Discovering talent the Imran Khan way
Over the years Pakistan cricket has benefited from some extraordinary individuals who have left an indelible mark on the history of cricket in that country. None more so than one Imran Khan.
I was fortunate enough to play against him a few times in Australia, which allowed me to fully recognise his skill and, more importantly, his immense presence in any situation. He is currently wielding his considerable influence in the political arena in his beloved country and don't for one minute think his presidential goals are unattainable, such is his single-minded determination.
Imran was a colossus of the game and his career numbers alone confirm that. He bagged 362 test wickets at 23 apiece. Couple that with the 3 800 runs he scored at an average of 38 and it becomes very clear that this man influenced outcomes. His career spanned some 21 years at international level in a cricketing era that was considered by far the strongest and toughest. In a nutshell he was the greatest cricketer by far to emerge from Pakistan.
Imran had another amazing gift that served Pakistan cricket royally. While he was captain of the country he was always on the lookout for undiscovered talent. He was of the opinion that such was the magnitude of Pakistan and the shortcomings of the rudimentary talent-scouting process that many talented players would fall through the net and never be heard of again.
He made it his job to be the focal point for any remarkable talent that was seen and went out of his way to scrutinise such. His influence was so all-encompassing that once he made a decision on a talented individual, all red tape suddenly vanished and the fortunate chosen ones were fast-tracked at a rate of knots.
Cricket history shows that Imran was responsible for originally spotting and nurturing two of Pakistan's finest. Let's start with Waqar Younis. After an initial promising start to a first-class career as a 17-year-old Waqar suffered a serious injury which derailed his career.
One mischievous day he was gallivanting with his friends and decided to jump off a canal bridge. That all seemed fine and fun until he got his little finger caught in the railing and severed it as he jumped. The innocent jump literally ripped the finger off his hand and mayhem ensued.
To make matters worse, in the following days doctors wanted to remove half of his hand, which would have severely hampered his career. He resisted this advice and nothing was done for four days as he suffered immeasurable pain and anguish. Eventually the doctors decided to sever the remaining hanging part of the little finger at the lowest knuckle joint so as not to impede his catching and fielding.
This was a serious setback to a promising career and Waqar's once burgeoning future seemed bleak. Many underestimated his determination and also the influence of a national skipper.
Following a challenging time of recuperation Waqar resumed a career that many predicted was done. He had only participated in six first-class games when he was selected for a Pakistan training camp completely out of the blue.
Imran was not at that camp because of illness but word spread to him that this kid was worth watching due to his extreme pace generated from a frenetic run-up. Shortly following the completion of the camp he played a televised game and Imran watched him perform on TV from his sick bed. Imran was so impressed that he went down to the ground towards the end of the game and watched closely.
The very next day he met with Waqar and informed him that he would be touring Sharjah with Pakistan the following month. The rest is history but Waqar will be the first to tell you that the way that Imran took him under his wing once he was representing Pakistan was extremely beneficial to his development and long term success.
Another Imran discovered was Inzamam-ul-Haq. Inzamam had been ignored by the national selection panel after scoring heavily at domestic level and was on the verge of retreating to his home in Multan to return to his quiet and simple life of family and mosque.
Imran had never seen him play but his good friend Mushtaq Ahmed had dropped sufficient hints for his interest to be piqued. Imran arranged for a net session in Lahore at the Gaddafi Stadium to allow Inzamam to showcase his talent.
Imran wasn't messing around though. Waqar Younis was one bowler he asked to attend as was Wasim Akram, who had actually previously been spotted and recommended to Imran Khan by Javed Miandad after bowling particularly well at him during a net session.
For Inzi this was to be no walk in the park. A disastrous start where stumps were frequently rattled forced a forthright Imran Khan to tell Inzi to play his natural attacking game. Imran studied his swashbuckling style for a while and had seen enough. The next we knew of Inzi was his arrival and subsequent exploits at the World Cup in 1992. He was never to look back from that fateful day in Lahore and was later described by Imran Khan as the finest player of fast bowling in the world.
The selection process of cricketing superstars over the years in Pakistan has been interesting to say the least. The remarkably simplistic approach engineered by the enormously impressive Imran Khan served them magnificently then.
How things have changed.