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The air-force man who got Pakistan cricket soaring

The roots of Pakistan cricket's most successful era can be traced to Air Marshal Nur Khan's tenure as the cricket board's chief

Saad Shafqat

December 18, 2011

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Imran Khan and Javed Miandad at the 10th anniversary of Pakistan's World Cup win, Karachi, March 31, 2002
Nur Khan brought in Miandad as captain and then brokered the deal that saw Imran Khan succeed him to kickstart Pakistan's golden era © Associated Press

It is unusual for people to serve in public office and leave with their reputations intact. Imagine, then, the calibre of a man who served not just in one public position but many, and who left each commanding ever more fame, admiration and respect. It was Pakistan cricket's good fortune that one of the key offices held by this gentleman happened to be chairmanship of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Malik Nur Khan was born in 1923 and had an illustrious military career, starting with the air force of British India in 1941, and rising to air marshal and commander-in-chief of the Pakistan air force, a rank he held from 1965 until 1969. He also served as chief executive of Pakistan's national airline, PIA, in its formative years, and at one point even headed the country's civil aviation authority - though that part of his career is a minor slice compared with his service to sport, which dominates his legacy.

The roots of Pakistan's most successful cricket era can be traced to Nur Khan's tenure as PCB chief. He took over in February 1980 and remained at the helm for four years. He brought professionalism, accountability, and the cleanest of intentions to Pakistan's cricket administration. He was also a visionary. His far-reaching achievements include making the Asia Cup an enduring reality, and being an important part of the initiative that brought the World Cup to the subcontinent for the first time.

One of his earliest acts was to elevate Javed Miandad to the captaincy. It was an unsettled time for the team because Pakistan had just returned from a humiliating loss in India, and the national mood was hostile. No one had anything good to say about the cricket set-up, and the captaincy in particular was a burning issue. Asif Iqbal, who had captained in India, became an inevitable casualty, and Mushtaq Mohammad was appointed (again) in his place.

As a sports administrator, Nur Khan had transformed Pakistan's squash players and field hockey team into world titleholders. His method was to focus intensely on performance, while leaving no stone unturned in arranging the resources required. There was a keen expectation that he would bring some of that Midas touch to cricket. Yet not everyone was enthused. How could a man who had dabbled in hockey and squash handle something as complicated and outsized as cricket?

He is by a distance the most beloved PCB chairman, adored by fans, players, journalists, broadcasters and officials alike. Contrasted with some of the other characters who had led the board before and have since, he towers like a giant among pygmies

Nur Khan proved everybody wrong. Not just those who opposed him, he also exceeded the expectations of even his most ardent backers. Immediately after assuming charge at the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan, as it was known then, he convened a meeting with Mushtaq, the captain-designate. Nur Khan expressed dissatisfaction with deadwood in the team and wanted Mushtaq to step down and make way for someone younger. When Mushtaq refused, the skilled administrator in Nur Khan kicked in. He offered to make Mushtaq coach-manager, with a higher salary to boot, which Mushtaq found impossible to refuse.

In retrospect, Nur Khan's choice of Miandad was less than ideal, as it triggered a famous player rebellion. Miandad himself acknowledges that it may have been a case of too much too soon, and perhaps he should have handled things better. Here, too, Nur Khan's administrative dexterity saved the day. Firm and commanding in dealing with the rebels, he nevertheless remained sensitive to the team's internal dynamics. For a while he backed Miandad and was prepared to field virtually a 2nd XI, but when Imran Khan too joined the ranks of the disgruntled, Nur Khan accepted that the game was up.

His actions as the Pakistan cricket board's chief confirm that Nur Khan was a man of intellect and reflection who worked diligently and honestly and kept the strategic interests of Pakistan cricket foremost. He is by a distance the most beloved PCB chairman, adored by fans, players, journalists, broadcasters and officials alike. Contrasted with some of the other characters who had led the board before and have since, he towers like a giant among pygmies.

It is hard to imagine now, but at the time his appointment of Imran as captain was considered by many an awkward choice. When Miandad stepped aside after the revolt, the captaincy had become a three-way race. Imran emerged as something of a compromise candidate, but it was a compromise brokered cleverly and compellingly by Nur Khan. In doing so, he laid the foundations of a gilded era.

Pakistan's cricketers from that period remember him as a calm and attentive listener who put them at ease, comforting and emboldening with his intelligence. He gave them the feeling he was always fully behind them. His manner was professional yet amiable, familiar yet unfailingly respectful.

Among his many honours are some of Pakistan's highest military and civilian awards, as well as a range of international decorations - from Jordan, Lebanon, and Holland. He also enjoyed a brief political stint, winning a seat to parliament from his ancestral hometown.

In a celebrated incident, he once negotiated through an airplane hostage situation, which ended with him boarding the aircraft to challenge and overpower the hijacker with his bare hands. He took a bullet in the scuffle but recovered eventually.

He had been ill for some time and spent his last days at the family home in Mianwali. He was 88. With his passing, Pakistan has lost a hero and an icon, and Pakistan cricket one of its most committed champions.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by szrana007 on (December 20, 2011, 16:43 GMT)

Truly a great man he was! Fantastic article Saad !!

Posted by nh00 on (December 20, 2011, 11:06 GMT)

as an Indian who was born to see the glory days of Pakistani cricket (the first golden age with Imran and Javed) and grew up watching the greats Wasim, Waqar and Inzi at their best, i really wish Pakistan find another Nur Khan soon. We really miss the true greats from Pakistan and would love to see some of the incredible potential in the country converted to consistent performance like in the past. RIP Nur Khan While a vocal few from my country would disagree, there is a silent majority in India who know cricket will not be the same without Pakistan and wish Pakistan a speedy return to being the top side it once was

Posted by sabir1054 on (December 19, 2011, 6:56 GMT)

During his tenure as MD of PIA, the national flag carrier became the first Asian airline to fly a jetliner. In his second stint, PIA inducted wide-bodied DC-10 and B-747 aircraft. with his management skills, he contributed in the winning of 1992 cricket world cup. we must pay tribute to his services to not only Pakistan sports board but also to Pakistan Air Force. May Allah give him a place in Jannat ul Firdoos.(Ameen).

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 21:54 GMT)

A well deserved tribute to a well deserved hero of cricket. Thanks Mr.Shafaqat.

Posted by Guruprasad.S on (December 18, 2011, 20:42 GMT)

Thanks to Mr. Shafqat for this article. I was not aware of this person and his contribution to Pakistan cricket, and it was good to read about the greatest chairman of PCB. It is sad that he passed away. One can imagine what a man he must have been, from the aircraft hostage incident. Mr. Shafqat, please do chronicle the tales of such people associated with Pakistani cricket.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 19:16 GMT)

Nice tribute to a Legend!!! He will surely be missed. We haven't been able to find his replacement up till now but hopefully we'll find one. One of the greatest all round administrator we ever had. He made every dept he headed flourish. RIP Nur Khan!

Posted by avmd on (December 18, 2011, 18:41 GMT)

It was the golden era of Pakisatn's sporting history, thanks to an honest, smart and determined person. God bless his soul. Nur Khan changed the sporting history of Pakistan, and who knows, another Khan, Imran , might change the history of Pakistan for the better, after 2013 elctions, good luck to him.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 16:04 GMT)

RIP Air Marshal, You will be missed!

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 15:31 GMT)

Just like Imran Khan and Javed Miandad were geniuses on the field, Nur Khan was genius off the field. RIP. It takes a strong, honest, dedicated and sincere team to bring success and these three embodied that for Pakistan cricket.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 14:37 GMT)

Nice tribute. Though it would have been more fitting if there was a picture here of Mr.Nur Khan. Allah Bless his soul.

Posted by farazzubair on (December 18, 2011, 10:29 GMT)

Nur Khan can well and truely be called the mastermind behind Pakistan's steady ascendance to the top in the mid 80's right up to the early 90's. The visionary in him saw the need to throw in youngsters for a stiff challenge and the need for a long term leadership plan. The Imran-Miandad duo had a lot to thank him for and the picture heading the article is a rare one. I am all at awe seeing such a pleasant picture of two of Pakistan's greatest sons. It surely looks to be a recent one: One that reminds us of the need to find another dynamic duo to lead Pakistan in the right direction, although having said that I would say Miandad and Imran both are simply irreplacable.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 8:11 GMT)

nice informative piece Shafqat...keep up the good work!

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 7:55 GMT)

One of the most amazing people ever to have come from the soil of pakistan >really a true genius >pakistan really needs another Nur Khan if they wanna become world beaters.Simply the guy is a genius in all considerations

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 7:32 GMT)

greatest pakistani sports administrator and a man of honor. R.I.P

Posted by Umms on (December 18, 2011, 7:06 GMT)

Nice piece, truly a forgotten hero. Nur Khan RIP.

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 6:30 GMT)

Nur Khan is a legend of Pakistan Cricket and will be remember by everyone for ages to come. RIP!

Posted by BoonBoom on (December 18, 2011, 6:21 GMT)

RIP Air Marshal, it's impossible to find a person like you these days.... We'll miss you....

Posted by   on (December 18, 2011, 6:12 GMT)

how Pak Cricket needs somebody like him today. There is also an universal axiom. Some basic education is required to open the mind of individuals. Pak did well when Imran led, because he was educated. Although Zed also was educated, he could not inspire. Today, Misbah is able to lead the team because he is also educated.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (December 18, 2011, 6:11 GMT)

Pakistani fans, when was this pic taken and published in mainstream media in Pakistan? Which year? This seems like Imran in his Tehrik-e-Pakistan avatar. One of the real RARE ones of them in such a jovial mood together. Though Imran understood the real VALUE of Miandad all thru his captaincy period. By the way, would sure like some old-timer fan sharing some details of the revolt against Miandad in the early 80s.

Posted by smalishah84 on (December 18, 2011, 6:09 GMT)

RIP Nur Khan. You were on of Pakistan's finest.

Posted by MUQ1 on (December 18, 2011, 5:38 GMT)

You are right, it is very difficult in Pakistan to lead a public office and then leave with your reputation intact. We salute Air Marshal Nur Khan.... and compared to our Aijaz But.... he was almost Superhuman. May his soul rest in peace.

And we see some Foreign Teams coming to play in Pakistan soon

Posted by donda on (December 18, 2011, 5:31 GMT)

Who can forget Noor Khan. Pakistan sports owe a lot to noor khan. He was the boss. He made Imran Khan the real leader. Noor khan was champion administrator.

I don't think PCB ever able to find the replacement of Noor Khan. Like Imran, there is only one Noor Khan in Pakistan cricket history. Together they changed the legacy of Pakistani cricket from a B grade team to finally world champs in 1992. 12 years of great effort by Imran and it all started because of Noor Khan. Nook Khan like all Khans was champion of administrator and every sports body needs person like him to lead and lead by example.

Sad to see he died but he was legend.

Posted by pauliangenius on (December 18, 2011, 3:13 GMT)

A man who is primarily responsible for the golden era when Pakistan had all three world titles,i.e., cricket, hockey and squash at the same time. may Allah bless him and enter him into paradise. AMEEN

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