Batsman No. 6

Imran Khan's cricketing talents might not have helped him much in politics, but his choice of career later in life evinces remarkable similarities to his time on the pitch. Maybe the patterns are worth looking at a little closely.

Batsman No. 6

Anyone who understands cricket knows what the batsman at number six is like. This position, known as the late middle order, is typically where an all-rounder comes in to bat. This is where Imran Khan played at the peak of his cricketing career. His peers, England's Ian Botham and India's Kapil Dev, celebrated all-rounders of their time, also batted at this position. A close examination of these players reveals a common trait in their batting style – they were all aggressive players.

Imran Khan, with his trademark white helmet or sometimes just the green cap, would hold the bat high in the air behind him as he faced the bowlers. This unique style was so identifiable with him that once you saw him at the crease, you knew it was him. He never indulged in trivialities on the ground – the game was serious business for him, and he played it with that spirit. 

Politics, on the other hand, which he chose as his second career after leaving cricket, proved to be a different arena. If one examines Khan’s history in politics, patterns emerge with interesting analogies to cricket.

More often than not, Khan appears to challenge the rules of the game (of Pakistani politics), unsettling the traditions previously followed by Pakistani politicians by introducing new jargon into the discourse. Right or wrong, good or bad, things worked out for him as he kept pushing hard towards his own success, frustrating his opponents, who, in the course of this political tournament, couldn’t withstand either his bowling or batting.

They frequently complained, often calling in the 'third umpire', alleging foul play, and sometimes blaming poor weather and bad light for making it hard to see the 'ball', or even citing a bumpy 'pitch' and an 'uneven playing field.'

Khan, on the other hand, frequently experimented with his bowlers, and batting order, as well as the coaches he appointed from time to time. However, he lost the 'toss' in 2013 in the first 'match', allowing his rivals to 'bat' first. His coaches advised him, again rightly or wrongly, to launch an aggressive 'bowling' attack against a very experienced rival team. Knowing that his squad of young 'bowlers' wasn’t very effective for an attacking spell, he took the 'ball' into his own hands, as probably advised by his coaches, and we had Khan on top of the 'container' for 126 days. He had to call it off after the unfortunate terrorist attack on APS in 2014.

Clearly, divine powers intervened, making the weather unsuitable for a fast-bowling attack. He had to modify his strategy, allowing his rivals to complete their innings.

Khan started his own innings in 2018. As the captain, he experimented with his 'batting order' and sent in players who left his supporters, and even rivals, in jaw-dropping surprise. The choice of Wasim Akram Plus and Asad Umar as the opening pair was a significant disappointment. One only scored 5 runs in 50 balls, the other carried the 'bat' and scored 8 runs during his entire stay. Again, divine powers played a role, but this time providing an excuse for Khan to calm his supporters regarding the poor performance of his opening pair – it was Covid-19.

Khan also told his supporters, and remains firm on this to date, that his coaches and selection committee provided him with a poor team to play with. They were not only incompetent but their loyalty and commitment to the team were also questionable in many instances. When these stories became rife and spilled out of the dressing room, the coaches and team selectors decided to sack the captain and his team. Khan’s team couldn’t complete their innings, and the 'match' was called off in the 37th 'over', leaving Khan bewildered and enraged. He resorted to press conferences and agitation, trying to tell his supporters how his team managers and coaches had conspired against their own team, and how they had manipulated the players during the match.

As the allegations from both sides – Khan and the team coaches – escalated, the chairman decided to dissolve the board and appoint an ad hoc committee to conduct the next match. It didn’t stop there. The former coaches and managers went on to accuse Khan of many foul plays during the match and dragged Khan into court on charges of ball-tampering, taking steroids, and other violations. 

The ad hoc committee of the board even managed to bar Khan from taking the captaincy for the next match, and the remainder of his team – after those inducted by the former coaches had left – went into the match without much preparation.

The umpire gave a waiver to the rival team and allowed them to bat first without even a toss. 

Obviously, now the even more inexperienced team in Khan's squad resorted to protests in the absence of their captain to lead them. First-timers were launched. Random players were appointed as captain and vice-captain, and the match day arrived. While the ad hoc committee and the rival team were confident they had done everything required to beat Khan’s team, they entered the stadium. 

To their utter surprise, they found that the stadium was packed with Khan’s supporters. What really mattered was Khan’s stardom. The spectators didn’t seem to care what allegations were levelled against him. They cheered for Khan while they saw the inexperienced squad tumbling down before their eyes. The match was lost. 

But no one stood to clap for the winners. They were hooted and booed out of the stadium.

While the rival team is playing their innings, the weather doesn’t seem to favour them. The wicket looks too grassy, the outfield too slow. No matter how hard the batsman hits, the ball doesn’t travel far, and even the worst of the fielders is not finding it hard to capture the ball. Although Khan’s fast bowling squad is forced to stay out of the match, the batsmen find it very hard to handle even the medium pacers and the spinners. Wickets are falling without much effort. 

At the time of this live commentary, the scoreboard shows 5/27 in 16 overs. The projection is 67 all out in 23 overs.

While Khan is forced to sit away from the field, reports suggest he is listening to the match on the radio, often with a smile on his face. It is obvious the rival team has chosen to bat on the wrong day, on the wrong pitch. The coaches look disappointed in their performance, as there appear to be no signs of the dark clouds receding. It is only a matter of time before the innings is over.

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.