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Imran Khan Niazi

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Imran_Khan_Pakistan_CricketPathan, playboy, paceman, philanthropist, politician and Prime Minister in Pakistan.

That is a lot of Ps strung together to describe one of the finest all-rounders the game has produced. Imran Khan Niazi – former captain of the Pakistani cricket team has been chosen by his people to be the captain of the country itself, in his capacity as the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party he formed in 1996.

Soon after Independence Day (14th August) this year, the Pathan will be sworn in as the Prime Minister. Different cups of tea, one may say, and that is true. You need to be a tough nut to skipper a national team, and a tougher one to lead a country like Pakistan, considering the ungovernable nature it has developed over the years. Whether the demanding captain of the cricket team, who was respected and reportedly feared by his teammates, can continue in the same vein in his new avatar remains to be seen.

But as I said, different cups of tea; and one needs to wear thinking caps of different fabrics altogether.

It all boils down to leadership – something they do not teach in grad schools or IIMs or at Harvard. It is self-learnt in the daily grind of one’s personal, social and professional lives…and of course, political too. A former classmate of mine rates Imran Khan as one of the finest examples of leadership seen in modern times – a man who infused self-belief in his teammates as good leaders always do.

Another classmate remarks that Imran was the cement and mortar which held the playing XI together, focused on the task at hand. Can he strike the right chord among extremist Islamists, the army and the hoi polloi alike and weld them together to work towards common causes – socio-economic development and peace and progress in Pakistan?

Writing in December 2004 for another cricket magazine, I had described the Khan as a ‘strange man with unique characteristics and some idiosyncrasies to boot’. While there are allegations of election fraud against the PTI (with reports that the army and the extremist Islamists were involved in the same) which one may wish to denounce, it would be worthwhile to recall the Khan’s confession in the 1990s: of having doctored the seam on the cricket ball with bottle caps during his playing days.

In 2004, I had written, ‘After the highs of 1992, there have been several lows in the man’s life – on both personal and political fronts. But he moves on, his vision still unshaken. He may have changed his playfield of choice in his 40s, but his underlying passion remains unchanged.’ The persistence has paid off and he has won the trust of his people by demonstrating his durable commitment to the good of his country – as a cricketer first and a philanthropist later.

The cancer hospital honouring his mother and numerous rural development projects which he kicked off have established him in the eyes of the Pakistani masses as a doer and not a mere talker. He proved that when he led his cricket team from the front on all occasions, inspiring the other ten on the team to contribute their best at all times.

How would he tackle the border issues with India after taking over as PM? Would he realise that border-bonhomie would spur the socio-economic development in his country? The Pakistani economy has been in shambles for a long time now. On the cricket field, he ‘cast a spell on the Indians’ whenever he faced them, and that brought out the best not just in his teammates but also in the Indian cricketers.

Fourteen years ago, he had met Sonia Gandhi to discuss peace between India and Pakistan…what exactly was discussed, I do not know. But I would surmise that the Pathan has that resolution on his agenda, more than any of his predecessors did. The World Cup winner could work towards a Nobel Peace Prize if he takes strides in that direction.

His cricketing career can be summed up briefly, though it was not brief by any means. Interestingly, his ODI career began against the Aussies in England on a losing note and ended against the Englishmen in Australia on a winning one. He captained Pakistan in 139 of the 175 ODIs he played in, winning 75 of the 139. His Test career ended on a winning note against the Lankans at home. In Tests, he skippered for 48 of his 88 matches and won 14 of the 48. He went wicketless in both his debut and farewell Tests.

Starting slow and ending gloriously is something which the Pathan may very well also do in his political career. Insha’Allah, one hopes so, in the interest of lasting peace and development in the sub-continent.

Imran scored 5 Test centuries in his playing days, but the biggest and the most important century of them all was the 116 seats he won in the 2018 elections. Again, the start had been pretty slow, in terms of seats won…but patience and the ‘keep-fighting’ spirit has elevated him.

Is cricket poised to play a role in mending fences? Will the Khan’s rise inspire more former Indian cricketers to join the league which is comprised of the likes of Azharuddin and Sidhu today? Will Pakistani players be seen playing in the IPL come 2019? Wait and watch. One only hopes that the Pathan chooses wisely ‘which batsmen now must receive bouncers and toe-crushers’. To his peace-loving and progressive supporters, he ought to be an epitome of trust and reliability.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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