imran-khan

Born November 25, 1952, Imran Khan Niazi is Pakistan’s most famous player and most successful captain ever. As elegant and charismatic on the field as off it, Imran made his Test debut as an 18-year-old medium-pacer and went on to become a genuine all-rounder in the years to follow. Having served the nation for over two decades and given the gems like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq, his contribution to Pakistan cricket is immense. Imran led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, after which he brought the curtains down on an illustrious career and turned into a philanthropist and politician. On his birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar takes a look at 30 interesting facts from the life of the cricketer-turned-politician.

1.  One birthday, two dates: There is confusion on the actual birth date of Imran. His Wikipedia page claims his real birth date to be October 5, while his official records — including his national identity card — say it is November 25.

2.  Family: Imran was born and raised in an upper-middle class family which had his civil engineer and a landowner father, housewife mother and four sisters —  in Mianwali in north-western Punjab in Pakistan. His paternal family are of Pashtun ethnicity and belong to the Niazi tribe.

3.  Education: Imran was raised in affluent circumstances and thus received privileged education. He was educated at Aitchison College in Lahore and the Royal Grammar School Worcester in England, where he learnt his cricket. In the year 1972, he got himself enrolled in Keble College, Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, graduating with honours degree in 1975.

4.  Famous cousins: Imran’s maternal cousins Javed Burki and Majid Khan also played for Pakistan. While Burki made 25 appearances in Tests, Majid played 63 Tests and 23 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for the country. Both even led the national team in Tests.

5.  Early injury: During his schooldays, Imran once slipped while climbing a tree, and broke his left arm when trying to cling on to a branch. He had to be hospitalised. Ever since, his left arm has given him trouble, not in his bowling though. But he had to practise constantly at holding his bat during his playing days, otherwise his grip would stiffen up.

6.  Cricket ambitions: Imran was determined to become a Test cricketer since he was nine years old. At the age of sixteen, he made a mediocre First-Class debut and after playing a few games, found himself selected for Pakistan even as he was still a student at Oxford. He had an ordinary debut though, and had to wait for another three years to play his second Test and then again another two years to play his fifth. But his determination eventually paid off when he started getting a proper run in the side since 1976.

7.  That last flight from Dhaka: As a member of the West Pakistan Under-19 team, Imran was on the last flight out of Dhaka in 1971 before the Pakistani army moved into East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and the liberation war of 1971 began.

8.  Denniss Lillee, the inspiration: In 1972, when Imran was still in England, Australia toured the country. He watched Dennis Lillee bowl and that’s when he decided to be fast. It was the first time he’d seen a genuine fast bowler since Pakistan didn’t have any.

9.  World Series Cricket: In the late seventies, Imran joined World Series Cricket, a break-away professional cricket competition organised by Kerry Packer for his Australian television network, Nine Network. The matches, which did not have official status, ran parallel to established international cricket. His sudden move brought him a three-month suspension. However, it was here that Imran became a complete all-rounder; a dashing No. 5 batsman, and a bowler who had mastered the out-swinger. He considers that his time spent with some of the world’s great players during the World Series Cricket was decisive in making him a complete bowler, for while Mike Procter advised him on his run-up, John Snow assisted him in turning his left shoulder more towards fine leg, to help achieve the out-swinger.

10.  Speed Test: Imran came third behind Jeff Thomson and Michael Holding at the famous speed test in Perth in 1978. In an interview later on, Imran shared, “we were bowling bouncers and Jeff Thomson was bowling full-tosses, so there was a slight distortion, although he was probably still quicker. Out of eight balls I bowled, seven were quicker than Holding. I wasn’t even at my peak – I was quicker in the next two years.”

11.  Surpassed Fazal Mahmood: In the year 1981-82, during a series against Australia, Imran overtook former Pakistan bowler Fazal Mahmood’s record of 139 wickets for Pakistan. In the same series, he was adjudged the player of the series.

12.  The fighter jet: Pakistan’s adoring cricket fans began to refer to Imran by the name of the fighter-jet after he led his team to a 3-0 series victory against India in 1982-83, taking as many as 40 wickets. Apparently, around the time, the government of Pakistan had persuaded the United States of America (USA) government to give them the fighter planes F-16.

13.  Comparison with Botham, Hadlee and Kapil: Imran was one of the greatest all-rounders of his era and it was only apt that he got compared to his contemporaries and great all-rounders Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee.

14.  Anecdote I: Once in 1987, Nawaz Sharif, then the chief minister of Punjab, appointed himself captain of the Pakistan team for a warm-up match against West Indies. He walked out to open as well against one of the greatest fast bowling attacks in cricket history, wearing ‘batting pads, a floppy hat – and a smile.’ Imran quickly enquired if there was an ambulance ready.

15.  Retirement and return: Imran announced his retirement from international cricket after the conclusion of the 1987 World Cup. However, the military dictator of Pakistan Gen Zia-ul-Haq asked him to return to lead the team. Imran accepted his offer and that was the best thing that could’ve happened to Pakistan cricket.

16.  Captaincy and the 1992 World Cup: Imran was always an instinctive leader; right from picking players out of nets (Tauseef Ahmed and Wasim Akram) or lifting them from 17-year layoffs from Test cricket (Younis Ahmed), Imran’s methods usually worked. His career had a fairytale ending when he led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup of 1992. The most significant part of that win was that he himself had handpicked that young team and led them to glory. Imran led from the front and batted up the order since the team’s batting was weak. He scored 185 runs from 8 matches at an average just over 30 and also picked 7 wickets. He announced his retirement from the game after the win.

17.  The infamous victory speech: Imran’s victory speech after winning the World Cup became a part of controversy as all he spoke about was his off-field motivation, the cancer hospital that he wanted to build, and not about the win. He didn’t even thank or congratulate his team-mates for the win.

18.  Legacy: Imran was Pakistan’s first genuine fast bowler and he inspired a generation of cricketers to pursue fast bowling by becoming the first home-grown role-model. Pakistan Editor of ESPNCricinfo Osman Samiuddin aptly summed it, “Just imagine cricket’s landscape in Pakistan without Imran. Might not hockey be the national sport in name and spirit? For sure the country would have been one of spinners and medium-pacers, no Wasim, Waqar, Zahid, Shoaib and Amir in sight.”

19.  Controversy: Imran’s career hasn’t been devoid of controversies. In 1994, he admitted to seam-lifting Test matches, and scratching the ball with a bottle top once in a county match in 1981. Later in 1996, two former England cricketers Botham and Alan Lamb sued him for libel after he allegedly called them “racist” amidst a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations over the ball tampering row. Imran eventually won the case.  In 1997, a Los Angeles court ruled that Imran was the legal father of a four-year-old illegitimate southern California girl named Tyrian White, who was born as a lovechild out of  an affair between Imran and her mother Sita White, who later died in 2004 due to a heart attack.

20.  Cancer hospital: Imran lost his mother Shaukat Khanum to cancer in the year 1984.  Since then, he wanted to build a cancer hospital in his mother’s name and treat the poor of Pakistan for free. He vowed to raise a sum of £5 million to establish a hospital. The government of Pakistan also helped him in the noble cause and donated 20 acres of land on the outskirts of Lahore. In December 1994, after a decade of tireless fundraising and toiling ground work, the hospital was inaugurated. It was the first and as yet the only cancer hospital in Lahore.

21.  Politics: In 1996, Imran founded a political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and has since been a key figure in Pakistan politics. He was close to becoming the Prime Minister in 2002, when he was reportedly General Pervez Musharraf’s choice for the post. At present, his party has 30 seats in the parliament, with Imran himself being elected from one of those seats.

22.  Anecdote II: Once during a county match between Sussex and Gloucestershire, Imran floored his country-mate Zaheer Abbas with a bouncer. This apparently came after Imran’s Sussex team-mates provoked him to do so. But after the delivery, he immediately lost his aggression and became full of empathy for Abbas.

23.  Anecdote III: Once in the middle of a hysterical political campaign rally, a novice political reporter asked Imran the politician if he had ever seen anything like it before. Imran quietly answered, ‘yes, he had.’

24.  Member of ICC’s panel on illegal deliveries: In the year 1999, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appointed Imran on International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) panel on illegal deliveries in place of his cousin Burki. He was being put into that position to deal with the issue of chucking with all his experience and knowledge in the international cricket circuit.

25.  Coaching: Imran offered to coach the Pakistani team after their disastrous World Cup campaign in 2003. After a similar showing in 2007 World Cup, Imran once again put his hand up and voluntarily offered to coach the team despite his hectic political schedule.

26.  Robbed at gun-point: In 2004, Imran was robbed at gunpoint while driving through the outskirts of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. He was driving with his maid and two sons, when he was forced to stop abruptly by an overtaking car. Two men with semi-automatic weapons emerged from nearby bushes and the group was forced to hand over their mobile phones, credit cards, a camera and a purse. The family escaped unhurt.

27.  Life-threatening injury: On May 7, 2013, just four days ahead of the general elections, Imran was admitted to Shaukat Khanum hospital in Lahore after he tumbled from a forklift at the edge of a stage and fell headfirst to the ground. Despite six inch wound and 28 stitches on face, Imran survived. Earlier in 2009, he had undergone emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage at the same hospital.

28.  Awards and accolades: Imran collected a number of awards during and after his playing days. Some of the prominent ones include: Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1983, President’s  Pride of Performance Award in the same year, Pakistan’s civil award the Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 1992, induction into ICC hall of fame in 2009 and the Jinnah Award in 2011.

29.  Taliban Khan: Imran has always been at loggerheads with the political establishment in his country. In one of the three personalised accounts of his life, Pakistan: A Personal History, Imran wrote, “I vowed I would never accept our government’s propaganda at face value or ever back a military operation against our own people.” It has become a fundamental pillar of his politics more than three decades later as he has even been called Taliban Khan because of it.

30.  Personal life: A playboy in his playing days, Imran married Jemima Goldsmith, the daughter of the late British billionaire Sir James Goldsmith, in the year 1995. However, the marriage ended in divorce after nine years. He has two sons — Qasim and Sulaiman from his marriage to Jemima. In 2015, he married journalist Reham Khan, but his second marriage too ended in divorce just after 10 months of togetherness.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)