Thinking about life off the field

Imran Khan… not a man for half measures or empty promises.-RAJEEV BHATT

In retirement Imran could easily have trod the well worn path of the celebrity. Fortunately he did not have the desire. His horizons were altogether wider. And he set out to make the world a better place, a thankless task, writes Peter Roebuck.

Imran Khan counts amongst the most idealistic of retired sportsmen. From the outset cricket alone was not enough for him. Rather it was an expression of his young self, an outlet for his immense physicality. Imran liked to feel strong and developed his body with devotion. Why waste a gift? Arnold Schwarzenegger had the same idea, except that in his case his body was an end in itself. Subsequently the actor proved that he, too, had been underestimated.

Imran also realised that cricket gave him an opportunity to shine and to experience the clash of titans on the field. Moreover the game ran in the family. Majid Khan, his uncle, counted amongst the most pleasing batsmen of his era. Imran wanted to be a champion and was not scared of the prospect. He was a man apart, and knew it. He became one of the great all-rounders of a period well blessed with them. As a batsman he was correct, and cultured, not at all a swashbuckler in the tradition of Kapil Dev. As a bowler he matured into a formidable force. In his pomp he was a magnificent athlete and an outstanding cricketer.

Meanwhile he was also developing his leadership skills. An intelligent young man, he was sent to Oxford University where he captained the side. Before long he was captaining his country and lifting a World Cup won on a memorable night in Melbourne. Imran’s team contained several mercurial cricketers and he was able to turn them into a fighting unit. As subsequent events have confirmed, it was not the least of his achievements.

Always he was thinking about life off the field. For a time he was portrayed as a night clubber, a product of his glamorous good looks. It was a patronising view that cast him as a man trapped by beauty and doomed to eternal youth. But Imran was merely young and spirited. It did not mean that he was a fool or a permanent child.

In retirement Imran could easily have trod the well worn path of the celebrity. Fortunately he did not have the desire. His horizons were altogether wider. And he set out to make the world a better place, a thankless task. He decided to go back to his roots in Pakistan, a troubled country at the mercy of a feudal system that sustained corrupt leaders. Nor did he try to work within the system the better to improve it. Rather he cut his own path. He set about constructing a hospital to assist children suffering from cancer, and did not rest till the work had been completed. He is not a man for half measures or empty promises.

Next Imran set about saving his country. Already he had written books about the injustices resulting from Partition. Involvement in the affairs of a deteriorating State followed. He understood that to remain outside the political fray was to become irrelevant. He disdained the existing, compromised parties and formed his own. It is no small thing to create a new party to challenge entrenched interests. Popular at rallies, Imran suffered defeats at elections but refused to give up.

Finally Imran’s hour may have come. After all he was important enough to face arrest in the recent crackdown imposed by the forces of darkness. He fearlessly condemned the dictator and afterwards fled to a safe house. Dare Pakistan embrace him a second time or must he continue to be patronised as a naive interloper in the affairs of his beloved country?