When Imran Khan was an off-spinner for a day!

Sumit Paul
Saturday, 4 August 2018

Let’s see and hope that the ‘gentleman cricketer’ would also become a gentleman PM

Now that Imran Khan Niyazi is all set to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan, cricket lovers across the world reminiscence about him as a player and a gentleman cricketer, who surprisingly never mouthed a single cuss word while playing for his Alma Mater Oxford University, Worcestershire and Essex counties! The great cricket scribe, late Christopher Martin Jenkins, once wrote about Imran in The Wisden, the most authentic reference book on cricket, ‘Imran abuses in Punjabi only when he’s skippering Pakistan cricket team.’

The gentleman cricketer never turned down a single offer to take part in charity matches and once he played for his Oxford teammate’s charity match to raise money. Imran was running high fever because of a nagging toothache. But he didn’t shirk or complain. Even after retirement, naturally out-of-form Imran would figure in friendly matches in Pakistan and England without ever charging any money. 

I was a witness to his down-to-earth nature when I was pursuing my second M Phil from Lahore University in 2011-2012. Lahore University has a tradition of arranging friendly cricket matches between Pakistani students studying at the varsity versus foreign students and faculty studying and researching there. This tradition has been going on uninterrupted since 1949.

Though I represented Combined British Universities’ 2nd Division in League Cricket in England, I didn’t play in that friendly match at Stadium Ground. There were other British students and professors, who comprised the ‘English Eleven’ against ‘Lahore Eleven’. Imran Khan never misses any match at any venue in Lahore, as he hails from there.

It could be a token appearance, but he’d come even for a few minutes despite his busy schedule as the head of his political party Tahreek-e-Insaaf. The University management invited him to the friendly match. He came, talked and encouraged the players of both the teams. Suddenly, a British professor requested Imran to bowl an over! Imran laughed and asked him, ‘Should I play cricket in these clothes and after so many years?’ He was wearing his trademark Pathan-suit that he started wearing 22 years ago after his foray into politics. Then Imran told him that he was a 60-year-old man and was unable to bowl his lethal in-deepers. ‘Bowl gentle tweakers instead,’ the professor insisted. Finally, Imran relented and bowled a full over in his Pathan-suit delivering beautiful, slow off-cutters and spin and taking a wicket, to boot! That was a sight to behold! One of the greatest pacers of all time was bowling slow, innocuous off-spins! In his heydays in the 80s, Imran would bowl at 91 mph and here he was bowling like Indian off-spinner Irapalli Prasanna and West Indian Lancelot Gibbs, Imran’s favourite off-spinner. 

The Oxford-educated suave Imran Khan was known for his exemplary conduct on the ground and was also known for his nice and wonderful habit of admiring the batsmen of the rival team. Unlike the aggression, associated with all pacers, Imran never cursed his opponents. One still remembers how he applauded India’s Sunil Gavaskar in the Karachi Test when Gavaskar completed his second century of the match (he scored 111 in the first innings) in 1977-78 series by fine-glancing Imran for a four. Imran was stunned and then he began to clap with an admiring smile. The whole Pakistani team followed suit.

It was Imran who initiated the idea of having neutral umpires when he asked the Pakistan Cricket Control Board to invite Indian umpires Ramaswamy and Ghotoskar to officiate the Test matches in Pakistan against the mighty West Indies in 1986. The concept of neutral umpires we see today was the brainchild of Imran Khan Niyazi.

Who can forget the sight of crying Krishnamachari Shrikant being recalled to bat by the captain Imran when the former was convinced that he was not out? It was Imran Khan’s magnanimity. He’s magnanimous enough to call Sunny Gavaskar as one of two of the best batsmen he ever saw bat and bowled against. The other one was the legendary Sir Vivian Richards.

Let’s see and hope that the ‘gentleman cricketer’ would also become a gentleman PM and set a good precedent the way he set an exemplary precedent as a fiercely competitive but gentleman all-rounder during his 
cricketing days.

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