-control. To get a leg before wicket (LBW) decision in his favour, he never appealed in an ungainly manner. It is said that he did not bowl a single no bowl during his 21-year long career as a bowler. If it is true, it is an unbelievable accomplishment that reflects his self-control and discipline. In short, I considered him a very suitable ambassador to represent Pakistan both on the field and off the field.
In the 1992 Cricket World Cup, before playing the second last qualifying match against Australia in Australia, Pakistan was second last from the bottom. Even if Pakistan defeated Australia in that match, team’s chances of making it to the semi-final depended on many “ifs” and “buts”. As shared by Mushtaq Ahmed, in a TV programme, before the start of the match Imran Khan addressed his team members. According to Mushtaq Ahmed; wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a tiger printed on it, Imran Khan told his team with amazing conviction; if they defeated Australia in that match, no opposition could stop them from winning the world cup.
Surprisingly, Pakistan team performing exceptionally well in that match defeated Australia on a convincing margin. After this victory, Pakistan could not reach the semi-final even if they defeated New Zealand, unless the West Indies were defeated by Australia, for whom that match had no significance, because after their defeat against Pakistan they were already out of the race for the world cup. Being thorough professionals Australians defeated the West Indies in their last match to regain their reputation as one of the top teams of the tournament. Now to reach the semi-final, Pakistan had to cross the biggest hurdle; defeating New Zealand in New Zealand. The favourite team of 1992 World Cup, New Zealand, which before playing against Pakistan, was the only unbeaten team in the tournament, proved to be the most ordinary opponents for Pakistan. After an easy win against New Zealand, Pakistan finally made it to semi-final.
Due to fall of early wickets in the semi-final against New Zealand, Imran promoted Javaid Miandad and himself in the batting order to protect his attacking batsmen like Saleem Malik and Inzmam from new ball which was taking swing during the early Overs. Inzmam ul Haq, who played matching winning innings in the semi-final and final of the 1992 world cup, shared in a TV programme that due to his poor form in earlier matches, Javaid Miandad suggested to Imran Khan to drop him. But instead of dropping Inzmam, Imran told Miandad that the young Inzmam had the potential to win the World Cup for his team. Besides playing captain’s knocks both in the semi-final and the final, Imran’s decision to promote himself in the bating order, played important role in making Pakistan the World Champion.
Besides being one of the greatest all-rounders and captains, Imran Khan will be remembered for his determined efforts to compel International Cricket Council to appoint neutral umpires to supervise cricket matches, and as the inventor of reverse swing with the old ball, along with Sarfraz Nawaz. Though his record as a fast bowler is more impressive than as a batsman, his batting technique was better than some of the reputed batsmen of his time. He always played with straight bat according to a plan and situation of game. As an emerging fast bowler in mid-1970s, he tried to intimidate the batsmen with his speed and by bowling bouncers. He became a successful bowler only when, instead of trying to intimidate the batsmen with bouncers, he started concentrating on correct line and length.
To be a successful politician, he was required to have the qualities he always displayed as a batsman. But unfortunately he opted to rely on the techniques, he employed as a novice bowler. As an opposition leader he failed to display any of the qualities that made him a technically sound batsman. His timing and sense of judgment left much to be desired. Irrespective of the situation and demand of the game, he opted to play an aggressive game. He thought that by intimidating his opponent, he would be able get his turn earlier. Despite having failed to achieve the desired results, he did not change his game plan, and line and length according to the situation. After the 2013 election, his party emerged as the third largest political party in Pakistan. But instead of showing the sportsman’s spirit, he had always been known for, he resorted to foul-play to prematurely end the innings of his opponents by using undesirable tactics like “dharnas”, etc. Besides his failure to understand the difference between cricket and politics, his dependence on opportunists is partially responsible for his uncharacteristic performance as an opposition leader.
Majority of the cricketers like Inzmam ul Haq, Wasim Akram, Mushtaq Ahmed, etc., who were members of Pakistan’s 1992 world cup squad credit Pakistan’s victory to Imran Khan’s captaincy. In addition to his contribution as a cricketer, the humanitarian services rendered by Imran Khan as a philanthropist are exceptionally commendable. If after winning the next election, Imran Khan becomes the Prime Minster of Pakistan, the hapless poor masses can only hope and pray that he would modify his game plan according to our national scenario. And making use of the leadership quality, he displayed as a captain, he would select his team on merit to steer the nation out of turbulent and murky waters.
— The writer is retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.