Imran misses launch of renaissance
Imran Khan is a hero, a role model. He was Pakistan's greatest captain and probably the country's greatest cricketer. He was known for attack not defence. He is a man who speaks his mind, fearless in word and deed. Last week he was inducted into the MCC Hall of Fame, and this week he had the honour of delivering the MCC's Spirit of Cricket Lecture. Today, he is off awarding degrees at Bradford University in his capacity as chancellor of the university. I wonder how he will reflect on his lecture at Lord's?
It was an opportunity to send out a powerful message, a global platform for a Pakistani voice. It was a chance to set out a grand vision, to challenge the establishment, and to provoke. Yet Imran chose defence over attack. The great captain and leader did something I least expected - he played safe.
Imran's themes were familiar, hard to disagree with, and full of entertaining anecdote. Fast bowling, his own specialty, is a dying art that needs revival. Neutral umpires, his initiative, helped restore the spirit of cricket. West Indies of the 1980s, his greatest opponents, were the greatest team in the history of cricket. When your biggest statements are that limited overs cricket is killing Test cricket and that we need more technology to support umpires, you leave your audience with the sense of an opportunity missed.
Pakistan's leading cricketer ventured no comment on his country's plight in international cricket. Nothing to address the decline in attendances at Test matches. No formula to grow cricket as a global enterprise while preserving its values. No whiff of a renaissance except a nod towards the popularity of T20 cricket. A notable lecture only for what was left unsaid.
In the absence of a visionary agenda from Imran, here are a few themes he might wish to consider when he is next invited to pontificate:
1 How to save Pakistan cricket. Tours at neutral venues are a lifeline but what needs to be done to restore Pakistan as a venue for international cricket and end its exclusion?
2 How to save cricket relations between India and Pakistan. It should be sport's biggest rivalry but it is ruled by politics.
3 How to save Test cricket. Fewer and fewer people are able to excuse themselves from work to watch Test cricket. Day-night cricket is a proposal that the ICC is sitting on. It needs to be accelerated to offer supporters a better opportunity to watch Test cricket after work. Paying spectators are the lifeblood of any sport. A full stadium under lights creates the spectacle that Test cricket deserves.
4 How to save the spirit of cricket for players. Why isn't the review system available for all international matches? Imran touched on this but didn't elaborate. A comprehensive system would increase fairness for players in the way that Imran argued neutral umpires had done. Money should not be a barrier.
5 How to save the spirit of cricket for spectators. Bad light should no longer be a reason to stop a match. We have floodlights and the competing nations need to agree to use them. Why didn't Pakistan and Australia do so, for example, at Lord's? The success of this series and this neutral venue will be heavily influenced by attendances. Surely both teams and umpires would want to do everything in their power to continue play? One reservation is that the red ball is hard to pick up under lights. The MCC has conducted a trial with a pink ball under lights, and the trial was a success. The ICC and the cricket boards have no more excuses, only a lack of vision.
6 How does cricket become a truly global sport? Is T20 the route to establishing cricket outside the Test playing nations and then gradually improving standards? How do we accelerate this process?
7 What can be done about the political divide in cricket, as exemplified by the recent row over John Howard's failed bid for the ICC vice-presidency? Shouldn't the ICC be abolished and replaced by a new governing body?
Sometimes our heroes do let us down. Here Imran left his admirers baffled.
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here