A winner to the end
The reams that have already been written about Imran Khan make it impossible to add anything new. While referring to him one cannot help but use the same old words: ‘charismatic’, ‘debonair’, ‘imperious’, ‘pin-up superstar’, ‘autocratic’, the adjectives are unending. He was all this and more. A devastating fast bowler, fine batsman, great allrounder, outstanding leader of men who led by personal example, a focussed individual who set very high standards for himself and had the ability, and the courage, to achieve them.
For one who reached the pinnacle, Imran’s entry into top-grade cricket was obscure. Having made his Test debut in 1971 at the age of eighteen, he made an impact only in 1976-77 in Australia when he suddenly emerged as a deadly speedster. There was no looking back for him henceforth.
But in 1975 Imran was hardly the high-class allrounder that he eventually became. In the first match he was only the fifth bowler, though he took the coveted wickets of Greg Chappell and Rodney Marsh at a cost of 44 runs in 10 overs. He scored only 9 as Pakistan suffered a heavy defeat. Injury forced him out of the West Indies game but he opened the bowling with Asif Masood against Sri Lanka. He bowled well, returning with a haul of three for 15 off 7.1 overs. Even though he had not reached his prime, Imran was his side’s leading bowler in the first World Cup.
By 1979 Imran was, along with Ian Botham, the foremost allrounder in the world. But he did not dazzle in this tournament. He bowled economically, conceding less than three runs per over, and chipped in with useful scores with the bat. His best was yet to come. The legend of Imran Khan continued to grow, and by the end of 1982 he had scaled tremendous heights as a bowler. In the home Test series he destroyed the strong Indian batting line-up, but this hour of glory was followed by months of agony as injury forced him to give up bowling for some time.
In the 1983 World Cup, therefore, Imran played only as batsman and, of course, captain. It was here that he displayed his great single-mindedness of purpose as he concentrated hard on getting runs for his side. In the opening match against Sri Lanka he scored an unbeaten 56 off just 33 balls with 2 sixes and 6 fours, and added 96 for the fourth wicket with Javed Miandad in an awesome display of controlled hitting.
Two failures followed, but one of Imran’s finest innings in One-day cricket was only round the corner. As the Sri Lankan pacemen stunned Pakistan in the return encounter, dismissing five batsmen for only 43, Imran found an able ally in Shahid Mahboob. The two put on a record 144 for the sixth wicket. Imran scored a superb unbeaten 102 off 133 balls with 11 fours, the first century by a Pakistani in the World Cup. Even so, the Gary Sobers-coached Sri Lankans got to within 11 runs of the Pakistan score.
Imran then combined with Zaheer Abbas in a brilliant unbroken 147-run stand for the fourth wicket against New Zealand. He was undefeated with 79 at the end, having hit a six and 7 fours off just 74 balls. His effort along with Zaheer’s was just enough to pip the Kiwis and scramble into the semi-finals. Imran was man-of-the-match. He managed only 17 in the penultimate round before Malcolm Marshall had him snapped up by Jeff Dujon. He topped the side’s batting average at 70.75, picking up 283 runs in the process.
The 1987 World Cup was played in his own backyard. Back with the ball in hand, Imran claimed his 100th wicket in One-day Internationals as he took two for 42 against Sri Lanka. He came up with his best World Cup bowling display against reigning champions West Indies. Imran had his opposite number Vivian Richards snapped up by Salim Malik for 51. He then proceeded to demolish the tail, returning with four for 37 off 8.3 overs. This performance went a long way in the sensational Pakistani win by one wicket off the last ball as Abdul Qadir waded into Courtney Walsh in the final over.
Imran returned an identical analysis of four for 37 in 9 overs as Pakistan achieved a crushing seven-wicket win over England. He had Graham Gooch pouched by Wasim Akram, and later castled Allan Lamb as England threatened to pile up a big score. He then had Paul Downton and Philip DeFreitas caught behind. The game with Sri Lanka was a cakewalk; Imran was run out for 39 and took one for 13 off 3.2 overs before injury forced him to come off. Pakistan had already made it to the semi-finals but the West Indies achieved a consolation win in the last league match as Imran took three for 57 off 9 overs.
The semi-final at Lahore raised great expectations but the ascendant Australians dashed the fond hopes of the home crowd. Imran came up with a heroic allround performance, in vain. He took three wickets for 36 in his 10 overs, and then added 112 for the fourth wicket with Miandad after three Pakistan wickets had gone for 38. He scored a fine 58 but Pakistan fell short by 18 runs before a hushed crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium. Though the final result was a disappointment, the 1987 World Cup was a personal triumph for Imran. He had the best bowling average of 13.05, and was second in the list of wicket-takers with 17 scalps.
It was a sombre Imran at the presentation ceremony. He had announced that he would retire after this tournament, and there was a poignant moment when Abdul Qadir paid Imran a glowing tribute and handed the skipper the keys of the car that the leg-spinner had won. This showed the esteem in which he was held by his teammates and how dearly they all wanted to win the World Cup. There was hardly a soul who did not feel sad at the sight of this magnificent cricketer bowing out in defeat.
But life has a lot of surprises in store. Pakistan president, the late General Zia-ul-Haq coaxed Imran out of retirement, and with his cancer hospital as a spur, Imran led his side to the title in the 1992 World Cup. His team was on the verge of elimination but showed great fortitude to fight back and win the glittering crystal globe. He revealed: “I asked the team to behave like a cornered tiger. To go out and fight. To snarl. And they responded magnificently.”
Imran could not play two of the first four matches nor did he make much impact in the other two. Pakistan seemed to be limping on. Then South Africa beat them. Imran took two for 34 and figured in a brilliant 85-run third-wicket partnership in 97 balls with young Inzamam-ul-Haq. But Pakistan fell short by 20 runs in a game curtailed by rain.
With the team in a deep abyss, there was a crucial game ahead against the hosts and reigning champions Australia, who too were going through the horrors. This was to prove the turning point and thereafter Pakistan raised their level of play, winning all the remaining matches. Imran scored only 13 but took two for 32 as Australia faded away. Then Sri Lanka were brushed aside and the unbeaten run of New Zealand was halted. Imran played minor roles in these matches.
The semi-final was a return encounter with New Zealand. Imran scored a valuable 44, batting at no.3. His two half-century stands with Rameez Raja and Miandad gave impetus to the innings. Pakistan overhauled the formidable Kiwi score of 262 with an over to spare, and entered their first World Cup final.
For England it was not a novel experience, having figured in the finals in 1979 and 1987. Imran made a determined 72 off 110 deliveries with 5 fours and a six, the top score in his team’s total of 249 for six. His crucial third-wicket partnership of 139 with Javed Miandad was the launch pad from which the side made its assault on the title. Then Wasim Akram made some vital breakthroughs and Pakistan were home by 22 runs. Fittingly, Imran took the last wicket to crown a great career.
Imran became the then highest wicket-taker in the World Cup with 34 wickets at a fine average of 19.26, and an economy-rate of 3.86, in 28 matches. He scored 666 runs (average 35.05) with a century and four half-centuries. In the process he left a huge stamp on the premier tournament in One-day cricket.
Imran Khan was an allrounder par excellence, successful captain and an exceptional personality. He achieved a status reserved only for rock stars and top actors, as much due to his good looks as his daring deeds on the field. His commitment to the cancer hospital project, which he set up in memory of his mother, was yet another step forward for this great achiever. No, they don’t make many like Imran Khan Niazi.
Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on:
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The Big Book of World Cup Cricket 1975-2011
by Indra Vikram Singh
Published in India by Sporting Links
Available at an attractive price on Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8190166840
Other books by Indra Vikram Singh available on Amazon:
A Maharaja’s Turf: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8190166832
Don’s Century: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8190166859
Crowning Glory: https://www.amazon.in/dp/8190166867