Imran Khan: Charisma personified
The name Imran Khan brings a smile on the faces of cricket fans around the world. He was at his best in 1982-83 when India toured Pakistan for a six-match Test series. Sunil Gavaskar led the Indian side and Pakistan were led by Imran. The Pakistan skipper was at the peak of his powers and bowled consistently around 140-150 km/hr throughout the series.
Swinging the ball – both in and out – he wreaked havoc against the Indian batsmen. There is a beautiful delivery bowled by Imran in that series which is still telecast on television - one which he bowled short and wide outside the off-stump and it cut back so sharply that Gavaskar had no clue and was clean bowled. India lost the series 0-3 and Imran stood out with 40 wickets at 13.95 and 247 runs at an average of 61.75 to boot.
One of his best batting performances came in the 3rd Test against England in 1982. Under pressure, he scored 67*, pulling, cutting and driving the ball against the likes of Botham and Willis. He scored 46 in the second innings and although England won the match, Imran was chosen as the Man-of-the-Match.
Imran started as a medium pace swing bowler but his ambition was to become a fast bowler. He watched Dennis Lillee for the first time in 1972 and got inspired. Imran realized that in order to become a fast bowler, he would have to remodel his bowling action. This was not an easy task, but he worked hard and subsequently did the unthinkable. His bowling action became open-chested and included a short jump just before delivering the ball. His in-swingers and cutters were almost unplayable.
There was a fast bowling competition organized in 1979. Andy Roberts, Jeff Thompson, Imran Khan, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Mike Proctor, Richard Hadlee et.al. were the participants. Imran finished third in the competition.
The biggest contribution of Imran to Pakistan cricket was his leadership. He introduced fresh blood into Pakistan by touring the country and picking promising players from parks, schools and clubs. Some of these recruits went onto become cricket legends – Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam.
On a different note, Imran and Sunil Gavaskar, my two favourite players, have been friends for a long time. Gavaskar mentions that he wanted to retire in 1986, but it was Imran who compelled him to stay on so that they could duel in the field in the Indo-Pak series that was to follow, in 1987. Of course, Gavaskar agreed and it turned out to be a fantastic series with Imran being chosen as the Man of the Series and Sunny playing one of his best innings (96) at Bangalore.
Gavaskar also recounts that it was Imran who had asked him to start wearing helmets, because according to him, "It required only 1 ball to seal the fate". However, the Indian opener did not heed his advice. It was only when he got hit by a bouncer on his forehead in a 1983 Test match against West Indies that he realized the importance of those words.
Some cricketing greats consider Imran as the best all-rounder of all time. What better way to describe his persona than with one of his own quotes, “Never give up, no matter how hard life gets no matter how much pain you feel. Pain will eventually subside, nothing remains forever, so keep going and don't give up”.