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Imran Khan’s invaluable contribution to Pakistan as leader

Imran Khan © Getty Images
Under Imran Khan’s able leadership, Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992 © Getty Images

Utility of Imran Khan to Pakistan as a leader

Pakistan have traditionally been a team of brilliant individuals, but not so great collectively. This is not to say that there haven’t been magic moments when the team has come together, but this phenomenon has always been short lived. A strong leader was required who was not only a great tactician, but who was a good enough player to demand respect from his teammates. That Imran Khan has been able to fulfill that role would be an understatement. The style and charisma that he gave to Pakistan cricket has been adored throughout the world. He has not only been a great captain, but a magnificent all-rounder too. Many consider him to be ahead of his contemporaries like Ian Botham, Mike Procter, Clive Rice, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee even when considered only as a player.

On  a sportsman retiring from the game

There are two schools of thought that people follow when pondering over the timing of retirement decision. Some people like Sunil Gavaskar, Adam Gilchrist, Imran Khan and company believe that a player should retire at his peak, whereas others like Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya believe that a player should retire only when the playing XI is better without them than with them.

Retirement for a sportsman is probably just like death. Imagine quitting a sport he has embraced all his life and done practically nothing else. A phenomenon so sad yet, inevitable. And conversely, coming out of retirement can be the equivalent of someone breathing life after death.  Imagine the joy. But it doesn’t have a fairytale ending all the time. A sportsman coming out of retirement is expected to perform at the level when he quit the game or at least be very close to it which is usually very difficult to do because of two reasons. One, the sportsperson is now older than the age he thought he has had enough and the other is that he must have taken a break from the game. Usually, only champions have come out of retirement (even fewer have been forced out of retirement) and very few have lived up to the expectations after coming back.

Two  legends quit the game during World Cup 1987

Gavaskar retired after India lost to England at Mumbai in the semi finals of the World Cup 1987. Similarly, a day earlier, Imran had retired after guiding Pakistan to the semifinals stage, where they lost to the eventual winners, Australia (the final which was expected to be a clash of the traditional rivals India and Pakistan turned out to be a contest of the traditional Ashes rivals, Australia and England).  In front of a capacity Lahore crowd. The only difference between retirements was that fate would have Imran leading Pakistan to glory in the next edition of the World Cup staged in Australia and New Zealand 1992.

SOS from President of Pakistan and subsequently, Imran coming back from retirement

Within six months of retirement of Imran, Pakistan was staring at a herculean task of touring the West Indies. West Indies had not lost a test match at home since 1978, Test series at home since 1973 and had not lost a test series anywhere since 1980. A whole generation in the Caribbean had grown up not knowing what defeat was. Javed Miandad, their senior most player after Imran  had resigned from captaincy and a new captain was to be appointed. A SOS was sent to Imran to come and lead the side by none other than the then President of Pakistan, Zia ul Haq.  Rumours say that before publically meeting Imran, Haq met him in private and requested him to not decline his public request of returning to internationals. Despite all the reluctance, Imran agreed.

In a famous interview with Moin Akhtar telecasted on Ptv, Imran was quizzed about Pakistan’s chances against the West Indies in their own den under his leadership. Imran cunningly replied “I’d frame it this way: If there is a team that has a chance to beat the West Indies then it is Pakistan.” For once, Imran could not change the fortunes of Pakistan, as they went down to a strong West Indies team in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) 5-0.

However, the real test awaited them in the Test series. The first Test was to be played in Georgetown, Guyana. The only consolation for Pakistan was the absence of Sir Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall from the first Test. Imran drew first blood by shooting out the West Indies for a below par 292 in which his figures were seven for 80. Miandad scored a century and then Imran again chipped in with four for 41 in the second innings. Pakistan were left to chase a paltry 30 which they did with nine  wickets to spare.

In the second Test, Imran again was the pick of the bowlers from both sides picking up nine wickets in the match. However, Marshall picked up six wickets and Richards scored a ton for the West Indies. Pakistan were given a stiff target of 372 to chase in a little under one and a half days to go. Miandad scored yet another ton and Pakistan hung on for a draw with the scorecard at the end of the day reading 341 for nine.

In the third and final Test of the series, there wasn’t anything to choose from in the first innings. Pakistan took a narrow lead of three runs in a contest in which both innings were  great examples of team effort (with not a single century made or a 5-for taken by either side).  Marshall then took a 5-for to restrict Pakistan to a respectable 262 which meant that West Indies were chasing a not so easy target of 266 with plenty of time in hand. Imran’s bowling for the first time in the series looked off color and he bowled only six  overs without taking any wickets.

In a high pressure and tense match, West Indies prevailed, but some Pakistan team members and fans still believe that had the umpiring been fair, Pakistan could have triumphed. “We would have wrapped up the game but a couple of crucial umpiring decisions robbed us of victory,” said Miandad. “We would have been successful if it was not for the poor umpiring that spoilt our chances in the end,” Abdul Qadir agreed. They had surprising support from the West Indies bowler Winston Benjamin. “I thought Pakistan were a bit unlucky not to have got the benefit of that Dujon bat-and-pad catch,” he said.

This series not only made Imran (who won the Man of the Series award) an even bigger hero back home but also removed any doubts about the greatness of Miandad as a star batsman. Interestingly, Richards’ captaincy record of never losing a series and West Indies record of not losing a series at home since 1973 and anywhere since 1980 also remained intact.

What probably remains a mystery though, is whether Imran was called up just for this high profile series or was called up permanently to lead the side by Haq. But the experience was so good that it continued until early 1992.

The World Cup 1992 swansong

Despite having a good team on paper (albeit hit by injury to Waqar Younis), Pakistan along with all the other subcontinent teams entered the World Cup 1992 which took place in Australia-New Zealand as underdogs. And it remained so until at least the first half of the World Cup. At one point of time, Pakistan didn’t only have to win all their remaining matches, but also had to ensure that results of other matches not involving them were in their favour. The stars also favored Pakistan it seems, as in their round robin encounter with England in which they were bowled out for a paltry 74, rain intervened to hand over Pakistan a crucial point. This one point ensured that Pakistan edged out the home team Australia (who had a superior NRR) for the semifinal spot.

In the semifinals, Pakistan met New Zealand, who were playing at home in Auckland. New Zealand was the team of the tournament until then. Martin Crowe‘s captaincy had been as good as his batting in the tournament. His ploy of opening with the spinner Dipak Patel was a move that took the oppositions with surprise. In the semifinal again it was Crowe himself who helped New Zealand post a formidable 262. Mark Greatbatch acted as a runner from the fall of the fourth wicket for the injured Crowe who had pulled a hamstring. Crowe, the captain was absent during Pakistan’s innings and in his absence, John Wright captained. At one stage, Pakistan required 123 from 15 overs which in those days was a herculean task. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Miandad were the heroes for Pakistan, as they won with an over to spare. Crowe was left to rue the decision of not turning up to lead the side for the rest of his life.

Pakistan won the toss in the grand finale against England at Melbourne opting to bat first. After losing the openers early, Pakistan’s batting was in the hands of the two most experienced stalwarts, Imran (72 off  110 balls) and Miandad (58 off 98 balls). They stitched a slow but important partnership of 139 runs off 31 overs. The partnership was extremely slow to start with since they had to see off the new ball that was used at both ends in that tournament. Slowly it blossomed. Inzamam and Wasim Akram gave the innings a flourish and Pakistan finished on a solid 249. England never really got going in their innings and it was only Neil Fairbrother,  and some lower-order bashing that took them to a respectable total of 227. Wasim Akram was the star of the show picking three important wickets. Imran, whose bowling was pretty average in the match closed the show by dismissing Richard Illingworth. Pakistan were World Champions and Imran finally retired for good as a national hero.

Analysing Imran’s career

Let us look at the stats of Imran’s Test career vis-a-vis his figures after his come back.

Imran Khan Span  M R Bat Ave W Bowl Ave
Unfiltered 1971-1992 88 3,807 37.69 362 22.81
Filtered 1988 -1992 18 1,037 61 51 26.5

His Test batting average of 61 in the period post the 1987 World Cup and prior to 1992 World cup was the best in the world for any batsman with a minimum qualification of 1000 runs (yes better than Miandad, Richards, Crowe and all the others). His bowling suffered (by his standards) barring the first series he played post his comeback in which he took 23 wickets in three Test matches against the mighty West Indies in their own den.

Now let us look at how his stats stack up in the ODIs:

Imran Khan Span  M R Bat Ave W Bowl Ave
Unfiltered 1974-1992 175 3,709 33.41 182 26.61
Filtered 1988 -1992 73 1,924 38.48 65 35.41

His ODI Stats confirm that his batting was his strength during the second leg of his career, while his bowling started to fade away. In other words, he played the role of a batting all-rounder as opposed to the role of the bowling all-rounder that he was accustomed to before his retirement in 1987.

Imran was around 35 when he announced his retirement from internationals in late 1987. At that time, Imran’s bowling was at its peak. Since his bowling was his forte and since he realised that he wouldn’t be able to cope with the rigors of fast bowling for much long, he decided to retire. His prediction came to be true because when he eventually returned to internationals  he could retain his fast bowling prowess only for around a year. However, little he did he realise that he could contribute very  handsomely with the bat and his leadership skills. It is a no brainer that the careers of players Waqar, Wasim and Inzamam might not have been the same, if they hadn’t been groomed under the leadership of Imran.

Conclusion: The second-leg of his career further enhanced Imran’s image and reputation as an all rounder and a leader. The young cricketers of Pakistan benefited under his leadership. World cricket would’ve definitely been poorer had Zia-ul-Haq not requested Imran to return to International Cricket.

(Yash Rungta is a Chartered Accountant from Mumbai. He writes about Test Cricket, its instances, its legends and its moments. He also plays the sport on a regular basis.)

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