Imran khan is many things to different people. For me, he has always been a winner. As a kid, I saw him taking Pakistan cricket to new heights. As a grown man, I saw him ascending to the position of Pakistan's Prime Minister. In both cases, he achieved his goal despite all odds.
Whether you're a fan or an opponent you have to agree that when it comes to unsurmountable challenges, Imran is the man you should be betting on.
On Saturday, Imran completed one such challenge when he was sworn in as Pakistan's 22nd Prime Minister. He accepted that challenge back in 1996 by forming a political party only to become a butt of jokes. You should stay in cricket, his critics told him. But Imran's greatest strength has always been his self-belief. He has always known what he wants and he has always proved that he has what it takes to get it.
It didn't seem the case when Imran first stepped into international cricket as a teenager back in the summer of 1971. It was a memorable Test against England in Birmingham but not for the young Imran. He bowled 28 wicketless overs in the Test, which ended with a draw after Zaheer Abbas hammered a masterful 274 in Pakistan's only innings.
Imran was overlooked for the next three years and got his second chance in July 1974 - another Test against England this time at Leeds. He finished the Test with just three wickets. It took Imran another four years to fully arrive at the international scene.
The Imran I came to know is the Imran of the Sydney Test in 1977. With that match began the true era of Imran Khan, the greatest cricketer Pakistan has ever produced. With Pakistan desperately needing a win to square the three-Test series, Imran stood up and accepted the challenge in the final Test in Sydney. He took six wickets in each innings to lead Pakistan to what is still one of their most famous Test wins. The eightwicket triumph in Australia did not just help Imran made a reputation of being a lethal fast bowler but also helped Pakistan build a reputation of being a dangerous team even away from home.
Imran's heroics in the Sydney Test remain the best match figures by a Pakistani bowler in Australia.
And he didn't stop there.
After helping Pakistan triumph Down Under, Imran bagged 25 wickets in five Tests in the West Indies, and then sizzled in two seasons of the World Series, again taking 25 wickets at a superb average of 20.84.
But it was the eighties when Imran was at his brilliant best. By 1988, Imran had what were perhaps the best allround averages in world cricket. He averaged almost 40 with the bat and less than 18 with the ball. Imran was at his peak during a period that spanned over almost 14 months (from November 1981 and January 1983). During those 14 months he was Pakistan's most potent weapon both with the bat and ball. Imran averaged almost 48 with the bat, and took 104 wickets at an average of 14.87, with eight five-wicket hauls. Among the teams, which were at the receiving end during that period, were Pakistan's arch-rivals India and Australia. Both the teams played six Tests each against Pakistan during that period and were just crushed by Imran. Imran was too good for India's highlyrated batting line-up with 40 wickets at 13.95, while 29 Australian wickets fell to his pace and swing at an average of 16.65. Of the 11 Man-of-theMatch awards he won in his entire Test career, five came in a six-month period from August 1982 to January 1983.
Imran wasn't just performing with the ball. India, who were Imran's favourite opponents, saw him shining with both the bat and ball in the third Test. In that match Imran smashed 117 in Pakistan's first innings and had match figures of 11 for 117, making him one of only two players to score a century and take ten wickets in the same Test. The other player is legendary England all rounder Ian Botham.
In an illustrious Test career, Imran finished with stunning figures, which underlined his status as one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game. He accumulated 363 wickets and piled up 3807 runs from 88 Tests. He also featured in 175 One-day Internationals taking 182 wickets and scoring 3709 runs. He finished with a Test batting average of almost 38 and a bowling average of 23. At the height of his career, Imran was dogged by a severe stress fracture in his shin, which affected him as a bowler. But that couldn't stop him, as Imran worked hard on his batting and improved him to the point that in the last five years of his career his batting average was among the best in the world. In his last three years in Test cricket Imran didn't bowl much, averaging only about 25 overs per Test, but his batting went to a new level altogether, as he went past 50 nine times in 20 innings.
Imran's incredible Test credentials aside, it was one single triumph that made him the biggest darling of the nation - winning the 1992 World Cup in Australia. That victory remains the jewel in Imran's cricketing crown. When Pakistan went to Australia, not many gave it much of a chance of winning the most coveted title in international cricket. And when Pakistan suffered a series of major hiccups early on in their title campaign, many believed that team wasn't good enough. But Imran and his self-belief were the major reasons why Pakistan came back from the jaws of defeat to win the World Cup. Sure, there wer match-winners like Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq but it was Imran's never-say-die attitude that kept Pakistan in the hunt. It is said that when you desperately want something, the universe conspires to help you get it. The universe did conspire to help Imran and his Pakistan team won the World Cup. In a must-win match Pakistan were bowled out for just 74 by England. But just when it seemed game over for Pakistan, rain came to their rescue. From there on, Pakistan didn't just advance to the business end of the World Cup but went on to beat the same England side in the final.
Back home, Pakistanis were ecstatic. Imran was now their greatest living hero. He was the man who brought home the World Cup. He was the man who had turned Pakistan's talented bunch of underperformers into a world-beating team.
His fans hoped Imran would continue but at 40 he knew that there wasn't anything left for him to achieve in cricket.
Imran then turned his attention to philanthropy. And he didn't begin with smaller, more achievable targets. Imran's goal was to establish a state-ofthe-art cancer hospital in memory of his mother who lost her life to the deadly disease. Back then experts thought it wasn't possible. But Imran went after that mission like a man possessed and the end result was the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital in Lahore where 75 percent of the patients receive treatment free of cost. To date, the hospital has spent more than Rs. 32 billion on free treatment of deserving cancer patients. Imran's financial integrity and passion to help cancer patients, have always been beyond doubt. This means that he still remains the bedrock of fundraising campaigns.
Khan's philanthropic spirit was not limited to his country only. Earlier, during the 1990s, Khan served as UNICEF's Special Representative for Sports and promoted health and immunisation programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. While in London, he also works with the Lord's Taverners, a cricket charity. His efforts were mostly focused on social work in any form in any country.
In the field of education, he was and still remains a strong advocate of quality education, especially for girls. In April 2008, Khan established a technical college in the Mianwali District called Namal College. It was built by the Mianwali Development Trust (MDT), and is an associate college of the University of Bradford. Imran Khan Foundation is another welfare work, which aims to assist needy people all over Pakistan. It has provided help to flood victims in Pakistan. Buksh Foundation has partnered with the Imran Khan Foundation to light up villages in Dera Ghazi Khan, Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan under the project 'Lighting a Million Lives'. The campaign will establish several Solar Charging Stations in the selected off-grid villages and will provide villagers with solar lanterns, which can be regularly charged at the solar-charging stations.
In a cricket match you get to play a single innings or two if you are playing a Test. But fortunately in life you get to play more. After successfully playing his innings as a cricketer and philanthropist, Imran turned his attention to politics - his third innings. I didn't believe it when I first heard that Imran was planning to establish a political party. Imran didn't come across as a man with a flair of politics. He had the charisma but one didn't think he possessed the acumen. Imran, however, had self-belief. He established PTI back in 1996 as a third option for Pakistani voters in what was previously a two-party system. But whether Imran knew it or not, he was facing a long struggle. It was only in 2013 that PTI really rose as a real third option, sweeping the polls in KhyberPakhtunkhawa but falling short elsewhere. Imran was already 60 when PTI finished third behind PML (N) and PPP in the 2013 elections and his critics once again predicted that he had little or no chance of becoming Pakistan's Prime Minister. Never in his previous lived had Imran given critics much importance and he didn't listen to them this time either. He kept on agitating against what he termed as rigged elections and campaigned against the "corrupt" system. His efforts received a huge boost when the Panama papers scandal first broke back in the spring of 2016. The scandal finally led to the imprisonment of his biggest political rival Nawaz Sharif in the lead up to the 2018 elections in July finally leading to a PTI triumph in the polls.
Imran is the key factor. He was and remains an icon for millions of people. His political fortunes have seen ups and down. His policies have received their fair share of criticism. He has ardent followers and fierce opponents. But he moves forward with his eyes on his goal.
"Believe in Pakistan," he still tells the crowds. This is something that tens of millions of people are desperate to do.
On Saturday, Imran won again. Many of his team-mates of the 1992 World Cup triumph were there when Imran took oath and became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Among the many cricketers present was former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram. Dressed in shalwar kameez and Sherwani, Wasim wore a big smile on his face as he entered the Aiwan-eSadr to be with his 'skipper' on his big day.
"Imran Khan delivered a speech that every Pakistani not only wanted to hear, but needed too. A historic day for our nation one that honours tradition but welcomes change, a day that no one will ever forget," commented Wasim after Imran won a parliamentary vote on Friday. On Saturday, Wasim said that he was at the President House "to be a part of history".
Wasim's optimism is shared by millions of his compatriots. For the best part of his life, Imran has been a winner. On Saturday he has begun his toughest innings yet. How he performs as Prime Minister won't just reflect on his personal credentials but will have a major impact on the entire nation. For the sake of Pakistan, one hopes that Imran will remain a winner, like he always has.
-The author is Sports Editor, The News