Imran Khan: The Biography
Rs 499, Pages 420
A Pathan’s son
‘Once, when I was 13,’ Imran recalls, ‘I was stopped by the police while I was driving my father’s motor car. Of course, I didn’t have a licence. So I did the only thing possible under the circumstances. I bribed the policeman. He took the money and I drove away again scotfree. But later that day the chauffeur, who’d been sitting next to me in the car, reported the incident to my mother. She was livid.’ According to at least one reliable account of the ensuing five minutes of ‘peak volume drama’ this was, if anything, to underestimate Mrs Khan’s reaction. She ‘literally turned purple’.
Those who witnessed (or even heard of) the fury of this normally serene, well-bred lady would long marvel at the scene, speaking of it like old salts recalling a historic hurricane. The gist of her remarks was that by resorting to bribery Imran had brought a terrible shame both on himself and his family. No punishment was too severe for this uniquely heinous offence. Had she had anything to do with it, he would have been sent to gaol. Imran’s spluttering attempt at a defence, in which he protested that other boys of his age had done the same thing — or would have done so, given the chance — was cut short by his mother’s abrupt verdict on the matter. ‘You’re not other boys,’ she reminded him, decisively. ‘You are a Pathan.’
Reverse Swing music
Imran was among the first to master the art [of reverse swing], and in particular the extravagantly curving ‘banana ball’ that was to bring him a rich harvest of wickets in 1981 and beyond. He told me that he’d first successfully applied the technique in the Melbourne Test of January 1977, when ‘towards the middle of the match the pitch had gotten so hard it began to take lumps out of the ball, which then behaved like a boomerang’. Seeming to illustrate the point, Imran returned figures of none for 115 in the Australian first innings and five for 122 in the second. This was sometimes the only way to make the ball swing on the arid pitches in Pakistan, he added, ‘where even club bowlers knew how to do it’. In later years, Imran became perhaps understandably tetchy when his critics continued to speak of reverse swing ‘as if it were some kind of black magic’, whereas ‘really all you need are dry wickets and the right degree of skill’.
A man of contradictions
Some of Imran’s apparent contradictions on the subject were on hand when he joined a three-day shooting party arranged by his friend Syra Vahidy and her husband early in 1994. ‘We were up in rural Pakistan,’ says Vahidy, an eminently fair-minded person with no axe to grind. ‘And here was Imran, in native costume, accompanied by this German girl (Kristiane Backer). It was all slightly odd. For the first time since I’d known him he seemed to be profoundly interested in religion and in his roots as a whole. He talked a lot about rediscovering himself. “For too long I was ignorant of my traditions,” he said. Imran also took the opportunity to instruct (Backer) on the correct Islamic protocol for a woman, for example that she should always cover her head. In fact he was rather insistent about it. From my experience, he was a completely changed man (in) that he talked not about cricket but about the Almighty’s infinite understanding and forgiveness. It was obviously heartfelt stuff, and it was quite a revelation to me. Imran seemed almost to have reinvented himself as a man of God. Of course, he and his girlfriend still slept together at night.’
Jemima in the house
Although Imran was Muslim and Jemima was part-Jewish, they shared a noblesse oblige code of behaviour derived from tradition and a strong sense of honour…
Twenty-four years after Mrs Khan had issued her edict when he first left for England (“Don’t bring back a foreign wife”), Imran announced his engagement to Jemima Goldsmith 1995. The initial reaction to the news was everything his mother might have feared. In the words of one Goldsmith family member, ‘There was a brief pause, a momentary reflex of disbelief, then the fire storm broke with full fury.’ Private Eye ran a picture of Imran and James Goldsmith on its front cover: in the speech bubbles, Imran was saying, ‘May I have your daughter’s hand?’ and his prospective father-in-law was replying, ‘Why? Has she stolen something?’
Christopher Sandford is the author of many biographies including those of Kurt Cobain, Roman Polanksi, Keith Richards, Steve McQueen and David Bowie.
These are exclusive edited extracts from his latest book, Imran Khan.