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At his peak, Imran Khan the bowler was easily among the best in the world, while his skilful batting and inspirational captaincy made him the complete package
November 1, 2010
Even among the many great allrounders who have played the game, Imran Khan stands out. He was the complete package: a technically sound batsman who could defend or attack as the situation demanded; an aggressive fast bowler who could swing and seam the new ball and the old one; and an inspirational captain who held the Pakistan team together by the sheer force of his personality and gave Pakistan their proudest moment in international cricket. Apart from Garry Sobers, his stats compare favourably with every other allrounder. Imran finished with a Test batting average of almost 38 and a bowling average of 23, and those numbers didn't flatter him, for he was as good as they suggest.
Perhaps where Imran stood out, even when compared to other great allrounders, was that at various times in his career his stats were among the world's best in both bowling and batting. Over his entire career, bowling was undoubtedly his stronger suit, but when a severe stress fracture in his shin forced him to restrict his bowling, he improved his batting so much that in his last five years in international cricket his batting average was among the highest in the world.
Imran began his Test career in England in the summer of 1971, but he established his credentials as a genuine Test player only in late 1976: first, he took 14 wickets in three home Tests against New Zealand, and then, on the tour to Australia later that season, he destroyed the home team in Sydney with a pair of six-wicket hauls, which gave him his first ten-for in Tests. It remains the best match figures by a Pakistan bowler in Australia. Riding on that momentum, Imran picked up 25 wickets in five Tests in the West Indies, and then matched up well against the big boys in two seasons of the World Series, again taking 25 wickets at an excellent average of 20.84. Despite all that success, though, his overall stats in the 1970s were quite modest when compared with what was to follow in the next decade.
In the 1980s, Imran was in his pomp, and he was easily among the top five players in the world during this period. Till the end of 1988, both his batting and his bowling were in fine fettle: he averaged almost 40 with the bat and less than 18 with the ball, numbers which indicate quite emphatically just how dominant he was. He was even more lethal in the 14 months between November 1981 and January 1983: in 16 Tests during this period he averaged almost 48 with the bat, and took 104 wickets at an incredible average of 14.87, with eight five-wicket hauls. India and Australia played six Tests each against Pakistan during this period, and both suffered extensively at the hands of Imran: he destroyed India's much-vaunted batting line-up with 40 wickets at 13.95, while Australia fared only slightly better, conceding 29 wickets to him at 16.65. Of the 11 Man-of-the-Match awards he won in his entire Test career, five came in a six-month period from August 1982 to January 1983. In the third Test of that series against India, Imran scored 117 in Pakistan's first innings and had match figures of 11 for 117, making him one of only two players - Ian Botham is the other - to score a century and take ten wickets in the same Test.
In his last three years in Test cricket Imran didn't bowl much, averaging only about 25 overs per Test, but his batting went to a new level altogether, as he went past 50 nine times in 20 innings.
|Period||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM|
|Till Dec 1979||25||832||22.48||0/ 1||98||31.88||5/ 1|
|Jan 1980 to Dec 1988||48||2028||39.76||4/ 10||236||17.77||18/ 5|
|Jan 1989 onwards||15||947||72.84||2/ 7||28||33.53||0/ 0|
|Overall||88||3807||37.69||6/ 18||362||22.81||23/ 6|
In ODIs too, Imran's career followed a similar pattern: the 80s were his most prolific period with bat and ball, while in the last three years of his career his bowling took a back seat. His biggest ODI exploit was obviously leading Pakistan to the World Cup win in 1992, where his contribution extended beyond his inspirational leadership: his bowling wasn't a huge force, but with the bat his efforts at No.3 were key in the semi-final and the final, where his 72 was the highest score of the match.
While his best period in Test cricket was the 1982-83 season, in ODIs, quite surprisingly, his peak year was 1989. He played 26 matches that year, easily his highest in a calendar year, and shone with both bat and ball, scoring 793 runs at 46.64, and taking 29 wickets at 25.79. Of the 13 Man-of-the-Match awards he won in his entire ODI career, six came in that year alone.
|Period||ODIs||Runs||Average||Strike rate||Wickets||Average||Econ rate|
|Till Dec 1980||14||108||15.42||59.34||16||25.93||3.32|
|Jan 1981 to Dec 1989||122||2651||33.98||75.67||142||22.96||3.90|
|Jan 1990 onwards||39||950||36.53||66.90||24||48.66||4.12|
During his peak years in Test cricket, Imran was easily the best allrounder among his peers. In the nine years between 1980 and 1988, his bowling average of 17.77 was almost 22 lesser than his batting average - the difference was clearly the best among those with 1500 runs and 100 wickets during this period. Hadlee's bowling performances were exceptional during this period, but he couldn't quite match up to Imran with the bat, while both Botham and Kapil had far lesser success with the ball.
|Player||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM||Diff in ave|
|Imran Khan||48||2028||39.76||4/ 10||236||17.77||18/ 5||21.99|
|Richard Hadlee||51||1987||31.04||2/ 10||284||19.03||28/ 7||12.01|
|Ian Botham||72||3989||34.38||10/ 19||255||31.83||15/ 2||2.55|
|Kapil Dev||72||3103||31.98||5/ 16||242||30.05||14/ 2||1.93|
|Ravi Shastri||61||2702||34.64||7/ 10||132||38.24||2/ 0||-3.60|
In fact, extending this analysis to all Test cricket, only Sobers had a higher difference between batting and bowling averages (among those with at least 3000 runs and 200 wickets, and two wickets per Test). Jacques Kallis is the other allrounder who has more than 3000 runs and 200 wickets - and a huge difference between batting and bowling averages - but for much of his career Kallis has been a batsman who bowls a bit: his 266 wickets have come from 140 Tests, an average of less than two wickets per match.
|Player||Tests||Runs||Average||100s||Wickets||Average||5WI||Diff in ave|
In his pomp, not only was Imran the best allrounder, he was also the best bowler in the world. At a time when a connoisseur of fast bowling would have been spoilt for choice, for there were so many great ones going around, Imran was still the best of the lot with an average of 17.77 and a strike rate of less than 44 balls per wicket. Hadlee was next in line, with three West Indians following in their wake. The top six all averaged less than 25, which is also a telling commentary on the balance of power between bat and ball during that period.
|Bowler||Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
|Imran Khan||48||236||17.77||43.6||18/ 5|
|Richard Hadlee||51||284||19.03||47.0||28/ 7|
|Malcolm Marshall||58||297||20.20||44.7||18/ 3|
|Joel Garner||49||210||20.62||51.8||7/ 0|
|Michael Holding||45||184||23.38||50.3||9/ 1|
|Dennis Lillee||35||171||24.07||52.3||11/ 3|
What's more surprising, though, is the sort of numbers Imran racked up as a batsman when his glory days as a bowler were over. He was technically sound and could play with the straightest of bats, and when he worked on his patience and temperament, the result was a batsman who could play long innings and adapt his game according to the needs of the hour. In the last five years of his career, Imran averaged 59.69 in 28 Tests, and four of his six Test hundreds came during this period. Among those who scored at least 1500 runs during this period, only New Zealand's Martin Crowe had a better average.
Admittedly, the average was boosted by the number of not-outs he notched up - 11 in 37 innings - but that further illustrates how difficult he was to dismiss during the last years of his Test career. Even Javed Miandad had a lower average, though he scored almost 1000 more runs than Imran.
|Martin Crowe||24||2186||60.72||8/ 8|
|Imran Khan||28||1552||59.69||4/ 9|
|Graham Gooch||32||3282||55.62||8/ 18|
|Andrew Jones||20||1703||54.93||5/ 6|
|Javed Miandad||35||2512||54.60||8/ 10|
|Mark Taylor||28||2565||53.43||7/ 17|
|Robin Smith||28||2118||52.95||6/ 15|
|Shoaib Mohammad||32||2175||50.58||7/ 8|
One of the highlights of Imran's career was his battles against the best team of his times, West Indies. As a batsman he wasn't as effective against them, but as a bowler he was superb, taking 80 wickets at 21.18. Comparing the stats of the four superstar allrounders of that era against West Indies, it's clear that three of them raised their games against them - Hadlee and Kapil too had terrific numbers against them - but the disappointment was Botham, who struggled with both bat and ball.
|Player||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Wickets||Average||5WI/ 10WM|
|Imran Khan||18||775||27.67||1/ 3||80||21.18||6/ 1|
|Richard Hadlee||10||389||32.41||1/ 1||51||22.03||4/ 1|
|Kapil Dev||25||1079||30.82||3/ 4||89||24.89||4/ 1|
|Ian Botham||20||792||21.40||0/ 4||61||35.18||3/ 0|
Perhaps even more impressive than his individual performances against West Indies was the manner in which Imran inspired his team to raise their level against them. He led them on three occasions versus West Indies between 1985 and 1990, and each series was a classic, with each team winning a Test every time. Imran the bowler was outstanding in two of those series, taking 18 wickets at 11.05 in 1986, and 23 wickets at 18.08 in 1988. During that period Pakistan was the only team to win more than one Test against West Indies. (In complete contrast, England won one and lost 11 Tests against them during this period.)
In fact, one of the stand-out aspects of Imran Khan was the manner in which he lifted his performances when he became captain: in the 48 Tests in which he led Pakistan he averaged 52.34 with the bat and 20.26 with the ball; in the 40 Tests in which he wasn't captain his batting average was 25.43 and his bowling average 25.53. Imran's batting average of 52.34 is among the highest by captains - only four have led in 40 or more Tests and averaged higher. Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border were among those whose batting average as captain was lower than Imran's. Under him, Pakistan also won 14 Tests, which remains the joint-highest (along with Miandad) for Pakistan.
|Brian Lara||47||4685||57.83||14/ 19|
|Greg Chappell||48||4209||55.38||13/ 19|
|Peter May||41||3080||54.03||10/ 15|
|Ricky Ponting||73||6429||53.57||19/ 34|
|Imran Khan||48||2408||52.34||5/ 14|
|Steve Waugh||57||3714||52.30||15/ 10|
|Clive Lloyd||74||5233||51.30||14/ 27|
|Allan Border||93||6623||50.94||15/ 36|
|Sunil Gavaskar||47||3449||50.72||11/ 14|
|Graeme Smith||78||6564||50.10||19/ 26|
Imran's ODI numbers were pretty impressive too, though his bowling average of almost 27 didn't do complete justice to his skills. He averaged only slightly more than one wicket per match, but that was also because of the stress fracture, which severely curtailed his bowling. When on song, even the best of batsmen found him difficult to handle: in Sharjah in 1985, he destroyed the Indian batting line-up with figures of 6 for 14, though Pakistan ended up losing by 38 runs.
As a batsman, Imran was a terrific matchwinner: in matches that Pakistan won, he averaged almost 47, which was well above his overall batting average of 33.41. Among Pakistan's batsmen who scored at least 2000 runs in wins, only four have a higher average. Given that he was a man for the big occasions, it's hardly surprising that his World Cup stats are better than his overall career numbers: his only ODI century came in a World Cup game, against Sri Lanka in 1983, while he is one of only six bowlers to take 25 or more wickets at an average of less than 20.
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