Awesome cricketer, who led from front

  • Amrit Mathur, PTI, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: Jan 21, 2003 10:00 IST

Pakistan co-hosted the 1987 World Cup hoping to win and match India's triumph four years ago. Their hopes rested on Imran Khan, a charismatic captain and awesome cricketer.

Imran was hugely powerful, he mattered more and wielded more clout than all the fauji generals in Zia-ul-Haq's regime. The army controlled Pakistan then, as it does now, but Imran was something else.

During the '87 World Cup he was THE star, a massive Amitabh Bachchan towering over chhota spot boys and petty assistants.

Imran was truly imperious, more autocratic like a khaandani aristocrat, more regal than any Raja.

Imran today is a staunch democrat. As leader and the lone representative of an obscure party, he hurls bouncers at others who suppress the awaam. But in 1987 he was innocent of such noble sentiments, certainly this side of personality was under a heavy cover.

As captain of Pakistan Imran ruled over his subjects (his team members) like a feudal lord who was clear about his position and did not hesitate to let others know where they stood.

This dominant streak was visible in many ways. Once, finding Abdul Qadir wasting time during practice, he let the leggie have it. It was not a gentle rebuke or a friendly warning - this was a lashing delivered openly, in front of a million people, in an angry tone with words which would have made the most rustic Punjabi zamindar twirl his moustache with pride.

Very often, the selectors bore the brunt of Imran's power.

Their position was pitiable because Imran had as much use for them as Saddam has for political advisors.

Imran decided who played and the selectors were largely in the dark. Imran announced the team and the selectors found out only if they read the morning newspapers.

Much against everyone's wishes Imran picked Mansoor Akhtar, and proceeded to persist with him through the tournament. Akhtar made 91 from six innings.

People accepted this outrageous behaviour because Imran was a brilliant leader respected (and feared) by the team. Even his detractors admitted that Imran put Pakistan first - he did not play games other than cricket, was upfront and devastatingly direct. Most important: he delivered, as player and captain.

The Indian media painted him in lurid colours, to them he was an Adonis with a spectacular off-field record.

Newspapers were full of juicy reports about his strike rate and his ability to knock down women, all of which made interesting reading.

But in this frenzy of projecting the ultimate playboy/male pinup, a certain disservice was done to the pathan from Peshawar. Imran was an awesome cricketer who worked bloody hard on maintaining fitness.

He'd arrive for nets before others, run endless laps of the ground and then bowl for long to get his in-swing in place. All this was conveniently ignored.

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