The national stadium at Karachi is considered a fortress for Pakistan – and it was at its most impregnable during the Christmas of 1982. Pakistan never lost a Test match at this venue for 45 years.
In 1982, India was on a tour of Pakistan. The skipper of Pakistan was bowling with pace rarely seen on subcontinent pitches. In the second innings of the Karachi test, Imran Khan clean bowled a well-set Sunil Gavaskar who was nearing a half-century. The ball was a sharp in-swinger that dipped and shattered Gavaskar’s stumps. Imran bowled short-pitched deliveries to first push Gavaskar to the backfoot and then surprised him with a good length in swinging delivery.
The next to fall was that of the other Indian little master Gundappa Viswanath (Vishy). Imran bowled a ball outside the off stump that Vishy wasn’t interested in playing. He had rightly assumed that the ball was way outside the off stump to disturb his wickets. But the ball swung in to such a great extent that it sent Vishwanath’s off stump cartwheeling.
In a short span, Imran had clean-up two of India’s greatest batsmen ever to play test cricket. Vishwanath became Imran’s 200th victim.
Imran generated an unbelievable inswing in that match and his next victim was Mohinder Amaranth, who fell leg before to a ball that came in sharply. Sandeep Patil’s big backlift was a huge demerit against an inswinging yorker. And that is exactly what he got from Imran to be clean bowled for a duck. Kapil Dev lasted only 7 deliveries and edged an inswinging delivery of Imran to his off stump.
While all these Indian wickets tumbled in quick succession, one man gave more than decent resistance at one end. Dilip Vengsarkar was playing well and nearing his hundred till Imran bowled a straight delivery which did not swing and took the outside edge of Dilip’s bat to be caught by Wasim Bari.
Imran bowled 20 accurate and hostile overs to take 8 Indian wickets in the innings. India lost by an innings and 86 runs and the Karachi national stadium remained an impregnable fortress for Pakistan.
In 1987, in an important World Cup semi-final against Australia at home, Imran took 3 wickets and scored a half-century while batting to give Pakistan a strong chance to reach the final. It was not Imran’s fault that Saleem Jaffer, Abdul Qadir, and Wasim Akram went wicketless that day and Pakistan lost the match. This match could have been the last international outing of Imran had he not come out of retirement to play the 1992 World Cup. He had a few world class players in that World Cup squad but it wasn’t a world class team.
Injuries to Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis made Imran’s prospects weaker. Imran’s ability as a bowler had already diminished by the 1992 World Cup but he rose as a batsman on important occasions. He scored an important 44 in the semi-final and match-winning 72 in the final. Imran took charge of a not-so-great team and inspired them to become world champions.
Imran’s most important cricketing moment came when he led Pakistan to its first test series win on Indian soil in 1986/87. He remains the only captain to win a test series in India and also the only captain to win a World Cup for Pakistan. As Pakistan’s only captain, he challenged the greatest cricket team, the West Indies, in the 1970s and 80s. Imran led the fight for neutral umpires in cricket.
Half a hero
In spite of all his great achievements, Imran Khan is only ‘half a hero’. In the crucial World cup semi-final in 1987 against Australia, Imran made a huge blunder by bowling Saleem Jaffer in the death overs. It was a fatal mistake to ask Wasim Akram to finish his spell early and gamble with the inexperienced Jaffer in the death overs. The Australian commentators pointed this out even before Jaffer began bowling the last over. Another miscalculation of Imran as a captain was to overrate the cricketing ability of Mansoor Akhtar as a batsman. Akhtar played 19 test matches for Pakistan and averaged only 25 as a batsman. Imran Khan had rated him as highly as Vivian Richards.
Imran’s darkest episode involves his illustrious cousin Majid Khan. Majid was one of the greatest Pakistani test batsmen and was dropped by Imran most unceremoniously and most unfairly. Majid had played a great innings of 74 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) against the likes of Lillie, Thomson and Alderman. Majid was far from over, as a batsman, when he was dropped by Imran. Perhaps he wanted Majid out of the way so he could assert his dominance over the team. Majid would have been the ‘conscience keeper’ of the team which maybe Imran did not want.
Pakistani cricket did not gain much during Imran’s tenure as a political leader of his country.
During his tenure, his policies in Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) damaged the departmental cricket, which was both surprising and tragic given Imran’s good fortune as a young cricketer with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) cricket team.
As patron-in-chief of PCB, Imran didn’t do much to change the demerits in the working of the PCB. Of course, the flaws in the functioning of the PCB existed much before Imran became patron-in-chief. However, he did nothing to improve the state of affairs. He was obsessed with a foreign model of cricket which was not right for Pakistan.
For all his great achievements and costly failures, Imran can be hailed as ‘half a hero’. His contributions to Pakistani cricket are supreme. His failings as a patron-in-chief have been tragic.
Kush Singh @singhkb is the founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
(Edited by Tarannum Khan)
Source: The Print