Three captains of Pakistan
Imran Khan ... led by example
SOME wise men in the press like to say that the second most difficult job in the country is that of the Prime Minister. At least in this respect India and Pakistan are alike, for, all things considered, General Musharraf has an easier time of it than whosoever is captaining the Pakistan cricket team. That man, like his counterpart across the border, has to battle against an over-expectant fan following and an over-censorious press, against manipulative officials and intriguing team-mates. His is a hot and hard job, and highly impermanent besides.
For many years now Pakistan has been the most talented side in world cricket. That results have not been commensurate with ability is, in good part, a product of cruelly destructive politics. This is manifest most directly in the extraordinary ease with which captains are appointed and then dismissed. Thus when Wasim Akram got back the captaincy in time for the 1999 World Cup, he had playing under him five men under whom he had, in turn, played for Pakistan.
It is hard to believe that one man led Pakistan for almost the whole of its first decade as a cricket playing nation. As Abdul Hafeez, this man had played for the Muslims in the Bombay Pentangular, and for the Indian team that toured England in 1946. A year later, as a proudly patriotic citizen of an independent Pakistan, he added the title "Kardar". By now he was also a student at Oxford, reading Philosophy and Politics. But he also found time to play cricket for the University, for Warwickshire in the County Championship, and to marry (and later divorce) an English girl.
A.H. Kardar was an accomplished all-rounder, an attacking left-handed batsman and a useful slow left-arm bowler. The Madras writer N.S. Ramaswami once claimed that "if Plato were to be imagined as a cricketer, a wild fancy, he would perhaps comport himself much like this late scholar of Oxford". When Kardar walked to the top of his bowling run, wrote Ramaswami, he "appears to be cogitating problems of foreknowledge, will and fate". And also the honour of his country. For Kardar had an almost obsessive commitment to the idea of Pakistan. This man of will was determined to use cricket to advance national pride, to stake out on the playing field a place of distinction for his new and always insecure nation.
Unlike the Pakistan captains of the present day, Kardar stood tall over the administrators. He, and he alone, decided who would play and who would not. It was Kardar who encouraged Hanif and his brothers, and it was Kardar who based Pakistan's bowling attack on swing and seam. His enterprise and foresight were splendidly rewarded in the summer of 1954, when Pakistan drew their first series in England. The hero of the Oval Test, which the visitors won, was the medium-pace bowler Fazal Mahmood, who took 12 wickets. Two years earlier, Fazal had taken another 12 in Pakistan's first Test victory over India, at Lucknow, every dismissal encouraged and abetted by Kardar at mid-off.
In the 45 years since A.H. Kardar retired, Pakistan have had perhaps 25 cricket captains. Only two have remotely approached him in authority and achievement. These were his fellow Oxonian and fellow squire of an English lady, Imran Khan, and that earthy Karachiwalla of commoner stock, Javed Miandad. Like Kardar, Imran led by example, his authority deriving from his great playing gifts and his aristocratic mien. Only he, it was said, could get anything like the best out of the muezzin's moody son, Abdul Qadir, who was one of the most unpredictable of modern bowlers.
Miandad did not possess the Khan's degrees or his bearing, but he was unquestionably the better tactician. He was also one of the boys: the others called him "Javedbhai", whereas his predecessor had always been "Sir". One never saw Imran follow the contemporary fashion of hugging bowlers who took wickets or fielders who took catches. To the unkind observer this distance appeared to spring from an almost aesthetic distaste. It was all right to captain them and encourage them, but one didn't want to get too close to the bodies of chaps bred in the gullies of Multan or Karachi.
The arrogance could sometimes be contemptible. Recall his speech on television immediately after the 1992 World Cup win, when Imran did not so much as mention the losing team, or even any of his own players. There was no room in his mind for his side, no acknowledgement of the batting of Inzamam and Salim Malik or the bowling of Wasim Akram and Mushtaq Ahmed. The victory speech was about how that moment was the culmination of his life's ambition, of how he could now go on to use his enriched cricketing capital to build his cancer hospital in Lahore. As the columnist Suresh Menon remarked at the time, Imran stood with Charles de Gaulle in believing that his country was merely an extension of himself.
Those few minutes were the low point of a life lived almost exclusively at the top, worse even than the Pakistani elections of 1997, when Imran contested nine seats and lost nine. Yet moments before the disgrace, a completedly different side had revealed itself. As the Pakistan side walked off the field, the last wicket taken, one of their men walked on to the turf. Javed Miandad had scored 58 when his side batted, but had left the field, injured, halfway through the England innings. Now he made straight for Imran. Through the 1980s the Pakistan captaincy had alternated between the two, a game of musical chairs in which prime ministers and generals also participated, behind the scenes. Indeed Javed had thought he would be captain for this tournament, to be denied the honour when Imran unexpectedly returned from retirement. But that night in Melbourne all the mud accumulated over the years was washed away in the glory. Javed strode across the Melbourne Cricket Ground and, approaching his captain from behind, tapped him on the shoulder. Imran turned around, saw who it was, and enveloped him in a hug. Javed gently disengaged himself and unfurled a Pakistani flag, which he draped around their twin shoulders as they walked off the field.
The writer is the editor of the
Picador Book of Cricket.
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