If there is one man who changed Pakistan cricket for good, it was Imran Khan, the quintessential captain. The leader, who came out of his retirement in 1988 to lead a brittle team to a ODI World Cup victory in 1992.
This leadership wasn’t an easy game because he had to make peace with his fiercest rival in the team itself, Javed Miandad. And let’s be honest, theirs was not a ‘healthy’ competition.
While Imran Khan was the Oxford-educated, rich kid who never played domestic cricket in Pakistan and flew in for his matches from England, Miandad was the street-cricketer who learnt it the hard way, through the domestic set up.
While Khan was seen as the ‘playboy’, Miandad was the ‘firebrand’ and a dictator as a captain. It is alleged that led by Imran Khan, 10 cricketers of Miandad’s 1981 team went on a strike and the latter was removed as skipper.
Both Khan and Miandad, though, were indispensable for Pakistan cricket. However, while Miandad was sure one of the best batters Pakistan had ever seen, Imran Khan, with his sex appeal and all-round cricket abilities, was the poster boy.
Khan was once one of the fastest bowlers in the world and a batsman with fair enough averages. Sir Richard Hadlee thought Khan was the best all-rounder of their times, which was no mean feat considering his contenders were Hadlee himself, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev.
A Captain on Field, a Leader in the Streets
Khan’s numbers were especially great against India, with his Test batting average being above 51 and 94 of his 362 Test wickets coming against them! The long-haired icon was the reason Pakistani kids started bowling fast in flattest of domestic tracks.
After all, he was the man who went against PCB’s selection process to scout players for his team, and found out gems like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His selection of Inzamam ul-Haq for the ’92 world cup had, in fact, made a selector resign!
In 1992, Khan retired with the World Cup and used his prize money in the charitable cancer hospital he was making in his mother’s name. The hospital was opened in 1994.
Khan was already larger-than-life and now Pakistan was seeing a philanthropist in him who was selfless. He was a rich, educated man who could spend a luxurious life in England, but chose to give back to his country and toil away for his people.
In 1995, Khan grabbed quite a few Page 3 headlines with his marriage with British journalist Jemima Goldsmith. Jemima was 21 at the time of her wedding with a 42-year-old Khan.
The stage was now set for Imran Khan the politician and in 1996 itself, he launched his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Six years later, Khan won his first election from Mianwali.
Better Days of PCB?
The kaptaan became the prime minister in 2018 and cricket lovers heaved a sigh of relief. All this time, Khan had pinned Pakistan cricket’s downfall to the PCB and the government.
Because, unlike in India, the PCB top brass can be removed and nominated by the prime minister himself. After the terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, a furious Khan had slammed the Pakistan government, saying:
"The government was more involved in stopping the long march and the lawyers movement. They should have concentrated on providing top level security to the Sri Lankan team…Why should the president appoint the PCB chairman? The board should have elected representatives who should run cricket affairs with professionals."Imran Khan
Naturally, people expected that Pakistan cricket might come to its glory days once again when Khan takes over the country.
Najam Sethi, one of the two players of the murkiest time of PCB, was removed instantly and Ehsan Mani, the man who once led the International Cricket Council, was nominated. Khan was meddling in cricket affairs.
Ironical, yet something people had probably hoped for.
Mani made quite a few changes like trying to bring some structure to the domestic circuit of Pakistan cricket, reducing the politics and, of course, removing dissident voices.
The Pakistan Super League (PSL), also, despite its many complaints, was coming to some sort of stability, making Pakistan’s presence felt.
However, big-card international cricket was still away from the grasp of Pakistan. The team was still playing its matches in UAE and kept on playing series with the likes of Zimbabwe, Ireland, and Netherlands.
Raja Enters the Arena
Pakistan wasn’t successful in the 2019 World Cup and got defeated badly in the Asia Cup. Mani had to take the responsibility and in 2021, when Khan nominated Ramiz Raja to the chairman’s chair in PCB, there were a lot of voices against it.
Raja was always a Khan loyalist who gave the captain his last international wicket. It was apparent that Khan probably wanted a yes-man in PCB.
Now Raja, at 59, is pretty young when it comes to cricket administration. While his “youth” and rapport in the international circuit thanks to his media roles gave hope to many, there was a lot of opposition as well.
Many, including, Khan’s former new ball partner Sarfraz Nawaz, made their presence felt saying how Raja is inexperienced and an “India-loyalist”. Also, his previous stint with the PCB was not very praiseworthy. And, almost proving everyone right, he allegedly “forced” Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq and coach Waqar Younis resign.
However, despite the politics, Raja’s ludicrous IPL-PSL comparisons, and drumming around India’s economy, the man has brought results. The men’s team made it to the T20 World Cup semis after a gap of almost a decade.
More importantly, Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan, and Shaheen Afridi starred to hand India a heavy 10-wicket defeat.
Even in women’s cricket, Fatima Sana bagged the emerging cricketer award in 2022. On the other hand, while England and New Zealand called off their Pakistan tours, Australia did tour the country after a quarter of a century.
The pitches were meme-worthy, true, but international cricket DID return to Pakistan in a big way and PCB made quite a huge profit of it.
Now, with Imran Khan gone, will there again be a change at PCB? Ramiz Raja had said he would resign as soon as Khan goes.
Will Babar Azam again be the head of a team in disarray? Cricket lovers of Pakistan had just started to dream again. Will their dreams be broken, again?