The third instalment in our new series where we have cricket conversations with keen students of the game, from all around the world. The topic this time is the significance of Imran Khan as captain of Pakistan and Javed Miandad’s role in that.
Reema Abbasi is a columnist and journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan, who writes on socio-economic issues in Pakistani as well as international newspapers. She is also the daughter of Arif Ali Khan Abbasi – former CEO of the Pakistan Cricket Board. She debates this with Jaideep Varma of Impact Index, who is an unabashed fan of Imran Khan, the player.
: First, let me begin with Impact Index’s view on Imran Khan the player. He is truly Cricket Royalty. The third-highest impact player in Test history (min. 50 Tests), after Bradman and Muralitharan, and the highest impact all-rounder in Test history. As a bowler, he is the fifth highest impact fast bowler of all time, after Dennis Lillee, Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee and Dale Steyn – needless to say, the only all-rounder in this bunch (apart from Hadlee). And also an inspirational captain.
He is also the third-highest impact ODI cricketer ever, after Viv Richards, and Adam Gilchrist. Again, a very successful captain in this format too.
If we combine both formats, he is the highest impact cricketer of all time. If we leave out Bradman and Sobers from this because they did not play ODI cricket and consider the period only after 1970, it is still pretty awe-inspiring stuff. For all the respect Imran has for his cricketing achievements, is he considered that big a legend? How significant is Imran Khan deemed today for Pakistan cricket?
: That is rather high impact praise. Imran Khan was one of the finest players in the world so in his own country he was an idol. He has a rare brand of charisma, which no other player can be associated with and this makes Imran an everlasting idol – he had the grace of a panther , a fearless demeanour and approach and his feats as a player are the stuff of legend. Imran’s was the face that introduced ‘cultural’ Pakistan to the West.
My most endearing memory is when, as a schoolgirl in England, I found the man I grew up around, plastered across the grey- white walls of our dorm. The impact was one of immense pride — for all the wrong reasons, of course.
: He was the captain who brought the World Cup home , I think that particular memory and moment overshadows much about his years as captain. Most forget that the power behind the throne was Javed Miandad – the street-smart strategist. He ensured Imran caved in to all his moves and, although never one to admit, Imran was significantly dependant on him.
As a captain, Imran was an inspiring leader — immensely respected, a team-player who maintained unity in the dressing room , an imperative for the field. Also, he took the blows on the chin and never allowed morale to waver. But Imran did not like competition or anyone to stand up to him. This came to define his love- hate relationship with the people’s man of the moment, Miandad.
: Do you want to consider this: out of the 48 Tests under Khan leadership, Pakistan won 14. Out of the 34 under Miandad, Pakistan too won 14. Miandad wasn’t unpopular, as far as I remember. In fact, he’s a riot with his sense of humour, to the point that his quotes and quips as well as his acumen are part of Pakistan’s cricketing lexicon. I don’t know if you remember a match where he was batting against India in Bangalore, and kept asking Dilip Doshi for his hotel room number — ‘number bataa, number’. Doshi was concentrating fiercely during his comeback match and doing quite well against Miandad so far. But now, he got exasperated and asked him why he wanted to know. Miandad said because he wanted to hit him for a six there. That was just a crack because the hotel was far away but it disturbed Doshi enough to lose his length which Miandad took advantage of.
On a less academic note, I watched him arrive at the Karachi Press Club as a Chief Guest for a night tournament, years after he had left the field. A particular batsman was out of form and Miandad got up from his seat, took his bat and went for the kill, scoring fours and sixes, sending the ball into the street, crashing windowpanes too. It was magic! There was stunned silence for a few minutes, followed by an explosion of applause and slogans.
However, Pakistanis will always put Imran, their triumphant skipper, above all others but he was prone to inconsistent, sometimes disastrous favouritism.
And humourless. He lacks wit, nuance and you will be very hard pressed for an Imran quote of worth that can serve as a motto for today’s players.
Wasim Akram should be reviewed as one of the greatest cricketing leaders – cool headed, sly chess player of a captain, Wasim transcended Imran in innumerable ways but he didn’t wear his celebrity as well or have that charisma.
: But most Pakistani players of that generation, especially those who played under him, in the 1980s and early-1990s all hail Imran unanimously (except, come to think of it, Miandad). There is no such figure in Indian cricket, for example. Kapil Dev and Dhoni also captained India in World Cup wins but they have their share of detractors. Gavaskar and Azharuddin do too. Tendulkar is worshipped as a player but not as a captain. Arguably, there is no cricketing figure in the subcontinent who is as unanimously revered as Imran. Ranatunga in Sri Lanka, but only as captain (though he is underrated as a player, as Impact has argued). Would you agree that Imran is that kind of a figure? If so, why do you think that is?
: Isn’t it also intriguing that Imran played only once under Miandad? Imran attracts detractors galore, except for those who were in awe of him. And the most known detractor was and is Miandad. Ironically, he is also the one who raised most of the funds for his Cancer hospital.
As for captains, Dhoni and Ganguly… I’m missing a few here … but they, for me, were better captains.
: Given how he unified Pakistani cricket, something that no one ever did so immaculately before or has done since, does that not register his credentials as a once-in-a-generation leader? Using his 1992 status to raise money for a free Cancer hospital, that’s what the greatest of statesmen and humanitarians do, isn’t it? Why have these not helped him politically?
: Please listen to his World Cup speech to understand that mythical unity – I, me, mine charisma and a team of greats. It was pure luck for him to have led Pakistan’s greatest cricket heroes. Brilliance was the glue and then, Imran’s ambition and fearlessness. Also, you’re overlooking the power of AH Kardar in the 1970s as chairman of selectors and president of the Cricket Board. Those were years of glory too.
As for the hospital, it began during Imran’s cricketing time and was completed before his political debut. Thank goodness, or the rallies would be funding-centric, given his obsessive disposition.
: You have been a critic of his fundamentalism in recent times. Did this aspect ever show up in his playing days? It is odd that when he comes to India one never hears of this aspect of him. Is he like that in Pakistan for public consumption because he thinks that is what will win him elections?
: Imran has finally learnt to play to the gallery – he is a swashbuckling Sahab in England and a messenger of peace and hope in India. He is therefore the country’s finest animate export, pinup and playboy and then a giant philanthropist.
But here is Imran on the field without Miandad – he was against repealing laws against women instituted by Zia ul Haq. He didn’t want a war against terror but was fine with a Taliban office in Peshawar. He supports the Council of Islamic Ideology’s proposals, so one can only conclude that he supports ‘light beating’. And he did not call OBL a terrorist.
This is his born-again Muslim avatar, which he could hardly afford as a cricketer in times when Pakistan was not under attack . Contrary to popular belief in India, such ridiculous political values have taken a toll on his image and he is also called Taliban Khan and U-Turn Imran. However, once again, that charisma has politicised more women and youth than any other politician before him.
The present-day Imran Khan is a double edged sword. He can plummet in a moment and soar just as unexpectedly. This doesn’t make him a political Brando, it makes him thoroughly unreliable.
: But Miandad is actually the discredited one today, in India at least. His son has married the daughter of Dawood Ibrahim – India’s most wanted terrorist. How does all this harmonise, if you pardon my choice of word?
: You choose: letting your daughter marry for love, as Miandad did? Or abandoning your own child, because she was born out of wedlock; Imran’s daughter from Sita White was only accepted by him after his political opponents began the conversation and is now looked after by his ex-wife, Jemima, with his sons.
To me the latter is heinous. And the former, sins of the father…?
There would definitely be a Miandad without Imran; he rose from nowhere as a Kardar discovery. Imran, again, is great without doubt.
But greater in your eyes, perhaps? Blind spots allowed.
Illustrations: Vasim Maner