Brydon Coverdale and Nagraj Gollapudi on Pakistan and Australia in England 2010 July 21, 2010

An evening with Imran

At 57, Imran Khan still stands tall and lean

At 57, Imran Khan still stands tall and lean. The Pathan lineage is reflected in those broad shoulders. There isn’t any fat noticeable.

This was the first time I had seen Imran in person. He still looked the same man who charged in with a purpose, with that lovely slinging action, and always managed to retain a confident demeanour regardless of the match situation. He motivated his troops with words that could spur them on to do things they thought they could never do. He came back from retirement to nearly win a Test series against the mighty West Indies in 1987.

Five year later, at 40, he retained the hunger to lead Pakistan to a World Cup triumph. Later he would build a cancer hospital in memory of his mother; he is now raising funds to start a university in Miawali. What a life.

A Pathan who came to England, was educated at Oxford, was in awe of his two cricketing cousins, and always wanted to be a batsman. Instead, he made up his mind to turn to fast bowling, having seen Dennis Lillee at full throttle. He has also been a man who could woo the most glamorous, beautiful and rich women in the world with his persona, and is now a man fighting to be an independent politician in a country ruled for generations by feudal lords and the army. It takes balls.

Little wonder, then, that he is Shahid Afridi’s hero, as he was to Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and every other Pakistani. It is a unique thing – cricketers' heroes usually differ from generation to generation, but in Pakistan it was always Imran. It still remains.

So it was a given that I would not miss Imran delivering the MCC’s annual Colin Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture.

The address began with an introduction by John Barclay, MCC president, popular for his eccentric behaviour, and who was once Imran’s captain at Sussex.

Imran started off by reminiscing about what made him suggest, back in the 1980s, that neutral umpires be introduced. It was a period when the umpires had become unashamedly biased and partial, so much so that series results were being altered. He even pointed out an interesting example when Pakistan were playing India in Bangalore and had the hosts on their knees at 90 for 4 by lunch with only the inimitable Sunil Gavaskar battling hard.

According to Imran, on a spinning track his slow bowlers were rushing to the umpire, appealing at least three times an over. But the Indian umpires stood stoic and non-committal. With every passing minute the tension mounted, so much so that at one point Imran had to focus on restraining the frequent charges by his fielders, led by the “suicide bomber”, Javed Miandad.

Sadly, as the evening wore on, Imran failed to maintain the tempo. He lost himself making the same point. It was an occasion meant to discuss the current state of cricket and introduce some new ideas. It was about reigniting fresh thoughts and talking about something original. The only two things Imran was in favour of were the use of technology and the preserving of express fast bowlers from the abundance of one-day and Twenty20 cricket. It was a disappointing lecture.

I was expecting him to take on the game’s governing bodies and their dilly-dallying on the use of the UDRS, or to present a formula where countries could produce Test cricketers who would not be swayed by the extravagance of the shorter formats. Instead Imran suddenly seemed weary. You could sense him stretching his point.

He could’ve taken his cue from a contemporary, Jeff Thomson, the former Australian speed ace. Thommo was restless, twitching, crinkling his eyes, shaking his foot, as he took a seat next to Imran for a panel discussion. Like always, he slung his arrows straight and inadvertently they hit the bull's eye. “I don’t know what I am doing at this lecture,” he said, making the entire audience burst into laughter.

As a fast bowler, he said, you need to just attack the batsman. Never take a back step. He said he never believed in going to the gym, and instead lugged gallons of beer around during his university days to keep himself strong. That was enough for him.

When the emcee, Mark Nicholas, asked both Imran and Thommo about the prospects of current Australian Shaun Tait, they agreed Tait was the quickest around but was only meant for the short format. “If I were to bowl two-over spells I would be an alcoholic by now,” Thommo quipped.

The evening was sprinkled with famous anecdotes by both men, who had terrorised batsmen the world over and mesmerised fans. Steve Finn, England’s latest sensation, who was on the panel with the pair, said he had Angus Fraser say to him earlier: “You don’t think when you bowl fast.” Imran and Thommo followed that principle.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 27, 2010, 15:49 GMT


  • testli5504537 on July 26, 2010, 5:39 GMT

    Imran Khan talking about bias by umpires in India. Sounds funny considering that it was always the Pakistani umpires who were biased. e.g Rule 1 - Ball touches the pads of an Indian batsman - Out LBW Rule 2 - Pakistani Batsman can only be bowled or caught.

  • testli5504537 on July 25, 2010, 9:58 GMT

    @nagraj....please learn to digest the truth.... Imran is one of the greatest sportspersons the subcontinent has had...he is outspoken and brave-hearted..sad that his lecture sounded disappointing to have disappointed Imran's fans

  • testli5504537 on July 22, 2010, 5:01 GMT

    Dear Nagraj,

    You need to be little more open hearted to listen something against India especially when it is a "reality". Yes, Imran's lecture could be boring but still his point on fast bowlers should be an eye-opener. Umpires in their country are still biased. The world has clearly observed this in Australia, west indies & in india as well. No offense but learn to live with reality. regards Mubeen

  • testli5504537 on July 21, 2010, 19:41 GMT

    Well, UDRS has proven good but it has some shortfalls too. Think about it, is this system going to bring back the cricket fans in Test matches.

  • testli5504537 on July 21, 2010, 18:55 GMT

    proud to be pakistani Imran is really a great hero

  • testli5504537 on July 21, 2010, 18:04 GMT

    Imran contribution to cricket is immense.

    On game governing rules his contriution is the idea of neutral empire,TV empire and allowing one bouncer for the fast bowler.

    He nurtured the best fast bowlers the two W's

    On personal level his achievement as an all-rounder ae great.

  • testli5504537 on July 21, 2010, 17:59 GMT


  • testli5504537 on July 21, 2010, 17:54 GMT

    Bring Imran khan as PCB chairman instead of ijaz butt

  • testli5504537 on July 21, 2010, 17:36 GMT

    Well Imran Khan was never an orator so I am not surprised that he was lost making the same point. He probably knew what to say to his men on the cricket field but public speaking is a skill very few people possess. I remember he commented during a few Pakistan matches for only a few minutes but it was extremely painful to listen to him. One of the reasons he has'nt been able to connect with the Pakistani public as a politician. Thank you Mr. Gollapudi for driving this point accross, I have arguments with friends over this issue that he is not a good speaker period. There is too many ummms, ands and buts in his speaches. I can't believe he was hanging out with royalty in England in his heyday. At least streamline your thoughts for an important speach like this and be a little more relevant to the current state of affairs in the cricketing world.

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