Christopher Sandford’s biography of Imran Khan is juicy but empathetic, says Joy Bhattacharjya
IT’S APPARENT that Christopher Sandford has caught the pulse of Pakistan cricket. Only a true connoisseur could have written this sentence on Imran’s relationship with his cousin and senior, Majid Khan, “Imran and Majid didn’t speak for the next ten years, even when Pakistan won the World Cup, although peace broke out again between them later in the 1990s”. The concept of “peace breaking out” is not entirely unknown in Indian cricket, but our feuds and factions did not even begin to compare with Pakistani cricket in the seventies and early eighties. Paradoxically, that era also showcased some of the finest cricketers to have ever played the game. Imran was the poster boy of a period that featured Mushtaq Mohammed, Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad and Sarfraz Nawaz.
Sandford’s book traces Imran’s career from his upbringing in the upper-class suburb of Zaman Park (named after a grand uncle), to his battles with authority as head of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
While the depiction of his early years is fairly detailed and informative, it is when Imran reaches England that Sandford really hits his straps. The descriptions of Imran nursing his milk at bars in Oxford while sitting with gorgeous blondes were quite outstanding. Only Imran and a certain masked crusader from Africa could have carried that off.
Sandford goes on to jog one’s memory on some of Imran’s outstanding performances against the West Indies and Australia, which most Indian fans could not really follow in the days before the Internet. One particular three-Test series, against the West Indies in Pakistan, featured some of the most underprepared tracks in the world up against Imran, Wasim Akram and Salim Jaffer. An unwise bouncer barrage by Malcolm Marshall on Imran in the first Test match precipitated what most observers called 46 of the most hostile overs ever bowled by Wasim and Imran. The series ended 1-1, with Imran forced out of the attack after a beamer from Marshall split his index finger, but most observers were just relieved that it did not feature a single life threatening injury.
To his credit, Sandford also outlines the start of Imran’s disillusionment with ‘home’ umpiring and his constant pressure on international authorities to move to neutral umpiring. For many, it eclipses his other significant cricketing achievements as his finest service to the game.