Imran: Spirited leader who brought Pak cricket to life

Pakistan's former cricket captain and current Prime Minister, Imran Khan

Once in an interview, David Frost asked Princess Diana to name three things that she loves. She replied, "Yoghurt, getting away from Prince Charles and Imran's run-up."

- (Osman Samiuddin, ESPNCricinfo

Imran Khan, the present Prime Minister of Pakistan, turned 67 on Saturday. The politician with diplomatic and often aggressive statements, the statesman that the present generation knows mostly from speeches and promises made to the public. 

Turn back the years and one will find the Imran Khan who dazzled in the field of cricket. A Greek God who came from the streets of Lahore to redeem, to solve one of the most puzzling corners of world cricket: Pakistan and its tryst with the gentleman's game. 

The blue-eyed boy of Pakistan was given the captaincy of the team at a time when the cricketing fraternity was dominated by the mighty West Indians. The gladiators from the Caribbean ruled the unpredictable game with utmost assurance, save for rare hiccups. Imran took charge of Pakistan's reign and surveyed the scene with the keen eagerness and analytical prowess that would define his leadership in the years to come. 

He was unlike his predecessors. Flamboyant, armed with a sophistication that came from spending a considerable amount of time in England: First at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, and later at Keble College, Oxford. Imran was a blend of the 'Angrezi' elitism and Pakistani ruggedness. He was more British than Pakistani off the field, but on-field he was the 'kaptaan': the leader well versed with the choicest Pakistani slang expressions, the leader who commanded loyalty. As Imran likes to boast, he twice resigned from the position when others tried to interfere with his game plans. 

Imran first became captain when he was at the peak of his cricketing career, at the age of 30, in the year 1982. He led Pakistan to their first Test win in 28 years against England at Lord's. It was only his second match as captain. In 1987, he led Pakistan to their first-ever series win against India in India. In the same year, Pakistan clinched their first series victory in England as well. Pakistan, with time, went on to become the only team that matched the mighty Windies of the 1980s blow for blow.

The team visited West Indies for a three-match Test series in 1988, which was tied 1-1. Imran was declared Man of the Series for his outstanding bowling performance of 23 wickets across the series. 

Imran was a sharp, tactically strong captain. He led from the front and set examples with both bat and ball. Despite his vice-like grip over the team, he had occasional run-ins with the powers that be and some of his fellow players, most notably Javed Miandad. But he never lost his assertiveness and never wanted to toe the line. 

The 1992 World Cup will perhaps remain the brightest example of Imran's tactical genius (Pakistan won the tournament for the first time). He forged a team based on his vision and ability to select talent. From forcefully selecting Abdul Qadir to selecting Waqar Younis after spotting him on TV playing a match for a local club, Imran displayed a bravado rarely witnessed before. Wasim Akram, the fast bowling artist who innovated a new genre of swing bowling, was guided time and again by the shrewd leader, who knew how to craft a deadly weapon from raw talent. It was evident in the selection of a young batsman at the World Cup, defying everyone's expectations and criticisms. The batsman, who went by the name of Inzamam-ul-Haq, would go on to become Imran's successor at the helm of Pakistan cricket. 

Imran was a great all-rounder, a charming, suave, master tactician. His greatest achievement, however, lay in being able to transcend the boundaries of cricket and become a unifying force for a nation, in an age when society was torn apart by military uprisings and clashes between the late Jinnah's beliefs and staunch Islamic sentiments. Imran was the antithesis of orthodox beliefs, the one who defied religious dogmas and taboos. Yet, Pakistan believed in him. Cricket was their relief on a long journey of drudgery, and Imran the saviour, who would awaken the sleeping giant and make the world marvel at Pakistani sporting talents. 

Cricketing history will remember him as one of its greatest captains. The leader who tamed the unpredictable beast named Pakistan. The entertainer who brought a touch of jazz and forced the rigid audience to sway their bodies. 

Imran and his swag filled Pakistani cricket with spirit and brought it to life. 

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