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July 20, 2010

2010: Summer of Pakistan

Imran misses launch of renaissance

Kamran Abbasi
Imran Khan missed out on a big opportunity to address some important issues concerned with the future of cricket  © AFP
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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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Posted by Ijaz on (August 29, 2010, 23:39 GMT)

Kamran, Imran is a human being, he cannot fight on many battle fields at one time. Give him a break if he did not fulfill your expectations.

Posted by Azfar Alam on (August 29, 2010, 15:17 GMT)

I agree that Cricket is no longer Imran's priority and I don't think he gets the time to follow the game, so he maynot be giving a lot of thought to it. But he did make some pertinent points that ODI's should be removed. He had said a long while back that ODI's will kill fast bowling and that has come true. But when we look at the Pak Cricket Administration and some of the bizarre decisions they keep taken, he still remains the most imaginative thinker on the game.

Posted by Haroon on (July 26, 2010, 12:22 GMT)

Kamran, I think you are asking a bit too much from Imran Khan, if anything most of the points are of ICC and its affiliate cricket boards to correct/address. I do want to comment on point 2 though, cricket in India is just great, they have a wonderful team, but what I don't get is why does Pakistan only have to worry about maintaining ties with BCCI? If they don't want to continue on in the near future or the far one then let them be, they have their own choice. How about Pakistan stand its ground for once and look the other way too. I mean have we already forgotten the humiliation of IPL? Please Kamran stop worrying about India/Pakistan cricketing ties. Just let it be. Please learn to be diplomatic, not just being a push over when it comes to India or anyone else for that matter. You normally do a great job in writing but the second point is just not up to par. Move on and play cricket with other countries. If India is not worried then neither should PCB or our writers.

Posted by Shabut on (July 25, 2010, 23:47 GMT)

I think this criticism is somewhat missplaced. Imran has nothing to do with today's running of cricket. All the raised points should be addressed to the responsible authority (e.g. ICC and realted boards) and not to Imran Khan.

Posted by Tamaaz Khan on (July 25, 2010, 22:14 GMT)

Quite typical of Imran I must say.

There is a great dichotomy in his speeches in Pakistan and abroad.

While in Pakistan it is all fire and brimstone and thumbing his nose at authority. His demeanor takes an about turn when confronted with a western audience, where is speeches are a lot more focussed on being palatable.

Kamran, I think we often gloss over the fact that Imran's success at captaincy had more to do with his personal acceptance in the western cricketing establishment and English society in general. This same acceptance, that eluded most Pakistani cricketers, lent him legitimacy when forcing the hand of the Pakistani cricket establishment and coupled his phenomenal cricketing skills meant that he was the undisputed leader the Pakistan dressing room.

But it is well known that the aggressive tactical mind in that Pakistani team, was Miandad.

Imran rather was the cricketing media's poster boy for how western society can culture a boy from the badlands of Pakistan.

Posted by Nadeem Mirza on (July 25, 2010, 13:03 GMT)

Mr Abbasi: You bring great points to the table. But please do not forger that our Khan sahab is a proud politician and you know how politicians thrive in our part of the world....

Posted by saiful ansari, Leesburg, VA, USA on (July 23, 2010, 23:31 GMT)

Imran, Wasim, Miandad & all our Paki greats & the fans of Pakistan team can hold their heads high & be proud again... Our youngsters under Salman Butt fought hard at Headingly, and are 40 runs away from a historical win against the resilient Aussies. Only the do or die spirit of the Pakistan team can vanquish the defiance of the Australians. I will keep the congragulations for tomorrow and celebrate with Mr.Abbasi & the rest of you. This victory will wipe out the defeat we suffered when the Aussies came from behind & shocked us in Sydney & also in 20/20 World Cup. Keep pushing the accelerator BOYZ (for Azhar Ali & Umar Akmal & the rest) & do not take your eyes off the target. Victory has to be earned. Hard work & persistence pay at the end in every endeavor. Good Luck Guys.

Posted by desihungama on (July 23, 2010, 17:01 GMT)

Please do not critisize Imran. He has paid his dues to his country. He has done everything and more in his capacity to bring Pakistan as a country out of it spredicament. It is the people of Pakistan who are at loss by not realizing a gem right amongst them but continue to seek corrupt and inept.

Posted by Salman Elahi on (July 23, 2010, 17:00 GMT)

Imran Khan is on his way to bringing a soft revolution in Pakistan. He played the boys sport well into in his manhood and then moved on to do what great men do: change the world. It wont be long when you'll see Prime Minister Imran Khan - and Pakistan cricket and everything thats wrong with it will fix itself.

and yes Eddy is right!

Posted by Omer on (July 23, 2010, 5:48 GMT)

Analysis of Kamran Abasi is far from convincing. With a patriot like Imran delivering lecture at Lord's in front of former cricket greats is in itself "sending out a powerful message for pakistani voice". You can't expect the teams to come to pakistan when they are being attacked with grenades. If the cricket board is creating a new crisis everyday despite the fact that they are faced with the threat of isolation from world cricket then you can't expect a "cameo" from Imran! He did splendidly what he had to do with his cricketing career. Try producing / polishing talent like Imran, Javed Miandad, Wasim ,Waqar and try generating the enthusiasm which used to grip the streets of Pakistan in 80's when their tigers were playing and i am sure you'll get what you are asking. Thanks.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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