Imran Khan is no ordinary person. His charisma and magnetic persona transcend even his outstanding cricketing skills. For a generation that followed cricket while Imran strode the world stage, he was an emblem of sporting greatness that combined unsurpassable individual talent, inspirational leadership, and that mysterious quality called intuition that differentiates genius from the talented.
Even in his playing days, it was obvious that the man possessed that something extra that would take him to the top of the ladder in whatever he chose to do. That today he is the Prime Minister incumbent of one of the most complex and explosive nations of the world is no surprise. Those political pundits who had given him no chance when in 1996 he decided to move away from cricket to form a political party had obviously no insight into his working methods. Any cricket journalist or those who played with and against him had little doubt of his success.
In his simple articulation of complicated fundamentals of cricket and the national identities it represented, Imran had no peer. If his major contribution to his nation’s cricket was to pluck talent stuck in the cesspool of a feudal structure, his statesman like initiatives enriched world cricket. Ironically, Imran used the same feudal system of selection, where now his word mattered more than anyone else’s to make a choice of who would play and who would not.
The one major difference being that his choices were spot on and the people he picked, mostly from obscurity, turned out to be inspired selections. There was a time when he was not only the voice of Pakistan cricket but its czar as well. Any dissenting voice would be quelled with an iron hand. Though he cared little for those in power, he continued to survive, since he was giving results to a society where the sport was being run on the whims of the ruling classes and talented cricketers could find a platform to express themselves only if they had right connections.
By pushing for neutral umpires at home, that too against India, so that his team’s victories weren’t tainted by allegations of bias, Imran is remembered with gratitude by even his hard core critics. If one evaluates Imran purely from the prism of cricket, there will be little doubt that he would be unanimously voted as the most influential player to have emerged from our region.
When, how and why he forayed into politics is not the subject of this column. Trying to understand the man behind the sporting face is not easy. There are more layers to his personality than his mere on field achievements. His status of stardom, even in India, would be the envy of many reel stars and there are many stories, some presumably real, others mere gossip, of his relationships with well known faces of the film industry.
A flawless speaker in English, Imran’s felicity with Urdu is no less impressive. A liberal in the western sense of the word for the major part of his playing career, at what point in time did he acquire concrete traces of right wing, conservative, orthodox religious tones is hard to fathom. Whether this trait surfaced out of political compulsions or was always part of his upbringing still remains in the realms of conjecture.
Imran’s transformation from a universally admired sportsman to the ruler of a country is unprecedented in the annals of history. On the field he was a dreaded foe, though much respected even by the Indians. It will be interesting to watch whether he uses his cunning, guile, ambition and a strong will to succeed, in opening a new positive chapter of friendship with India or carry on using a hackneyed rhetoric that has led to chaos and terror.