Monday, November 19, 2012

Going Strong at 60: The Champion of Champions

He was Pakistan’s greatest all-rounder and captain and arguably their greatest ever player. He has led Pakistan to more test wins than any captain. He led Pakistan to their first series win in England and India. He claimed a match winning 10 wicket haul against the West Indies in their prime to win a test and draw an away series against a side which is regarded by many as the greatest sporting unit of all time. He played in 5 World Cups, captaining in 3 and every one of them he led in they reached the semi-final or beyond, in the case of Melbourne 1992. He was Pakistan’s 3rd leading test wicket taker of all time. He was a father figure in the dressing room who saw the value of having  leg-spinners in the side and spotted talents like Inzamam, Waqar & Wasim who gave great memories to Pakistan fans and fans of the world game all across the globe. He is one of 4 Pakistan cricketers to be inducted into the ICC hall of fame. Talent was there, but self-belief, ambition and courage to stand up to take on the big guns were his biggest attributes. Pakistan Cricket, Pakistan as a country would have had a considerably lower profile without their genuinely great player, without their genuinely great man. Imran epitomised what was attainable through high standards, personal drive, and boy he achieved a lot in his 21 year international career and afterwards as well with his political and social work. As he turns 60 in the 20th anniversary of Pakistan clinching status as champions at the MCG and in their 60th anniversary since debuting as an international side, we pay tribute to our potential future president.

Imran won many man of the match and man of the series awards in tough contested test series. During his first tour of England as captain in 1982 although Pakistan lost the 3 match affair 2-1, Imran won 2 man of the match awards and won the player of the series award. When Pakistan beat India 3-0 in a 6 match test series under his captaincy during the home season which followed Imran won 2 man of the match awards and the player of the series award. When Pakistan won their first series in England in 1987 Imran was the player of the series and won the man of the match award during the only result of the series. During the same year he was man of the series in a 5 match series in India as Pakistan claimed their first series honours on Indian soil. During the 1988 tour of the West Indies he was awarded the man of the series in the 1-1 series, a moral win for any side visiting the Caribbean at the time. In one day cricket Pakistan won a 6 team tournament in 1989 under his captaincy and he also was awarded the player of the final and player of the tournament too. Not only did he lead successfully, he individually performed outstanding well while doing it with both ball and bat.  

Imran had a beautiful classical bowling action, the jump transformed his bowling. Genuinely was sharp with a vicious inswinger. Later on in his career, when the bowling took its toll on the body, Imran cut down on his pace and bowled some handy slower deliveries.

Even when injured towards the latter half of his career he did his best to serve his country as a leader, by focussing on his batting. As a batsman he was more than capable of leading by example, playing to the needs, demands and requirements of the team situation. Imran possessed match awareness and read situations exceedingly well. Through attack or defence he played with positive intentions.

His man-of-the-match award in Georgetown 1988 against the feared West Indies side is unforgettable. Imran was contemplating retirement, but knew the significance of the tour and was persuaded to carry on. Teams during this time went to the Islands, expecting to lose, but hoping to lose respectfully, minimising the levels of ruthlessness. However, to win a test by a margin of 9 wickets and prevent them from beating you’re side in the series required a lot of skill, courage & hard work. Imran managed to achieve it and for me this was his biggest feat. Imran was on the brink of defeating the best number 1 side in the world for many old folks. The World Cup in 1992 was the icing on the cake and a sensible time to bow out which completed his CV as Pakistan became the 4th winner of the trophy, but there is much more to him as a player and leader before that which tends to go unnoticed amongst today’s youth. We sell him short, by just considering the World Cup triumph when he was on his last legs as a player to summarise his career achievements.

Imran believed in specialists in selection of the best XI whether they were good batsmen, solid or destructive or specialist spinners, particularly leg-spinners or Wicket taking fast bowlers. Having experienced first class structures in England with counties and Australia with states, he knows how far Pakistan are lacking in having a reliable first class domestic structure and has been critical of it for a number of years. Less team, better competition is what he wants to see and abandoning departmental associations. Although he acknowledges the talent and raw ability is there to flourish, he feels it’s badly underutilised through a failing system. Imran also, was not a big fan of coaches, once saying that the role of the coach was nothing more than booking the hotels. He felt the captain and players are the ones who matter and can make a difference and all the attention should be given to that. This is similar to Warne’s view of coaching isn’t necessary at the very top level.

Those who got to see him play were fortunate and indeed it was a special time for Pakistan’s rapid progress as a major force in the world game. Whether he was the greatest all-rounder the game has seen can be debated endlessly as it’s a subjective matter. However, I will go far as saying he was the greatest ‘playing captain’, in the sense that he was as good a player as he led, but could have easily made the side as a specialist captain. A complete player and a well-rounded individual who was an intellectual, articulate, highly educated leader of men or leader of people. Few players or leaders have influenced a country to the extent Imran has and there could be more to follow from him yet, but this time away from the field of play with the 2013 elections fast approaching. 

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