In a cricketing career spanning almost 20 years (1971-92), Imran Khan graduated from becoming an average medium-pace bowler to becoming one of the most effective fast bowlers and all-rounders of the late 1970s and 1980s.
But what lifted him a notch above the other three top all-rounders of the period (Ian Botham, Richard Haddlee and Kapil Dev), was the fact that Khan was an equally good captain. Fearless, intelligent, leading from the front and always looking for a victory — especially against heavy odds.
Yes, that was Khan the cricketer. But the other day I was wondering what he would have been like as a cricketer if he’d played the game the way he plays his politics.
During the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in which Khan’s team defied the odds and fought its way into the finals (against England), Khan appeared in a T-shirt that had an illustrated image of a tiger on the front. He told former Australian captain Ian Chappell that the tiger represents his team’s fighting spirit and they will fight like ‘cornered tigers’.
Now imagine if that Khan was just like today’s Khan. This is what he would have told Chappell: “Well, Ian, I overheard a senior cricket official say that we only have 40 per cent chance of winning. That means 60pc chance of losing the game. So I told the boys let’s just go to the English dressing room for a chat and some tea and then go home. Well, actually, the boys go home and I go to London for the Royal ‘Save the Tibetan Pandas’ charity ball’.”
In 1982 Khan became one of the 10 players who rebelled against the captaincy of Javed Miandad. Khan said, his was a principled stand because he thought Miandad was still too young and inexperienced to be the captain of a team in which most of the players were a lot older than him.
Whatever the case, now imagine what he would have said had he been like what he is today: ‘Miandad is corrupt and incompetent! I have personally called a friend of mine in the British government and told him that Miandad should not be allowed to play county cricket in England. What’s more, thousands of my fans have been placing phone calls to the Scotland Yard and telling them to investigate Miandad’s activities in the English county circuit. I have also asked the anti-Miandad players to hold a sit-in in Miandad’s home town, Karachi. He must go! Go Miandad go! Go Miandad go!’
After Miandad resigned from captaincy, Imran was made the captain. He didn’t say much at the time but quietly lifted his game and led (by example) the team to a series of Test victories.
Had he been like what he is today, Khan would have said a lot: ‘Now that I am the captain, I will change the nature of the team and the board, and the fans and the grounds, and anything whatsoever to do with Pakistan cricket in 90 days! Yes, just 90 days!’
In 1976, a young Khan took 12 wickets in the third Test match in Sydney during Pakistan team’s 3-Test tour of Australia. Pakistan (captained by Mushtaq Mohammed) squared the series 1-1 after winning the Sydney Test.
Khan was the man of the match but it was his seniors, Mushtaq, Asif Iqbal and Majid Khan who did all the talking (to the press). But had Khan been like what he is today, he would have said this: ‘I won the team the match. I was the main bowler. I was the main catalyst. I as in me as in moi has single-handedly given the team its first Test victory in Australia. I! Not Mushtaq. He’s a corrupt captain. He drinks beer.’
During the speech he made soon after winning the 1992 World Cup, Khan forgot to thank the efforts of his team. After being criticised by the press, he was big enough to eventually apologise and suggest that he blundered because he was not much of a public speaker.
However, imagine if that Khan was like today’s Khan. This is how he would have reacted to the criticism he faced from the Pakistan media over his speech: ‘This is an outrage! This media is full of corrupt journalists who are on the payroll of the enemies of Pakistan cricket and are being paid millions of Australian dollars! I have proof which I will release at the right time. How can they criticise me? I am a good Muslim, inshahallah, mahshallah, and alhamdulillah a flawless patriot who prays five times a day. And I also save Tibetan Pandas.’
In 1988 Khan was pulled out of an early retirement to lead Pakistan against one the strongest sides in world cricket at the time, the West Indies. Pakistan was to tour the Caribbean islands and was expected to lose against a strong Windies team on fast pitches and in front of hostile crowds.
But Khan took up the challenge and led the team to square the hard-fought series.
He would have responded differently had he been like what he is today. When asked to return and lead the side against the formidable Windies side, he would have said: ‘Dekhein aap ko nahi pata, sub muj ko pata hai (listen, you don’t know but I do), the Windies are honourable cricketers but if you try to win against them, they will slaughter you. Instead of playing against them, we should hold a dialogue and a game of chess with them. Liberal fascists in the ICC want us to be thrashed by the Windies. It’s a conspiracy against Pakistan cricket. And me. As in I. As in me, as in moi.’