“Imran led the charge with some hard legs between the 22-yards and a flurry of boundaries to bring up his maiden ODI century”
What exactly is the role of a captain of a cricketing side? Leading his team, off course, but it’s a very broad term which simply can’t reflect the intricacies underlying the most important role in a team. Nobody plays the sport to be on the losing side. So, the role of a captain garners all the more attention in the wake of making his leadership a successful sojourn. Now, one must be wondering, what are the traits required to be able to lead a team to success? The one personality which epitomizes the answer to this question is Pakistan’s World Cup winning captain Imran Khan.
Imran was blessed with the charisma of leadership which helped him hold his side together. He was revered as a figure of authority in his team. Authority, sometimes, can be a double-edged sword as it can cleave apart a team into factions competing for power but this also was one of Imran’s geniuses that he held together a team which contained senior pros like Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, and Sarfaraz Nawaz. Besides his charisma, he also had his cricketing talents which helped him lead by example in the adverse times.
Adversities on a cricket pitch don’t come by signalling a prior notice, they just come like a storm and blow a team away, leaving a great test of patience and character for the personnel at the centre of the action. If that personnel is the captain himself, the challenge compounds manifolds in the severity as every decision of his; in those circumstances can make or break his team’s chances of acing the contest. Imran, in his brilliant career spanning 21 years, came face-to-face with such situations on numerous occasions but here, in this piece, we are concerned with the situation which churned out his one and only ODI hundred.
It was 16th of June 1983 and the third edition of Prudential Cricket World Cup was underway for the third time in England. Imran’s team was up against a Sri Lankan team which was just two years old in the ICC’s full-member circuit. But the fact that they were newbies in the full-strength arena didn’t mean that the Sri Lankan Lions didn’t know how to roar, a fact which the Pakistani team was confronted with; soon after the start of the game.
Batting first on a swing-assisting deck in Leeds, Pakistan were caught off-guard by the genuine outswing challenge presented by Ashantha de Mel who accounted for the top-three wickets of Mohsin Khan, Mansoor Akhtar, and Zaheer Abbas to reduce the Pakistanis at a struggling 3 wickets down for 30 runs. At this stage, Pakistan needed some sensible batting to steer clear of the dangerous ‘swinging’ waters that they were negotiating in the middle. Who else could have been looked up for the task other than the captain himself?
Imran had the illustrious company of Javed Miandad to try and take his team to a comfortable total. But the Sri Lankan bowlers looked hell-bent in making that bid a distant dream for Pakistan as a whippy Rumesh Ratnayake removed Miandad and Ijaz Faqih in quick succession to send Pakistan reeling at 5 down for 43 runs. An early finish to the Pakistani inning looked quite possible, given the fragility showed by the Pakistani batting order in dealing with swing and pace of the Sri Lankan bowlers but Imran had decided not to go down without a fight.
Enter Shahid Mahboob into the middle and Imran got the batting ally he so badly needed to take his team out of the murky waters. Both the batsmen took their time in settling in as Sri Lanka looked to pile on the pressure of dot balls. Imran’s grit rubbed off Shahid as they both continued to frustrate the Sri Lankan attack without a touch of success. After the initial lull, runs started flowing too, albeit at a slow but steady pace. Just when the duo looked settled after their respective half-centuries, de Mel came back to haunt them again as he nipped out Mahboob, for a well-made 77, with the score now reading 6 down for 187.
Imran’s task was cut-out now. He had to provide the required impetus to the Pakistani inning so that his bowlers can get something decent to bowl with. The skipper did oblige as Pakistan went 48 notches higher to finish at a very decent 235 for 7 wickets from their quota of 60 overs. Imran led the charge with some hard legs between the 22-yards and a flurry of boundaries to bring up his maiden ODI century. He finished at 102 not-out from 133 deliveries at a strike-rate of almost 77 but what was more important was a captain rising up for his team to instill in his players, a belief that they can rise with him too; for their team’s cause.
That certainly worked wonders for the Pakistani team as a concerted bowling effort led by Abdul Qadir’s five-wicket haul halted the Sri Lankan batting charge within the touching distance of the finishing line. Sri Lanka lost the game by 11 runs and Qadir was awarded the man-of-the-match trophy for his bowling figures of 5 wickets for 44 runs but everybody knew who had the maximum impact on the game. Though he didn’t bowl yet as a batsman and as a leader, Imran Khan had ticked all the boxes in this game.