Imran Khan spoke to the Herald in 1992 after his World Cup victory.
Jaffer Bilgrami. Did you chalk out a special strategy after Pakistan lost the first few matches of the World Cup?
Imran Khan. After the string of defeats that the team suffered, I told the players at every stage that they can win the Cup. I had faith in God Almighty and I had faith in my team members, that they can fight. Even the countries pitched against us were full of praise for a talented but inexperienced young side staging a comeback from a miserable situation.
Again, I give all tribute to my players, both seniors as well as the young ones who I have seen coming into the team and then developing and grooming themselves into fine cricketers. Now, they are finally capable of bringing laurels, pride and glory to the nation, and also to me at the twilight of my cricket career.
I also want to pay my compliments to the manager of the team, Intikhab Alam, who did an excellent job and also to the selection committee. Every time a team performs poorly, it is the selection committee which gets the wrath. I have complete confidence in the selection committee and the way Javed Burki and the other members backed us. They realized and grasped our problems and knew what we needed. We knew what was going wrong in Australia, and at those junctures the selection committee gave us complete backup material. All these factors contributed to a memorable and glorious victory for Pakistan.
Bilgrami. What really went wrong in the initial stages, and how did you transform the team into a winning combination?
Khan. The first thing which went wrong, and which always goes wrong in Australia — you can trace the past history of the Pakistan team — were the conditions. In Pakistan, we play on dead wickets with no life and bounce and face weaker teams like Sri Lanka. And then suddenly the team moves to Australia, where things are always different.
It goes without saying that the team members are like my younger brothers, because I have seen them coming into the team and then developing into fine cricketers.
The other teams were strong and therefore we had readjustment problems. Anyway, we went through the readjustment period. But importantly, Javed Miandad, who is the backbone of our batting lineup, was not there in the early stages, followed by the injury problem of Waqar Younis, around whom our bowling revolves. He went back with a stress fracture. The whole situation was further compounded by my own injury. Can you imagine, the captain of the team gets injured, and that threw away the balance of the team. I tore the tendons of my shoulder bone only two days before the commencement of the World Cup. I have never played a competition like the World Cup with such pain and injury like this. I was in no condition to bat or bowl or even do any fielding. I played with pain killers and cortisone injections and after the match my shoulder would become inflamed. Instead of practicing, I had to rest. I was totally out of form throughout the tournament and all these factors really gave us a bad start.
Bilgrami. What really clicked in the end?
Khan. It was the urge and motivation of the team, apart from the blessings of God Almighty, who looked upon us favourably and really pulled us through. At the same time, you cannot forget the fighting spirit displayed by the team members. They really dedicated themselves to bringing glory and pride to the country.
Bilgrami. You have always been very vocal about the restructuring of domestic cricket. How do you visualize first class cricket in Pakistan?
Khan. In this regard, first I want to appeal to the President of Pakistan, who is the patron of cricket in the country: In order to retain the top position in the cricket world, we must scrap our first class cricket structure because it has contributed nothing to Pakistan cricket.
No player in the country has benefited from this structure and none of the top players of Pakistan owe anything to the existing structure. Pakistan beat world class teams in the World Cup and became champions of the world, but in spite of that, our structure is bad. It was their own ability, the fighting spirit of the players, which brought victory to the nation.
We must focus our attention on regional cricket, like anywhere else in the world. Frankly speaking, we don't really have a structure. The best example is that of Mushtaq Ahmed, who enjoyed immense success in the fifth World up. He does not even represent his employers in first class cricket. Remove the handful of persons who are opposing the regional structure mainly because of their own vested interests and replace them with those who are capable and neutral and have no axe to grind. Waqar Younis, Aaqib Javed. Inzamamul Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed are not products of first class cricket. They came from the under-19 and went straight to Test cricket. Inzamamul Haq was dropped, although he was scoring, but nobody cared. Inzamamul Haq learned his cricket not from the first class structure, but from being in the team for months.
The President of Pakistan must look into the fact that first class cricket has given us nothing and it cannot take any credit for the World Cup victory since it made no contribution. I would suggest that cricket administrators and journalists be sent abroad to assess the true depth of cricket and see the handicaps we are suffering. I stress that we must reorganize our cricket on regional lines and must go beyond Karachi and Lahore to small and remote towns and explore talent. After all, they are also Pakistanis and have every right to play for the country.
I must remind you that South Africa remained out of international cricket for twenty years, but since they have a sound domestic cricket structure they emerged as a hard team. Our domestic structure is corrupt. May I ask, are Jansher Khan or Jahangir Khan the products of squash associations? They emerged mainly because of their talent and skills. The need of the hour is to abolish our first class structure and organise a regional structure and harness the abundant potential.
Bilgrami. Would you like to comment on Botham's allegations about objectionable behaviour from Pakistani players?
Khan. I am not aware of any sledging. Had I known, I would have stopped it, because I do not believe in such behaviour. Everybody knows that I have always been a champion of discipline on and off the field.
Bilgrami. Was it appropriate to mention your cancer hospital at the final award distribution ceremony? You also did not say anything about the players and the country that won the World Cup.
The President of Pakistan must look into the fact that first class cricket has given us nothing and it cannot take any credit for the World Cup victory since it made no contribution.
Khan. It goes without saying that the team members are like my younger brothers, because I have seen them coming into the team and then developing into fine cricketers. I take pride in their performance. They are all such great players and like a teacher I feel proud. Rather than my own performance, I feel happy from the depth of my heart to see Wasim Akram, Inzamam or Aaqib performing. If I did not mention anybody in my speech, it wasn't because I had forgotten them. How can I forget members of my own team? I was talking of the twilight of my career rather than the career of all those players who have a lot of world cups to play in the years to come. Moreover, public speaking is not my strength and I was not fully prepared either.
The cancer hospital project is not just my project, it is the project of Pakistan, the project of the whole nation. Therefore, it is everything to me, just like Pakistan is everything to me. I do not see any difference, which most people forget. The hospital is meant for the people, the poor masses, of my country.
Bilgrami. What are your plans for the future?
Khan. I am going to rest for a few weeks in view of my shoulder injury, which was nagging me throughout the World Cup. I will then review the overall situation for the forthcoming English tour. Everyone has some motivation for doing something, and my motivation and greatest driving force is the cancer hospital. That is the reason I am in cricket. This is a personal thing, but I know it is also the pride of the nation. I still remember how the nation wanted to win and how they felt after the defeat in the 1987 World Cup, so I fully understand the feelings of the nation when we won the fifth World Cup. At the same time, I hope they will come forward to help me in my endeavour, in the greatest mission of my life.
This was originally published in the Herald's April 1992 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is a senior journalist.