The first time I met Imran Khan was on the field, during India’s tour of Pakistan in 1978-79. The two countries had met to play a series after 17 long years! The first things I noticed about this six-foot Pathan were his aggression, passion, commitment, and self-confidence. Not to mention his long locks and fearsome run-up. And, fearsome he was, because I got hit by a vicious bouncer from him and had to be stretchered off!
It was a high-profile, sensitive series played in the shadow of the 1971 war. It was always going to be a hard-fought one, and hostilities towards us were high—from players and spectators. It was not less than a war. Imran played it hard, but I appreciate his gesture of coming over to shake hands and say “well played” after I did well in the final Test.
Over the years, as we played each other more often, the relationship between the teams improved. By the time the 1982-83 series came along, both sides were more relaxed with each other. There was less sledging and aggression, and the interaction between players was cordial, as was the reception from the supporters. The more we played, the better we got to know each other, both on and off the field.
I was spared much of the [earlier] hostility, mostly because I was Punjabi. The fact that my father played all of his cricket in Pakistan helped, too. I was treated differently, like I was one of them. I was never sledged or abused, but some of my teammates suffered. Knowing I came from the same background, most of the Pakistan players, Imran included, spoke to me in Punjabi.
What I liked about Imran, the cricketer, was the way he led from the front. As captain, he would perform and work harder than anyone else, setting an example for the boys. Basically, he was a trendsetter for Pakistani cricket. He had a very good 1982-83 series, and his passion was there for all to see. As was mine. He and I were more or less on the same ‘war’ footing on the field. There was no compromising on the field. Off it, though, we would have friendly discussions.
Rarely would we get an opportunity to meet outside a series, because we could not visit each others’ countries frequently. But, I did meet him in London in the early 1990s at a concert he had organised to raise funds for the cancer hospital he was building in memory of his mother Shaukat Khanum. That was another passion of his that he has succeeded in fulfilling.
Imran was pretty much loved and liked wherever he went, not least by the Indian public. Cricket lovers enjoyed watching him in action, and could not help but admire his passion. He was very popular, especially with the ladies! I have been witness to this: whenever we were at a party, the suave Mr Khan would make a late entrance—intentionally, of course.
As soon as he appeared at the door, everything would stop and the focus would shift to him.
Imran is one of those guys who likes to be the “captain” and likes to control things. All his hard work in politics has paid off, and he is now going to be the prime minister. This will be one of the most challenging tests of his career. It is not as simple as dealing with 11 guys on the field. Here, there are different people and parties, different scenarios and policies. I wish him all the best.
He is very passionate about his country and people, and I am sure he will do a lot of good. I am hoping his becoming the PM will be a good thing for Pakistan, and also for relations with India. I would love to see peace at the border. The challenge will be how well he tackles this issue.
Amarnath was man of the match in the semi-final and final of India’s 1983 World Cup victory