No. 31 October 3, 2010

Imran Khan's captaincy

He led a perennially fractious team to fulfill the aspirations of a nation

1982-1992

Few men can transform the fortunes of an international cricket team. Rarer still are those who revolutionise the aspirations of the whole nation. Imran Khan achieved both. His political ambitions and glamorous marriage, his cancer hospital and his cricket academies notwithstanding, it is the memories of Imran the cricketer that remain the clearest.

Hailing from a family of great cricketing pedigree - his cousins Javed Burki and Majid Khan both captained Pakistan - and picked for Pakistan while still at university in Oxford, Imran began Test cricket as a first-change bowler and lower-order batsman, and left it as one of the game's legends. His was also the age of Kapil, Botham and Hadlee, but Imran was on par with all these players and the most successful of all of them at captaincy.

Imran managed to gain the respect of the perennially fractious Pakistani team - when made captain in 1982 his side had three former captains and three former vice-captains. He lifted the side into playing as a unit and jettisoned the ultra-defensive mindset of previous Pakistani captains. He picked players out of nets (Tauseef Ahmed) or lifted them from 17-year layoffs from Test cricket (Younis Ahmed). However autocratic his methods, they usually worked.

Imran's career reached the sweetest of all finales when he led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup of 1992. It was testament to how he had transformed the Pakistan team from a procession of soloists into an orchestra, perhaps for the only period in its history.

Kamran Abbasi is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003