It's a whole different ball game now for Imran Khan
His challenges as a legendary cricketer are nothing to compared to those he now faces as Pakistan's prime minister
Imran Khan was the finest cricketer to come from Pakistan — or, many would say, Asia.
Imran was a great fast bowler around 1980, when he pioneered reverse-swing, finding movement of a couple of feet through the air, to crush a right-hander’s toes or stumps. It was a wonder of physics.As a batsman, Imran was as calm and cool as Misbah ul-Haq in Tests, and more of a match-winner in one-day internationals, notably when leading Pakistan to the 1992 World Cup; and only Misbah can compete with Imran for the title of Pakistan’s best captain, as he lorded over historic rivalries between Punjabis from Lahore and those of Mohajir origin from Karachi.And it was all done with a charisma that only Sir Viv Richards surpassed. Whether he was representing Oxford University or Worcestershire, Sussex or Pakistan, Imran had a feline athleticism that attracted the eye, and a self-confidence to match.
Most players are modestly gratified when told they have been selected as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. When I met with Imran during a Faisalabad Test to write his profile, Imran said he should have been selected two years before.But these on-field feats were nothing compared to his political achievement in winning Thursday's general election to become the next prime minister of Pakistan.
Ever since Jinnah, the first governor-general, whenever there has not been a military coup the rulers have been feudal lords. The vote of every villager on their land could be guaranteed: thugs made sure of that. It was not much of a democratic process; and Imran is the first to break this mould.
He has always been a fast bowler by temperament, quixotic, his own man, ready to espouse a theory and soon say the opposite with no less passion.
It was rather crass and egotistical of him not to praise his players in his speech after they had won the World Cup in Melbourne. His attitude to those who are not fellow Oxbridgians can be high-handed.By the standard set by Pakistan’s politicians, Imran is not corrupt and this is his unique selling point. But, since he has been elected, his hands are tied. Ever since a judgment in the 1950s, the army have had first call on Pakistan’s budget, taking more than half for themselves and Inter-Services Intelligence.
That is why there is virtually no public health service or state education: after the army has taken more than half, the rest goes into the pockets of corrupt civilians. Hospitals and ambulances are left to the Edhi Foundation, founded by Abdul Sattar Edhi, the most admirable of philanthropists who died two years ago; while religious schools have filled the void left by state education.
If Imran does nothing more than redirect some government funding into schools and hospitals, he will have succeeded. He may not prove a great leader otherwise, but he will have set a pathway for one to follow in the future, rather than another feudal lord with all the vested interests that entails.
• Scyld Berry is The Daily Telegraph’s cricket correspondent.
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