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HISTORY

THE PATHAN FROM LAHORE - PART I THE FIRST STEPS

Pakistan has produced several outstanding cricketers since its birth as a Test-playing nation in 1952. Not many, including Pakistan's all-time greats themselves, would grudge Imran Khan Niazi heading the roll of honour. One of the greatest all-rounders the game has ever seen, the handsome Pathan's achievements speak for themselves.
 

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Imran Khan Niazi.

Born in 1952 in a cricket-crazy family in the affluent Zaman Park locality in Lahore, Imran spent the early part of his childhood listening to 'shrill appeals' and the 'sound of broken window-panes'. If Javed Burki, his maternal cousin who captained Pakistan in Test cricket in 1962, was his childhood hero, the cricketing exploits of Majid Khan, another maternal cousin, thrilled him in his adolescent years. A fair bit of natural cricketing ability, coupled with his family's excellent cricketing contacts, won Imran a berth in the Pakistani squad that toured England in 1971. He was only eighteen.

It was a baptism by fire. Imran just could not come to terms with the demands of the game at the highest level. He had been picked as a fast bowler on the basis of a decent performance for a Pakistan XI against an International XI just prior to the tour. Intikhab Alam, his captain and Majid Khan, his cousin, were mortified to discover that the teenager did not even have a proper run-up, leave alone the ability to control the swing of the ball. Injuries to the other fast bowlers left Alam with no choice but to pick Imran for the first Test, and people watching the game were treated to the ungainly spectacle of a youngster learning how to play cricket - in a Test match!


It was a disappointing time for the youngster, and he made up his mind to stay back in England and complete his education. It turned out to be a momentous decision. He joined the Worcester Royal Grammar School, the ultimate goal being to enter Oxford or Cambridge University. He also represented the county of Worcestershire in second-eleven cricket and practised intensively in the school gymnasium under the watchful eyes of the New Zealander John Parker, who was then representing the senior Worcestershire side. Parker suggested a refinement in Imran's unusual, 'slingshot' bowling action by telling him to take a leap just before releasing the ball. Imran appreciated the suggestion, as it helped him get more side-on at the moment of delivery. He also passed his A-level exams and gained admission in Keble College at Oxford in 1972. It was from here on that his cricketing career really took off.

His performances with both bat and ball as player and later, captain of Oxford University led to his being recalled to the Pakistani team that was touring England in 1974. He gave a good account of himself in the Test series that ended in a 0-0 stalemate. He also played in the inaugural World Cup in 1975 and then returned to Pakistan, his studies at Oxford complete, and a great international career about to begin.

Imran's biggest frustration in the mid-70s was his not being taken seriously as either a frontline batsman or bowler. The formidable Pakistani bating line-up denied him the opportunity to bat higher than no. 7, and the spin-friendly wickets in Pakistan were not exactly conducive to his brand of quick, aggressive bowling. Imran's first tour with the Pakistan team to a land other than England, was the trip to Australia in 1976-77. The first two Tests of the series were not very memorable for Imran or his team, with his attempts to replicate the line-and-length style of bowling that he was used to doing on English wickets coming unstuck. On the eve of the third Test at Sydney, he met Geoffrey Boycott, the English stalwart, who stressed on the difference between Australian and English conditions. Boycott asserted the importance of 'giving it everything' with the new ball on the rock-solid pitches in Australia. So seriously did Imran take this advice that he bagged 12 wickets in the match and bowled Pakistan to its first Test win on Australian soil. He was delighted to discover the benefits of going 'flat out', and nothing should deter him, not even a torn shirtsleeve!

The historic win made Imran the mainstay of Pakistan's bowling, the man who would bowl the first over of the innings. There was another, even more significant fallout of his Sydney performance. Imran became one of 50-odd international cricketers to join Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. It was reported that apart from his obvious talents as a cricketer, Imran's dashing good looks fitted perfectly with Kerry Packer's key objectives, to 'package and market' cricket, and make it a Television sport, watched and followed by people of all ages, women included.

The so-called purists condemned the WSC Revolution, but it did a lot of good for the game in general, and for young cricketers like Imran and Viv Richards in particular. Playing with and against the world's best cricketers helped them fine-tune their own game and made them more rounded cricketers. Thanks to the excellent TV coverage, the players were able to watch themselves and their colleagues on video from different angles, either at normal speed or in slow-motion, and detect, analyze and correct faults and deficiencies in their batting or bowling. It was during his stint in WSC that Imran realized that sheer pace wouldn't work in isolation at the highest level. Bowlers like Dennis Lillee and Andy Roberts were getting more wickets, although they were slower than him. What gave them the edge was their mastery of swing and cut, and various other tricks that were a part of their repertoire. Imran decided to take a cue from these greats.

To be continued.......
 

 
 
 
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