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The curious case of the Imran-Miandad nexus

Updated September 28, 2014

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Miandad and Khan — Good old days
Miandad and Khan — Good old days

Former Pakistan batting maestro, Javed Miandad, made a surprise appearance at a recent Imran Khan/PTI rally held in Karachi.

Khan, himself a former cricketing hero, became a politician in 1996 and finally rose to prominence in the field in late 2011.

Khan’s party has been holding sit-ins and rallies against the Nawaz Sharif regime for over a month now, accusing it of coming into power through a rigged election at the expense of Khan’s PTI that was (according to Khan) set to ‘sweep the polls’ (in 2013).


Miandad’s support for Khan and his cause clears all notions of bitterness and tension between the two


A bulk of Khan’s support comes from the urban middle and upper-middle-class sections of the society. That’s why a number of the country’s film, TV, fashion and pop celebrities have now openly begun to exhibit their support for whatever Khan is trying to achieve through his persistent anti-Nawaz campaign.

However, though Khan was quite popular with the cricketers that he played with — especially among those players who played under him when he was the Pakistan cricket team’s captain — no current or former cricketer came out to openly support his political endeavours.

So by attending the Karachi rally, Javed Miandad became the first former cricketer who decided to make a highly visible appearance at an Imran gathering along with another former player, Mohsin Hassan Khan.

Though this should not have come as surprise, because after all Khan too was a cricketer, the surprising bit in this is that the political support for Khan came from a man who was largely seen to have had a tense relationship with him.

Across the 1980s and till the Pakistan cricket team’s triumph in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Khan and Miandad were perhaps the two most consistent, important and influential players in the Pakistan cricket squad.

Both rose to become mainstays in the team under the captaincy of the wily Mushtaq Muhammad but when Miandad was made skipper in 1980, within a year he faced a rebellion from a large group of players that also included Imran.

Miandad was eventually replaced by Imran as skipper, but the captaincy rotated between the two throughout the 1980s. The status of the relationship between the two cricketing stars was mostly informed (in the print media) by what in those days was called the ‘Lahore lobby’ and the ‘Karachi lobby.’

The Pakistan national cricket squad at the time was largely made up of players from Lahore and Karachi. The so-called lobbies were made up of officials belonging to the two cities’ cricket associations and their respective friends in the press.

Miandad became a symbol of pride for the ‘Karachi lobby’ whereas Khan became the central character in the workings of the ‘Lahore lobby.’ Neither of the two players had any direct role in this respect; they were just chosen by the lobbies as symbolic vessels to highlight the lobbies’ own cases, causes and concerns.

More than twice Miandad voluntarily stepped down as captain in favour of Imran but the Karachi press cried foul, turning it into a Karachi vs Lahore issue. Even when Miandad was named Khan’s deputy in 1987, news about the acrimony between the team’s two leading men continued to make the rounds.

What’s more, in the late 1980s when the Karachi-based MQM rose to power in urban Sindh, it adopted Miandad ‘as hero of Karachi’ (and of Mohajirs).

During an ODI against the visiting West Indies in Karachi’s National Stadium in 1989, the huge crowd in the stadium’s General Stand, carrying MQM flags erupted with joy and slogans in favour of Miandad when he came in to bat.

The same crowd then taunted Khan when it was his turn to bat, accusing him of usurping the captaincy from a Karachi player (Miandad).

But what exactly was going on between Miandad and Khan? Was there really that much bitterness and tension between the two?

As mentioned earlier, much on this subject was being derived from what was being written in the populist Urdu press at the time and through reports that were clearly being influenced by individual stances taken by the Karachi and Lahore lobbies.

The truth finally came out when autobiographies of Khan and Miandad were published. In his two books, Khan tried to defend his position during the 1981 rebellion against Miandad, but very few know that along with Wasim Raja and Mohsin Khan, Imran was one of the first players to break away from the rebel group (headed by his cousin and mentor, Majid Khan). This was told to me by former Pakistan swing bowler, Sikandar Bakht, who also claimed that this was one of the main reasons why Khan had a falling out with Majid.

On the other hand, Miandad in his autobiography writes that he was hurt to see Imran become part of the 1981 rebellion. This suggests that till then Khan and Miandad were on good terms.

Miandad does not blame Khan for the rebellion, though. He puts all the blame on the captaincy ambitions of Majid and Zaheer Abbas.

Khan in his autobiography praises Miandad as a master batsman and a great team player, but criticises him as a captain, suggesting that his time at the helm was tainted by immaturity, bad man-management and impulsiveness.

Khan also suggests that the whole Karachi vs Lahore issue was cooked up by the press as there was no such divide in the team.

It is also quite clear that Khan valued Miandad as his deputy. This was first picked up by famous Australian commentator, Ritchie Benaud, during a Test match in England (in 1987) in which the Pakistan team had to stop England from achieving a small winning total in about 20 overs.

Benaud was fascinated to see that the field on the off side was being marshalled by Miandad and the one on the on side by Khan. Also, according to former Pakistan opener and famous commentator, Ramiz Raja, though no player would dare question Khan’s decisions, Miandad was the only player who would regularly do so and that Imran would often implement Miandad’s suggestions.

That’s why when TV screens were showing Miandad whispering into Khan’s ears at the PTI rally in Karachi, a former Test player sent me an sms: ‘Ha! He’s still in his ears!’

The truth is relationship between Khan and Miandad was one of mutual respect, admiration and trust. But not always. There was some misunderstanding and (thus) hurt involved as well.

In his book, Miandad does accuse Khan of engineering the second rebellion that Miandad faced as captain in 1993 (after Khan had retired).

He claims that Khan influenced players like Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus (Khan’s two main protégées) to topple Miandad as captain because he (Khan) was ‘jealous’ of Miandad’s continuing cricketing career.

However, Miandad then goes on to dedicate a whole chapter on Khan’s achievements as cricketer and philanthropist and welcomes Khan’s foray into politics saying that ‘Pakistani politics need honest men like Imran Khan.’

Some cynics suggest that Miandad would not have shown his support for Khan’s recent political stance had he (Miandad) not gotten such a ‘rough deal’ from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). One such sceptic said to me, ‘Miandad was chucked out (from PCB) by the people in the current cricket set-up, so he welcomed Khan’s tirades against PCB.’

I disagree. Because in his autobiography that was published 11 years ago (2003), Miandad had already expressed his support for Khan’s political endeavours.

There were certainly sporadic episodes of professional and personal bitterness between the two cricketing giants, but one is now certain that the tensions between the two were not the kind that the media and the respective Karachi and Lahore lobbies had painted them to be.

Finally I emailed a friend and prominent MQM leader, asking him what his party thought about Miandad’s move. As young men both of us had watched the game in Karachi in 1989 in which men and women waving MQM flags had hailed Miandad as ‘Karachi’s hero.’

This was his reply: ‘Miandad proved that Karachiites are big-hearted. He is still Karachi’s leading hero along with Sattar Edhi. To MQM, anyone who loves Karachi and cares about it is a hero, no matter what his or her political affiliation. What is good for Karachi is good for Sindh. What is good for Sindh, is good for Pakistan.’

Amen.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 28th, 2014