Imran Khan September 20, 2010

The flawed, the fabulous

Imran was a true hero and he had the cracks in his armour to prove it

Imtiaz Sipra, the great sports editor of the News in Pakistan, was a blind drunkard. But he had the honesty of a drunk. "Imran Khan," he would say to me, "is the King of Pakistan. He is a champ. Pakistan cricket would be nothing without him. I tell you, kid, zero." Sipra's assertions were sometimes hard to substantiate, delivered from below a shock of white hair and from between a set of teeth that would have done the devil proud. His wrecked face would sparkle at the mention of Imran, at the mention of his brilliance, and even more at the mention of naughtiness. Imran, you see, was Sipra's idea of a true hero: flawed but magnificent.

Abdul Qadir, another grand Lahori, glowed similarly when the conversation turned to Imran. Their relationship had been much more complicated than people might have imagined. Imran had backed Qadir for much of his career, but there were times when Qadir had felt let down by his captain. Despite this there was deep affection. They had shared adventures. Imran was Qadir's idea of a leader: flawed but magnificent.

I first met Imran Khan when I was 13. It was a tour match at Chesterfield, a town with a crooked church steeple, and Pakistan were warming up for a Test match.

Imran was new to the captaincy. He was better known for his Oxford flamboyance and supposed arrogance than for his determination to become a great cricketer. Majid Khan had literally whipped Imran into shape by bullying him through extreme training sessions. Imran was a warrior leader, a man who brooked no nonsense, a Pathan in everything but location: fierce, proud and magnificent. Flawed, too, in that rarely a day passed without a newspaper photo of Imran dancing, drinking or debauching in some manner or the other.

At the tea interval in the Chesterfield game, several Pakistan players busied themselves washing their whites and hanging them out to dry on the pavilion balcony. Imran, of course, did no such thing. He strode down to the outfield, padded up and clutching a handful of cricket balls. Inevitably a crowd of young Pakistani fans gathered, scuffling to give their hero some practice. Curious to see the great captain in action, I joined them. My first observation about Imran was of the way he leaned forward and towards the bowler, almost toppling over. I can't remember any other batsman tottering so precariously. It was as if Imran was determined to force himself forward at every opportunity. When I first saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it reminded me of Imran's stance.

My first observation about Imran was of the way he leaned forward and towards the bowler, almost toppling over. I can't remember any other batsman tottering so precariously. When I first saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it reminded me of Imran's stance

Eventually I plucked up the courage to bowl at him. The grunts of disapproval he emitted when other boys slipped down leg or way outside off were enough to force me to be disciplined. It was then I got an insight into Imran's psychology. He stopped the other wannabes and insisted that only I bowl to him. In deepest Derbyshire I felt the glares of envious eyes and some murmurs about nepotism. They assumed I was from the Khan family. No such thing, of course, but you can understand their reaction - and my hope that he had identified me as a talent.

At the end of tea, Imran waved a regal glove in my direction: "That's enough, thank you," he intoned in his deep-throated drawl and he was off, sauntering past me back to the pavilion. At the close of play, as the crowd rushed the players, Imran ignored autograph hunter after autograph hunter. I too thrust my book in his direction, fully expecting an autocratic brush-off, but Imran broke his stride to scribble his first name before resuming his march of no autographs. This favouritism didn't go down too well with my friends from the tea interval, but to me it was the first evidence of the Great Khan's character: flawed but magnificent. To a British Asian short of role models, it was the scribble of destiny.

The incident at Chesterfield would have been enough to merit hero status on its own but Imran did then also go on to win Pakistan's first Test at Lord's, challenge the mighty West Indies for world supremacy, and win the World Cup. But everybody knows about that.

Imran Khan turned Pakistan from a collection of talented but generally ineffective individuals into a fighting, world-class team, leading by example and through sheer will. He was loyal to talent and dismissive of sycophants and easy riders. He battled for the success of the Pakistan cricket team, and for the honour of his country, on playing fields and in boardrooms. He unearthed some of the greatest talents you would ever see. He was a role model for Pakistanis all over the world, and he attracted a vast following from people of many other nationalities. Imran Khan was flawed, yes, but he was truly magnificent. For a good while, too, he was the King of Pakistan. If you have any doubts, look in my autograph book.

Kamran Abbasi is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. This article was first published in the print version of Cricinfo Magazine

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  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2010, 6:02 GMT


  • Azfar on September 21, 2010, 21:02 GMT

    Kamran, Imran happens to my boyhood hero too and the hero worship continues to this day. What a man and what a cricketer! He was a cut above...I don't think people really appreciate his contribution to the game and Pakistan Cricket in particular. He started the concept of neutral umpiring..something which ICC could not do many years. He mentored so many players to greatness...Qadir, Akram, Waqar, Inzi to name a few. I have read all the books he has written, listened to virtually all his interviews. His knowledge of the game is unmatched. His clarity of thought unparrelled. I am yet to a see a captain of his abilities. As captain he averaged 50 with the bat and 19 with the ball in 48 tests. Leave aside his Cricket career, I think he is one of the greatest men of my generation. People may think I am going overboard....this prediction will come true in the next 10 years, Insha Allah.

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2010, 8:26 GMT

    I wonder if I should comment on the brilliance of Khan or Brilliance of the article. Both merit my admiration. Bravo Kamran Abbassi for reintroducing the King Khan in such magnificent fashion and Bravo Imran Khan for your courage, leadership and the good name that you have brought to my country, Pakistan. I love you as Kamran Abbassi has described you - flawed but magnificent!

  • Mohan on September 21, 2010, 5:31 GMT

    As this article is about Imran, I whole-heartedly salute this awesome cricketer and captain. Kamran has not done justice to these great cricketer.

    Continuing my response on other 3 all-rounders, who can forget Ian Botham ? Another awesome batsman with a double-century against his name. 14 tons, 22 fifties. Glorious, colorful and proud player.

    And Hadlee is a bit of odd-man in this quartet. However, he'll be counted. His trademark is his bowling, an awesome bowler, perhaps the best in the quartet. He perhaps kept the other allrounders hunting his record.

    In summary, I would put Hadlee as bowling champ, Imran next only to Hadlee and both these are bowling all-rounders. Kapil and Botham are powerful and flamboyant batsman allrounders. And Imran again, is the most handsome cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2010, 5:31 GMT

    Hi I was the first one to comment on this article and when I said Imran Khan is the greatest cricketer Asia has ever produced I mean what he has done for cricket. The idea of neutral umpires, or the third umpire (TV Umpire) was his. It was he who took initiative against the so called biased with home team attitude of umpiresand called for neutral umpires in a series against India. As a playing captain he was always present at every ICC meeting to give new ideas. What have SRTendulkar or Kapil Dev have done for the game. Tendulkar is surely one of the greatest batsmen and his behavior on field is legendary but Imran Khan also earned respect from every opponent and they praise him and respects him even now. He excelled in every department of the game and most notably led his cornered tigers to world champs And Mr seriouslyknowscricket that blog does not mention the name of Keith Miller(second only to Sobers in great allrounder and Vinoo Mankad- greatest Indian allrounder).

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2010, 5:25 GMT

    (Continued)... under " Pervaiz Musharaf" but he refused as he didn't wanted to benefit from the situation and further he is being offered the chairmanship of the Pakistan Cricket board (PCB) about a hundred thousand times by the people and any ruling government further to it with out any accountability or limits, stills he refused to leave his principles. Yes may be his very personal life, his young days and his cricket had flaws but the man is unarguably Man of words and principle , yes you are right Wasim Akram is far better all rounder cricketer or may be a better technical captain, but he can't himself never ever match himself with IMRAN as he admit himself, no one can match Imran's courage determination, charisma, leadership, commitment and principles, @ Phillip get your self some life Dude ;)

  • Mohan on September 21, 2010, 5:22 GMT

    Perhaps the most handsome cricketer ever.

    I've seen some comments here and cricket fans are not able to assess the other three in the famed quartet of all-rounders.

    Imran was a peerless captain, best of the four all-rounders in this regard, but Capt Kapil Dev won World Cup at the age of 24 ! Imran won world cup when he was 40 or so. But yes, Imran groomed many great players including Wasim Akram and Waqar younis. Kapil was a poor communicator, often looked like a village bumpkin !

    Kapil Dev was a powerful batsman, using heaviest bat, and was a a deadly runner between wickets (he has run 5 runs off single stroke a few times ), and also an extremely gifted fielder ( many direct hits to wicket to cause run-outs, and safe, brilliant catcher of the ball ). As bowler he slowed down after shin surgery, but unlike other 3 all-rounders, he played every hour,every day ( never used to take off from ground to rest in stands etc. ). Who can forget his 4 consecutive sixes to save a follow-on?

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2010, 5:16 GMT

    @ Mr Phillip ... see how is defending Pakistan culture? hehehheeh its really very funny, my friend Pakistani simply loves him he dun come to government and its does'nt show up in the votes not because his less popularity coz of corrupt politcal infrastructure we got and Mr. Khan refuse to adopt that culture and lean himself to that " level", you should research Pakistan little more before coming to comment on the culture? he wears " Shalwar Qameez" more than any cricket in the history of our sporting culture, he wanders among a common man more than any common man himself, you really need some real coffee dude, yes he is a foreign graduate yes he had an English wife but my friend does'nt know that Jemaima during here times in Pakistan converted to Pakistan culture, he never became English but she did even he never forced her that led to their separation as Khan didn't wanted her to forcefully adopt the customs... My dear friend the guy was offered Prime Minister Ship (continued)

  • Vineet on September 21, 2010, 3:46 GMT

    Great One Kamran! I fully agree Imaran Khan is the greatest all-rounder. For all you my friends. Please check for a comparison of Imran with other All rounders. Please don't forget to leave a message if you like the post.

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2010, 3:30 GMT

    HE is simply an ICON of every Young pakistani 's HEART..

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