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When Imran Khan became the Pakistan Test captain

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Roar Guru
7th August, 2022

On 29th July, 1982, at Edgbaston, Imran Khan, the new Pakistan captain, went out to the toss along with his rival Bob Willis.

This started a remarkable era in Pakistan cricket history, as Imran turned a group of highly talented but often inconsistent players into a formidable outfit; and during the 1980s, Pakistan were generally considered the only team that could match the supremacy of the invincible Windies.

His Test record of 14 wins 8 losses and 26 draws in tests is impressive without sounding brilliant; but included among the 14 wins are some famous ones in Pakistan cricket history; most notably at Bangalore and Headingley in 1987.

Also, three of his losses were against the West Indies; in fact his 3-3 record against the Caribbean team at the time is highly acceptable.

Pakistan’s captain Imran Khan holds the 1992 World Cup Trophy during the victory presentation at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 25 March 1992. Pakistan defeated England in the 50th over by 22 runs to win the final of the World Cup competition. (Photo credit should read STEPHEN DUPONT/AFP/Getty Images)

Also, Pakistan lost two out of the three Tests in his captaincy debut series in England, as Imran was yet to take full control of his men.

And, of course, he ended his illustrious carrier in style, leading his country to their only ODI WC success.

Here, I would like to analyse the causes behind his phenomenal success as a leader.


Leading from the front: It was a mix experience for Imran at Edgbaston. He was adjudged the MOM after taking 7-52 & 2-84 with the ball and contributing 22 & 65 with bat; but his side was well beaten.

Of course, there was an event of great significance late on the second day. Coming to the wicket at a crucial stage of the game, he patiently built his innings; but then tried to hook a Willis bouncer but only managed to give a catch to WK Bob Taylor. It was very frustrating for the Pakistan skipper, as he felt that he had set a bad example to the younger members of the team.

He decided to show greater discipline in his shot selection from here on; and the effect was magical.

His batting average as captain is over 52, as a non-captain only 25. Five of his six Test hundreds came while leading his team. There is considerable difference in his bowling record as well; 20.26 as captain, 25 and a half as a non-captain.

And whenever Pakistan achieved something significant under his captaincy, you could bet that Imran would make valuable contribution to it. In 1982-83 the Paks thrashed their arch rivals India 3-0 at home in a 6 match series; and Imran took 40 wickets at less than 14. He also averaged over 60 with the bat.

In the autumn of 1986, he came to the wicket at Faisalabad on the opening day of the home series with his team struggling at 5-37; first he scored 61 to steady the ship; and then, along with the leggie Abdul Qadir destroyed the WI batting in the 4th innings to record a famous victory.

1987 was a memorable year for Pakistan cricket as they won series in India and England for the first time. Imran was the player of the series on both occasions.


Then he took 23 wickets in the WI, as Paks became the only away side to win a test match at the Caribbean in the 1980s.

Thus, leading from the front was a key part of Imran’s success story.

The Team Effort: While I took a look at Imran’s record while captaining viz a viz his record while not leading the team; I also checked how some of the leading Pak players performed under Imran’s captaincy; and somewhat surprisingly I found only marginal improvements, if any at all.

Among the batters; Mjudassar Nazar averaged 45 under Imran, while his overall average is 37; but then he had that extra-ordinary series against Indian in 1982-83 when he scored 761 runs at 126.83. Barring that, his record under Imran is fairly ordinary; in fact, he bagged a pair at Edgbaston in 1982 in Imran’s first Test as Pakistan captain.

Moshin Khan, Mudassar’s fellow opener, got regular place under Imran, after remaining in the fringes for a number of years. He perhaps showed more genuine improvement under Imran (avg of 41 under Imran, 37 overall). But, while he played a couple of glorious innings at Lord’s (1982) and at MCG (in 1983), he also scored couple of fairly meaningless hundreds against India in 1982-83.

The case for bowlers is perhaps more interesting. The great fast bowlers that they were, Wasim and Waqar flourished in most conditions under most captains.

But, Abdul Qadir only averaged 37 under Imran; remarkable given that Imran is generally credited with revitalising Qadir’s career in 1982 after it seemed that it was going nowhere.


However, this apparent anomaly can be explained. Most of Qadir’s success came in the spin friendly pitches of Pakistan; but starting from the 1983-84 season Imran became very irregular for the home series; missing a lot of series either through injury or due to personal reasons.

So where did the excellent man management skills of Imran reaped the greatest benefits? Well, it was mostly with less talented cricketers; often it was a case of a young player raising his game during a back to the wall fight-back. In fact, fighting like ‘a cornered tiger’ was a common feature in Imran’s team.

Imran Khan

Imran Khan is a giant of Pakistani cricket. (Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

After bagging a pair at Edgbaston, Mudassar only scored 20 on the opening day at Lord’s. At this stage, his future with the national tram looked uncertain. Yet, within days he became a national hero taking 6-32 to win the Test; Pakistan’s first ever Test win at the Mecca of cricket.

Saleem Yousuf wasn’t the neatest of keepers behind the stumps; but he remained a great favorite of Imran for his never say die sprit. At Faisalabad, he defied the WI pace battery for almost 4 hours to score 61, after coming to the crease as a night-watchman.

Then he contributed a valuable 41* at Bangalore, as Pakistan recorded a narrow victory in a low scoring match.
Prior to this test, Abdul Qadir was dropped from the squad because of his poor showing in the series. Instead it was the finger spinners, Iqbal Qasim & Tausif Ahmed who equally shared 18 wickets to complete a memorable victory for Pakistan.

During the 1992 WC, as Waqar Younus went home with injury, Aaqib Javed was promoted to the new ball duty; and under the influence of his charismatic captain bowled brilliantly.


So, frequently under Imran, it was the lesser lights of Pak cricket who stole the limelight.

The Decision Making: It’s true that Imran mostly led in pretty much a dictatorial fashion; and he always seemed very confident and decisive in his mind.

And he was always ready to take the full responsibility for his actions. After the first test of the India tour in 1987, he reckoned that the Pakistan side needed a left hander in the middle order as Maninder Singh posed the greatest threat among the home team bowlers.

So, Younus Ahmed was brought back to test cricket from near oblivion. The rumor was that Younus, who possessed considerable county experience, would also bat at No 3 in the summer tour to England.

But then during the fourth test at Ahmedabad, Younus was found in the disco floor of a club, when he should have been in fielding duties. His international career ended there.

Instead, Imran boldly send Iqbal Qasim, mainly a left arm spinner, to bat at No.5 in the second innings at Bangalore, as he wanted to upset the rhythm of Maninder. Maninder finished with 10 wickets in the match; but still ended up in the losing team.


Waqar Younus, still very young, made his debut in a tri- nation series at Sharjah at the beginning of the 1989-90 season. He only bowled four overs in his debut match against WI taking no wickets; while his new ball partner Wasim took a five-for including a hat-trick.

But, umpire Dickie Bird surprised everyone by claiming that he thought that Waqar bowled faster. Now, in many countries they would have given Waqar a bit of time to mature; but under Imran he went straight in to the test team against India. Imran always talked about Waqar’s excellent temperament; and he generally regarded Micheal Holding, Wasim and Waqar as the three great natural talents in the fast bowling department.

During the early stages of the 1992 WC, Pakistan was struggling to find a reliable number 3; Inzamam looked happier down the order. So, Imran took to the bold decision to himself bat at the vital position and his decision paid off handsomely.

Imran Khan (Allsport/Getty Images)

Of course, there were a few unpopular decisions by Imran. His belief in the theory that a player should retire while still in his peak meant that Majid (his cousin), Zaheer and Qadir were all dumped unceremoniously at different stages.

The Luck Factor: Yes, like all successful captains Imran had his fair share of good fortune. I know of two glaring tactical mistakes by Imran in Test cricket, but he got away on both occasions. First, at Bangalore, Qadir was dropped and instead Pakistan brought in a third seamer, Salim Jaffar. Yet, on a turning track left armer Jaffar didn’t bowl a single delivery in the match.

Then, on a rain affected opening day at Old Trafford, he decided to field first expecting the ball turn from the beginning. In fact, Tausif the only spinner in Pakistan, was brought in to the attack very early. Eng scored 447 (Tim Robinson 166) and Pakistan were struggling at 140-5 when the rain ended the match.


Of course, rain also intervened in Pakistan’s vital WC match against Eng in 1992, and it meant that Imran’s side got a point they never deserved. Even then they needed Aus to beat WI to get a place in the SF. After that, everything clicked for Pakistan.

Finally, I would like to say that like all human beings Imran isn’t above mistakes or flaws. But he always gave his 100 percent and as captain always liked to lead by example. His contribution to Pakistan cricket, especially as a captain, deserves great respect.

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