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    Imran Khan's Glorious Summer in the County
Imran Khan's Glorious Summer in the County
Imran Khan. Source: Daily FT

Imran Khan's Glorious Summer in the County

Imran Khan's illustrious summer in county cricket, which occurred fifty years ago, is now a distant memory as he finds himself confined behind bars. In 1974, Khan's remarkable performance of scoring two centuries for Oxford University established his status as a talented all-rounder and an intimidating captain.

From Oxford to Sussex Swings

It was unfortunate for Northamptonshire that in June 1974, Imran had a complete team from Oxford University at his disposal following their exams. Nonetheless, the tables turned, and the county team was effortlessly defeated, akin to helpless students. Imran achieved an outstanding score of 170 in his sole innings, declared the innings twice, bowled with the new ball, and intimidated professional county players without helmets with his swinging bouncers aimed at right-handed batsmen. Roy Virgin, the captain of Northants, had more first-class centuries than anyone else that season, and he had talented future England batsmen such as Geoff Cook, Wayne Larkins, and Peter Willey in his team. Yet, they failed to come close to their target and suffered a defeat by 97 runs. Following his exams, Imran, as one would expect, participated in Test cricket for Pakistan during their tour of England.

During his time at Keble College in Oxford, Imran pursued studies in philosophy, politics, and economics. A fellow student, John Dixon, who had also played a few matches for Gloucestershire, recalls a moment when Imran approached him and asked for his pillow, as each student was only allotted one. Imran declared, "Dicko, I shall be coming in off my long run tonight."

Imran Khan with cricket trophy. Source: Dawn
Imran Khan with cricket trophy. Source: Dawn

Stellar cricket achievements

Before his stint at Sussex in 1977, Imran had played for Worcestershire. However, he felt constrained in that environment and decided to move to Sussex, where the atmosphere was more vibrant and appealing. At Brighton, he exhibited a greater swing and charm. His captain at Sussex, John Barclay, noted that Imran could rarely be relied on for consistency of mood. Up one moment, and down the next. He could be impulsive and yet measured too – both reliable and less so within the same hour. He wasan idealist, totally inspired at times and admirably persevering.

Barclay tried to persuade Immy to bowl another over at Hove, utilising the slope to his advantage and instilling fear in the opposition once again. Barclay's statement would go as follows: “Oh please, Immy, could you bear the thought of bowling two more overs? I think it could win us the match and then you can go to London for a break.”

Imran swiftly emerged as one of the finest all-rounders, comparable to all except Sir Garfield Sobers. Only during Lord Botham's early days of rapid pace was he on par with Imran. Imran's contributions extended beyond his batting and captaincy as he pioneered the technique of reverse swing. These skills propelled Pakistan to win the 1992 World Cup when Imran was 39 years old, all the while maintaining his fierce demeanour.

Apart from Sir Vivian Richards, Imran has undeniably been one of the most captivating cricketers in the post-war era. Due to various reasons, he never had the opportunity to play for Pakistan against England on home soil.

Imran made his Test debut at the young age of 18 in 1971. At that time, he would run in like a youthful giraffe, still finding his stability. A decade later, he became a master of reverse swing, perhaps surpassing anyone else in this skill. During this period, umpires had little understanding of the techniques used to manipulate the ball, and rules were eventually introduced to prevent roughing up one side of the ball. In a memorable instance during the Faisalabad Test, Imran bowled a delivery that started well outside the off stump, lowering his right arm slightly to create an even greater angle away from the right-handed batsman for the initial two-thirds of its trajectory, before it swung back sharply to demolish the stumps.

Imran's captaincy style offered a glimpse into his future role as a prime minister. The Pakistani cricket team was divided along linguistic lines, with players from Karachi predominantly speaking Urdu and those from Lahore speaking Punjabi. Despite being from Lahore himself, Imran, with his Oxford education and a stance above the regional divide, issued his commands in English, symbolising his neutrality and detached perspective.

Imran Khan in court. Source: Hindustan Times
Imran Khan in court. Source: Hindustan Times

Prison term

In August of the previous year, Imran was sent to prison for a three-year term, followed by another sentence of ten years referred to as "rigorous imprisonment" after a swift trial conducted in a closed court. While there have been instances of other Test cricketers being incarcerated, one West Indian fast bowler even facing the death penalty with no possibility of escape, none of them have held the position of prime minister like Imran did for a span of four years. Although there seems to be no evidence of mistreatment during his time in Adiala, restrictions are imposed on the media, preventing them from capturing images or recording videos when he is brought to court.

Despite challenges, Imran's charisma continues to foster loyalty. His political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which was established in 1996, was not permitted to participate in the recent general election, and their symbol, a bat, was prohibited. Nevertheless, when Imran's candidates ran as independent contestants, they secured the highest number of seats. The following two parties had to join forces by combining their members of parliament in order to prevent the PTI from forming the government.

Every prime minister in Pakistan, whether from a military or civilian background, has faced limitations imposed by the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), preventing them from exercising control over financial resources. Imran, despite his inclination to allocate more funds towards healthcare and secular education, found his political decisions influenced by both his personal character and his cricketing strategies. Just as he targeted opponents with aggressive bowling tactics, aiming to score points rather than runs, his political approach reflected a similar mindset.

Having dealt with the ISI for four years, Imran is believed to possess a practical mindset. It is speculated that he eventually agreed to a deal to secure his release from prison. Meanwhile, he is regarded as a "shaheed," a significant term in Urdu meaning "martyr," and his stature in this regard continues to grow. This transformation is a strong departure from his days of freely sprinting into the parks, highlighting the considerable distance he has travelled both figuratively and literally.

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