“Do not be scared of losing, you’ll never know how to win.”
The name of Imran Khan conjures visions of the finest in the history of cricket. But who could have ever thought, this man could end up as one of the most beloved and followed icons in cricket as because he suffered a shoulder fracture as a child? Imran was such a non-entity during his first tour with the national team in England. The captain Intikhab Alam even forgot his name while introducing the Pakistani team to Queen Elizabeth at Lord’s Cricket Ground before the start of first Test. He was mocked by some of the senior members of the team and written off by the critics after a dismal debut.
But, Imran was someone who never relished to be proved wrong. He took those criticisms seriously, very seriously. He decided to counter-punch his critics and worked harder to polish his cricketing abilities. From changing bowling action to batting technique to fitness to strengthening the temperament, Imran was a different species, eleven years after his debut and what an impact he had not only over Pakistan cricket, but world cricket as well.
The world changes not because it’s her nature, but she has been forced to change due to the existence of some bold minds who dared to challenge the traditional rules and regulations. From politics to religion to socialism to science to sports, if anyone notices, the changes occurred had predominantly been due to the influence of some brave minds, who dared to think differently and raised above all to act accordingly. Neither anyone’s harsh criticism nor hindrances could stop them from implementing their thoughts, and for which, the world could enjoy various blessings with the passage of time, courtesy of those bold and brave minds.
This game cricket has been blessed with so many brave minds. John Willes, WG Grace, Ranjitsinjhi, Bosanquet, Warwick Armstrong, Ian Chappell, Clive Lloyd, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sourav Ganguly etc. challenged the traditional ways of this glorious game and established their thoughts the legacies of which is still carried on by the current generation of cricketers.
Among the great names mentioned above, Imran definitely holds a special place. From 1982 to 1992, a decade could easily be named the decade of Imran Khan as because in those ten years, Imran’s cricketing views and implication of his plans had a big impact on world cricket.
Neutral umpires and use of technology
Imran’s first tour as captain was in England in 1982. In the 1982 tour to England, Pakistan played its three of its Tests on slow and low wickets which inevitably meant there would be many close things as the ball kept low. So a team, which possessed Abdul Qadir, who bowled googly predominantly, Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz, both of whom bowled more inswingers, and Mudassar Nazar, who angled-in from wide of the crease, it was obvious that there would be times when the pads would be wrapped in very close situations.
Qadir’s googlies, Imran and Nawaz’s inswingers and Mudassar’s in-coming balls from an angle trapped many of the English batsmen plumb in front, but most of his appeals were turned down. The English critics and umpires blamed Imran’s men for over-appealing. The umpires’ attitude got into the Pakistan team and it led Pakistan to miss one wicket at Lord’s in the second Test. Pakistan didn’t appeal for a bat-pad!
Imran thought for a change. He decided to give a solution rather than engage himself in a blame game.
In the book “Imran” written by Patrick Murphy, published in 1983, he said, “I had been calling for neutral umpires for Tests since the Indian series in 1978, when the decisions went our way; my experiences in New Zealand next year in 1979 and then later in the year only confirmed my opinion that it was time to pool our umpiring resources and select a panel that would be the best in the world. I had made a point of commending the umpires on my Australian tour in 1976, so it wasn’t just case of mine being negative and knocking.
I am always ready to give praise to the umpires when it was deserved, because it is a demanding task with the growth of television coverage and the increase in slow, low wickets. I believe that the home team is subconsciously favoured by the home umpires. There will always be tight situations in Tests but in my experience, the home side gets the benefit of the doubt on more occasion than not. Neutral umpires, backed up by electronic aids, would help in that direction.
It would be a move towards professionalism and if gadgets could help make umpires’ job easier, why not try them? Men like Dickie Bird, Barry Meyer, Tom Brooks and Douglas Sang Hue have been excellent umpires in my experience and if they umpired in a series in Pakistan, and then flew over to Australia, I believe that their influence and integrity will influence others.”
The mighty Khan just did not relax by saying such, but proved his words into deeds.
Cricket’s first decisive step towards quelling age-old accusations of biased home umpiring came on November 7, 1986, when Indian umpires VK Ramaswamy and Piloo Reporter stood in a Test against West Indies at Lahore. The Pakistan press and some of the authorities heavily criticised Imran’s action but Imran stood firm on his decision.
He furthered the idea by inviting John Hampshire and John Holder for the home series against India in 1989. On both the occasions, 1986 and 1989, the Ashes were going on with the local umpires standing on both ends.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) gradually realised it was the way forward. One neutral umpire per Test was appointed on an experimental basis in 1992 and it was adopted two years later and in 2002 two neutral umpires stood on both the ends and the system is still being followed.
In 1992 the third umpire was adopted to decide the runouts and stumpings. Gradually, technology has become the part and parcel of making decisions in modern day cricket. And one cannot deny, it was Imran who suggested of using gadgets to make the umpires’ job easier.
Emphasizing the importance of a legspinner in the age of fast and furious
The 80s belonged to the adventurous and classic batsmen, great all-rounders and tear away fast bowlers. There was hardly any room for a spinner to showcase their talent. Especially, for a legspinner. The advancement of One-day International Cricket (ODI) in 70s and 80s, developed a common thought among the captains, including a legspinner would prove costly and in five-day matches, the thought was the same. The majority preferred either a pacer or an offspinner.
But Imran thought, after the exit of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, world cricket did not experience yet another high-quality leggie and only a legspinner could stop the might of the all-conquering West Indies as Imran noticed how vulnerable they could be against a legspinner.
Imran fought with the Pakistan hierarchy to include Abdul Qadir in the team. At first, Qadir was scratchy, but after that England tour in 1982, Qadir blossomed as he was provided with the freedom by Imran. He always allowed Qadir to set his own field and in ODIs, Imran never shy away from using him within the fifteen and slog overs, a ploy which was unthinkable in those days. Qadir delivered and a majestic art kept on shining in the era of fast and furious.
Whenever the topic “pinch-hitting” is discussed, most of the times, the names of Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Mark Greatbatch hog the limelight more. And this is obvious, as because, they took pinch-hitting to a different level altogether.
But during the tour to Australia in 1989-90, Imran decided to go the different way, in case of opening the batting in 50-over format. He wished to attack from the word go and utilize the 15-over rule (There was no power-play in those days). In Australia, Imran sent Saeed Anwar with Rameez Raja to take the bowling attack to sword and they proved successful. During the Austral-Asia Cup at Sharjah in 1990, Imran tried the combination of Saleem Yousuf and Anwar, which paid rich dividends. But that ploy was short-lived only because of the inconsistency of Pakistani batters. Yousuf faded since 1990 while Anwar was in a lean-patch until that Sharjah tournament 1993.
So, it can be claimed, Imran was the first to think about pinch-hitting in 50-over format, but perhaps, it did not receive the attention it deserved.
Shuffling the batting order
Shuffling the batting order in limited-overs format is a very common thing nowadays, but in the 80s, hardly anyone wanted to tilt the batting order. They invested faith in unchanged batting order more. Imran thought of sending some of the tail-enders up the order ahead of main batsmen. During the eventful final of Austral-Asia Cup in 1986, Imran sent Qadir at number six instead of coming himself as because, the Indian spinners – Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh strangled hold Pakistan batters and to only a spinner could release the pressure as he could read where the ball would turn. Qadir fetched valuable runs and released the pressure in an important partnership with Javed Miandad for the fifth wicket.
In the second innings of fifth Test between India and Pakistan at Bengaluru in 1987 on a minefield, Imran sent Saleen Yousuf to open. His logic was, being a wicketkeeper; he would be able to understand where the ball was turning. Even he used people like Manzoor Elahi and Wasim Akram as useful floaters without even caring about how tough the situation was.
During the Sharjah Cup in October, 1989, India gave Pakistan 274 to chase in 46 overs. In those days, such targets were tough to chase. After a brilliant opening, opener Shaheed Saeed was dismissed and Imran sent Wasim at number three instead of Saleem Malik to counter the left-arm spin of Shastri and Singh. His logic was, as two left-arm spinners were operating from both ends, a southpaw would be able to handle them and attack. Again, Imran did not want Pakistan to lose the brilliant momentum gifted by the openers and keep the asking run rate within reach through Akram’s nag to smash the attack. Wasim struck 37 off 23 balls and made the task easier for others. Pakistan won the match. Imran did the same with Wasim against Australia in the second final of World Series Cricket at Sydney Cricket Ground in 1990.
Spot a special talent and give him breakthrough immediately
Imran arranged a camp to spot young talents in 1991. A tall, but fat youngster came in that talent hunting. Imran asked him to face the fury of Wasim and Waqar Younis in the nets. He advised the 2Ws to bowl at their very best and which they did to that tall boy. The tall boy hardly missed anything but middle the ball and played some of the shots on the front foot, which in fact, should have been executed on the back. Imran realized, that boy is a gift of God and can be one the best in future.
Immediately, Imran gifted him the national cap and the next year, the boy would prove vital to Pakistan’s World Cup victory in Australia and New Zealand. The name of the boy was Inzamam-ul-Haq.
In case of spotting Waqar the story was pretty similar and his prognostications about a young Wasim in 1985, though raised eyebrows during that time, came true in future. He would pick a Tauseef Ahmed from the nets or Aaqib Javed from nowhere as Imran always believed, whenever a special talent is noticed, he must not be wasted in the name of gaining maturity in domestic circuit.
Imran’s such a way of spotting talent and giving them a breakthrough immediately with limited exposure or no exposure to first-class cricket, let the world think differently about utilising special talents.
Politics has dented Imran’s popularity to a great extent and perhaps, even in his own country, many of his cricketing logic and thoughts are not welcomed warmly. But in my opinion, Imran’s cricketing journey and his brave decisions are a lesson for the current experts, cricketers and fans. He used to possess one of the finest cricketing brains and it’s a pity, the man left cricket for the sake of politics, which in return is not giving him any positive feedbacks.