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2010: Imran Khan

2010: Imran Khan

Thank you, Johnny [Barclay, MCC President].

Johnny mentioned that I am under a lot of pressure because of the various speakers who have delivered lectures before me, but Johnny should know that I learnt to play under pressure, because he was my captain - and not just the captain but the most eccentric cricketer I have ever known. You don’t know what it was like playing under him. It was the most incredible experience. But I have to say that I learnt something very important while playing under him. His captaincy was always trying to challenge the team. Before him, the county captains whom I had met or played under always played to save the game: the priority was not to lose. Johnny was the first county cricket captain I played under who played to win, a big difference. When you go into a game playing not to lose, it means a different strategy, a different team selection. When you go in playing to win, it’s a completely different strategy, attitude, team selection. So that’s one thing I have to say and, yes, I learnt to play under pressure under you, Johnny.

Now, the spirit of the game. I think the first thing where I will differ from Johnny is about what, in order to keep up the spirit of the game, is the most essential feature. In my opinion it is fairness: you must win the match fairly. So when I was playing I was the first captain who started talking about neutral umpires, and I remember getting a lot of flak for it. There would be a lot of criticism that this is not in the spirit of the game, that this is against cricket tradition. Johnny is a traditionalist, and I will go on to say how we differ too about various things that have come up. But I always thought that a match must be won fairly and squarely and, in order to do so, you must have umpires which both teams have faith in.

We used to have the situation in Pakistan, with foreign teams coming in, that we would win the matches, but the credit would not go to the team: it would go to the umpires. And we would come to England and we would think marginal decisions were going against us, so we would complain about the umpiring and we would be told "English umpires make mistakes, but Pakistani umpires cheat". So that is where the idea of neutral umpires started. I thought "There is only one way to play the game in a fairer way", but this was a long struggle, because it wasn’t easy. There was a great amount of resistance to neutral umpires, and the spirit of the game suffered when I was playing. I saw incredible instances. You don’t see those things any more on the cricket field. I remember once when the West Indies were playing New Zealand in the early 80s and I remember 6ft 8in Colin Croft running in to bowl. By this time the West Indies had lost complete trust in the New Zealand umpires. I remember that he ran in to bowl and – we were watching on television – instead of watching him deliver the ball, we suddenly saw the umpire flying 10 yards away; he had hit the umpire. And then of course there was this famous picture of Holding kicking the stump out. So there was a lot of acrimony in the game.

The situation was bad most of the time, but when Pakistan played India it deteriorated to depths you cannot imagine. Losing against India in Pakistan was not an option, and the same in India: for India to let Pakistan win wasn’t an option. So whenever the teams were doing badly they could always rely on the umpires. So Pakistan never won in India; India never won in Pakistan. It was as straight as that. Anyway, I led the tour to India in 1987. India prepared home conditions – a wicket for the off-spinners. We had our strength in fast bowling. The first four matches were all drawn matches, because the wickets were spinners, but they were so slow that there couldn’t be any result. For the fifth Test match India produced in Bangalore one of the most spinning wickets I have ever seen. We tried fast bowlers one over each and then the spinners came along, and I have never seen a spinning wicket like that. Pakistan bowled out for 118, India bowled out for 140, despite home umpires. Pakistan then go in and, given that they are set a total, all the team fight right down to the end, and we set India a total of about 220, something like that. Now India are losing wickets regularly as they are chasing this total, and we have a pack of fielders round the bat. Every over there are a minimum of three appeals, and we reach a point where between us and the first ever series win in India is one man, Sunil Gavaskar. He is now playing this incredible innings and our fielders think they have got him out at least three times by then. Anyway, trust between our team and the Indian umpires had completely broken down.

Imagine the scenario. Here’s this match. I am now imagining in my mind the next day’s headlines “Pakistan team win the first ever Test series in India”. I am already picturing the glory, but, as Sunil Gavaskar’s batting is making them creep nearer and nearer the total, I am watching the faces of the pack round the bat. At first they just made loud appeals, and the appeals went on and on; then they would rush about two yards towards the umpire and then stop, appealing; then they would go about five yards. When they started crossing the half-way wicket I changed my position – I am standing at mid-wicket – so I start moving in towards shortish mid-on. They are now rushing towards the umpire, led by none other than Javed Miandad – and I still remember the expression on his face when he was charging towards the umpire, led by the pack. I would imagine that that is what a suicide bomber must look like before he explodes himself. When there were only three or four yards left between them and the umpire, I then had to make a rush in between and stop these fielders attacking the umpire. My mind now had changed: from envisaging the next day’s headline of first ever series win, I seriously started thinking "Indian umpire murdered on a cricket field - in the first ever act of cross-border terrorism".

In the end, and I am not joking, it was a question of standing in front of the umpire like this, against my own fielders, because the tensions were high. In the ground there was pin-drop silence. For four days everything stopped in India. People were going into hospital with blood pressure; six or seven people died of heart attacks. The streets of India and Pakistan were empty. In such pressure, to put this sort of pressure on umpires I thought was very unfair. The poor umpires – I could see their faces. Neutral umpires have taken all this away. People don’t realise how lucky they are. I remember that whenever I used to talk about neutral umpires I always used to be told "It all evens out in the end", this cliché "It all evens out in the end".

I will indulge in just one other incident. I had retired in 1987, thinking that I am about to be 35, end of a fast bowler’s career, so I don’t want to be left to the mercy of the selectors: I should leave when I am still on the top. So I announce my retirement, thinking that the World Cup in 1987 was the last big tournament I would play. In my time we hardly played any Test cricket. At my peak, when I was at my fastest, we played about five Test matches in three years. I retired because I thought the last big tournament would be the World Cup, there is nothing else ahead, best time to go. When I retired I suddenly discovered that the West Indies invited Pakistan for a tour. West Indies invited Pakistan for a tour because, for some reason, the Australian team had cancelled their tour. Why did the Australian team cancel their tour? It was because in those days – you won’t believe it when you look at the current West Indies team – it was not a question of winning against the West Indies; it was a question of losing with dignity, and clearly the Australian team thought they would lose their dignity. So they cancelled, and Pakistan were invited.

I had already retired, but my great desire was to have one last go at this great team, which I thought was the greatest team in cricket history. I still cannot imagine any team being better than that. People who played against them, and I think Mark played at some level or knew what level they played at, but anyone who played against them – if David Gower were here, he would tell you what it was like, after losing 10-0 against them – could tell you that it was a harrowing experience. After that, everything became easy. After the West Indies, if you played any other team, it was if you were playing against schoolboys. So I thought OK, and then of course the Pakistan dictator at the time, General Sahi, asked me to come back for the sake of Pakistan cricket, and of course my main thing was to have one last chance at the West Indies. So I accept the tour, we go to the West Indies – five one-day matches, Pakistan wiped out 5-0, so I am suddenly thinking "Did I make the right choice?"
In the first Test match, after 15 years West Indies lose a Test match. Pakistan win by a huge margin – eight wickets. It is a three-Test series. In the second Test match at Trinidad, Pakistan bowl the West Indies out for 140, West Indies bowl Pakistan out for 150. Second innings – I narrate this because here was my desire to finish my career beating the greatest team in cricket history. So the match is now poised, and West Indies now lose two wickets in the evening and in the morning they lose the third wicket, and in walks Sir Vivian Richards. West Indies are tottering at 68 for 3 – something like that – and then they lose another wicket, so they are now 70 for 4. Now in the whole ground again there was pin-drop silence. Everyone knew that what stood between us and a series win was Vivian Richards. We knew it, the crowd knew it, Viv certainly knew it, because the gum was being chewed at ten times the normal pace – the jaws were moving very quickly; you knew he was very nervous – but sadly the umpires also knew it. Here’s an in-swing bowler who so many times in my career thought there were LBWs that went against him, because I was an in-swing bowler mainly. I don’t remember any of them, but I remember this decision as if it happened yesterday.

So 70 for 4, the series would have been all over on the third day of the Test match, and Viv Richards coming in, struggling really in this aggressive mood, chewing gum, jaws working very hard, and I still remember this ball. The bowlers here such as Jeff Thomson would blast batsmen out; he wouldn’t bowl these subtle things. Anyway, I was bowling this out-swinger, a cross-breeze blowing: to Viv you always bowled out-swingers. Johnny would know this. When a bowler is bowling out-swingers, you don’t take your front foot out too far; you play from the crease, because you are waiting for the ball to do its work. So he was playing from the crease, I was bowling out-swingers, and then something happened – an intentional out-swinger, but the ball pitches and comes back, not intentionally. The bowler doesn’t know it, so neither does the batsman know it. I still remember, it was missing his leg and off stump, but hitting the middle. He got it right standing in front of the crease. It was 22 years ago, but I can still picture it – middle stump being knocked out of the ground, hit him flush in front. We appealed, and we appealed, and we appealed, because everyone knew everything depended on the decision. And I looked at the umpire and he wouldn’t look at me: he kept looking down, and he wasn’t given out.

So Viv Richards went on to make 100. We were in the end 40 runs behind with one wicket left, match drawn, and we didn’t win the series. It was a one all draw. And when I saw this referral system I thought "God, if only we’d had that". Johnny of course doesn’t agree with it, but I think this is a great innovation, because if you believe that the spirit of the game is to play the game fairly and you want accurate results, you must eliminate every chance of there being a wrong result, because that is how you will find that on the cricket field the atmosphere is very harmonious. A bitter atmosphere, anger, all the tantrums we used to see on the grounds always happened when players felt that they were being cheated by the home umpires, but now neutral umpires have changed everything, and what little technology we have has also eliminated so many of the controversies: run-outs are no longer an issue. The problem is that I think we can even go a step further. I completely agree with these referral systems. I think it is a very positive thing.

So in my time what has improved? Umpiring has improved a lot. The results are much fairer now. In the old days you could not win an away series, but that is no longer the case. Things have improved as far as the umpiring has gone, and I think should improve further with the use of technology. I am all for the use of technology to get fairer results.

What are the other things that have improved? I think that what has improved tremendously is the fielding standards. You can’t imagine what a sea change in fielding has taken place. I remember going on my first tour to the West Indies. That was my last one. The first one I went over as a 23-year-old, and I remember bowling to these two great butchers – Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge. It was a real experience for a fast bowler to bowl to them. Rather than you scaring them, they would be scaring you. I was an in-swing bowler, not very accurate. Someone earlier on had described me "right arm over, anywhere", so it was going all over the place down the leg side. Anyway these two batsmen were playing me on the on side and I had our other fast bowler fielding on the fine leg boundary. As it is, I was being thrashed all over the place. To make matters worse, each time the ball went to him, five yards either side, he wouldn’t even bother to move and then, if it was close enough – forget about bending down or diving – he would just put a boot there to stop it. So I was furious. At lunch time, having been thrashed, a hot day, I went in and I told my captain "Could you not tell him to field a bit better than that?" The captain looked at me – he was of course a senior player – and the two sort of looked at me and I got a real telling-off. They said "Don’t you know he needs to conserve his energy at fine leg for his bowling?"

Someone told me that Freddie Trueman used to bowl I don’t know how many thousands of overs in a season. It was a different form of cricket. You could rest. You could actually have one full over bowling looseners. I remember when I started playing county cricket, the first ball I used to bowl was with a new ball in the middle. I didn’t even loosen up. Now when you watch the way one-day cricket has come in, it has put tremendous pressure on bowlers. The amount of stress on a bowler is unprecedented. He can’t loosen up. He has to come in as a run rate. Twenty20 has of course added to everything. You don’t have the luxury of loosening up. Then you are diving on the boundary line. Then when you are running between the wickets you are running and diving to get in. It is a different game. The stress on fast bowlers is incredible. While fielding has improved no end, I am afraid that this is where the danger is going to be: this is where cricket must realise that cricket without fast bowling is never going to have the same standards. You can never judge a batsman. Everything is relative. If a batsman doesn’t play fast bowling, how can you compare his average with the average of those batsmen who played those West Indies fast bowlers or the other fast bowlers of the 80s: every team had a match-winning bowler. You can’t compare the averages any more.

I saw Shaun Tait bowling in a Twenty20 and I thought an alien had come in. Suddenly you saw batsmen hopping around, as if they hadn’t seen such pace. But in my time the West Indies had at least four bowlers who were not just fast, they were great bowlers, wicket-taking bowlers: they were match winners. I remember that Sylvester Clarke couldn’t get into the West Indies team. Johnny Barclay and Mark Nicholas would tell you that facing Sylvester Clarke was quite a harrowing experience. He terrified batsmen. He went to South Africa on a big West Indies rebel tour and he destroyed the South African team single-handedly. He couldn’t get into the West Indies team. Then there was a guy named Wayne Daniel, who Johnny remembers, bowling for Middlesex. He was so fast, The West Indies wouldn’t even look at him, such was the quality of fast bowling. How can you compare those batsmen to someone like Sunil Gavaskar, who played for India. India didn’t have any fast bowlers, so they were always playing against teams that had fast bowlers and knew that India didn’t have fast bowlers, so they would prepare the greenest wicket, and this poor guy would be opening against fast bowlers on green wickets all the time. His record is phenomenal, if you look at the sort of cricket he played.

Now I come to the dangers with the current mix of cricket that is being played here. Cricket has to be played fairly. I think it is much fairer now. The other thing is that it should be competitive. I think it is getting less competitive. I don’t think the standard of Test cricket is as it was before, and I fear that it is going to go down further, for two reasons – one, the amount of one-day cricket being played and then the mix of Twenty20, with hardly any rest for the players, and then, on top of it, the money that has come into Twenty20. Just to put things in perspective, in my 21 years of cricketing career I did not make as much money as they make in one month of IPL cricket. So the money that has come in might create a big distortion. The cricket that would suffer would be Test cricket, because people will eventually decide "Why would I want to bowl in Test matches, make a name in Test matches, and then just go on to Twenty20 and just keep making money or retire very early?" I think that if Test cricket suffers, cricket is doomed: the standards and quality of cricket will go down. The only test of a cricketer is the Test match, because it tests a cricketer throughout: his temperament is tested, his talent is tested, his technique is tested. In Twenty20 if you are very talented, a good hitter, you can get away with it. A great Test cricketer will always excel in Twenty20, but a good Twenty20 cricketer will not necessarily excel in Test cricket. We have just seen Shahid Afridi’s case - a brilliant Twenty20 cricketer, who has said "My temperament is not built for Test matches".

So I think this balance has to be struck. Cricket will always have to balance this. Commercialism – money coming into cricket – is extremely important, because you are attracting talent into cricket, but you must balance it with the standards of cricket not going down and especially preserving Test cricket, even if it means having fewer 50-over matches or even eliminating 50-over matches and just having Twenty20, which is drawing in huge crowds and money, and Test cricket. But with the mix of Twenty20, 50-over and then eventually Test cricket, I think the cricket that is going to suffer is Test cricket, and it is already in Pakistan and India. You hardly see any crowds coming to Test matches, even at Lord’s. I thought there would be Pakistanis filling the stadium: there were hardly any Pakistanis there, because basically Pakistanis and Indians are completely hooked on to one-day cricket, especially Twenty20 cricket.

About 20 years ago I was playing an exhibition match in New York, and I had played other exhibition matches too. We found that the Pakistanis and Indians would flock in, but the children would always be bored with cricket, because they were used to baseball. Once in 1990 I played an exhibition match and it was rain affected, so it was reduced to a 20 or 25-over game, and at the end of the match the parents kept coming and saying "Our children loved it. That was great", and it occurred to me that it is the same duration as a baseball game, but it is far more action-packed. So I came back and I remember talking to Kerry Packer and I said "Why don’t you introduce Twenty20 cricket into the United States? It’s the best way to get those people involved who are not connoisseurs of the game or who haven’t grown up with cricket. It’s the best way to introduce them to cricket." Little did I realise that 20 years later cricketing countries would be introduced to Twenty20 matches, but it has brought in a whole new lot of people. New crowds have come in, crowds that you never saw in cricket before. So it has brought in the crowds, but it is very important to balance this, because my fear is that fast bowlers will go the way of dinosaurs soon, and you will have medium-pace bowlers, not match-winning fast bowlers.

My greatest inspiration was watching Dennis Lillee. I hadn’t seen a fast bowler until I came to England and then I was at a school and I remember watching Dennis Lillee bowl here at Lord’s, and that is when I wanted to be a fast bowler. There is nothing quite like the sight of a fast bowler bowling. Watching Michael Holding was sheer poetry. Then you really can tell the difference between batsmen. Never was there such a concentration of fast bowlers in one place as in the World Series cricket. That is where you suddenly saw the difference between batsmen. That is where Viv Richards rose above the rest, and some batsmen disappeared – the big names. I remember Lawrence Rowe had come up with a huge reputation. I think that on his debut he had scored something like 300 and 100, or something phenomenal, and here was Lawrence Rowe against the fast bowling and he gradually faded away. A lot of other batsmen’s reputations were destroyed playing that quality of fast bowling, but the ones who survived you knew had passed the test: you knew they had the temperament, the technique and the talent to cope with the best bowlers. So it is very important to have fast bowlers and I am afraid that, unless we find a balance, you will find fewer and fewer fast bowlers, because what often happens is that you carry injuries as a fast bowler and if you are playing Twenty20 and you are carrying an injury, there is every chance that that injury is going to deteriorate further, because of just the way you are jumping around and diving. In our time, Johnny, would you ever imagine even a medium-pacer like Geoff Arnold diving, and they are diving and jumping?

So, No. 1, fast bowlers have to be preserved, No. 2, Test cricket has to be preserved, No. 3, the reality is there: Twenty20 cricket has come in, but it must be balanced. The ICC should sit together and work out a proper schedule, so that it is not overkill. Too much Twenty20 cricket might also have adverse effects on the crowds, so use that as a money-spinner; it is great entertainment. There are innovative strokes and new shots that have come in. I keep thinking that maybe if I had to play cricket again, there are certain shots that I have loved to play, shots like the upper-cut. This is good for cricket, fielding standards, as I said, and running between the wickets, but on the whole, if the balance is not there, I am afraid that Test cricket will die.

To conclude, I come back to the umpires. I do think that technology should be used as much as possible, as long as it is accurate. The fairer the results, the better we can judge the quality of teams. Thank you.


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