ISLAMABAD (AP) — By the force of his skills and personality, the charismatic Imran Khan endured in the toughest job in Pakistan for a decade.
As captain of the national cricket team.
His crowning glory was to drive the team to its first and only Cricket World Cup triumph in 1992.
He immediately retired from Pakistan duty at age 39, opened a cancer hospital in memory of his mother two years later, and launched his political party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement of Justice) four years later.
On Thursday, Khan’s party took a commanding lead in the Pakistan general election and he was set to become the first international cricketer in the world to be elected as a country’s prime minister, considered the second toughest job in Pakistan.
“Honesty is the one word which sums up Imran Khan’s whole life,” Khan’s long-time teammate, Javed Miandad, told The Associated Press.
“Imran is a sort of a man who never gives up, and only an honest man can do this. If you are dishonest you make lots of compromises in your life, and Imran hates to do this.”
Miandad was Khan’s predecessor as Pakistan captain and became his vice-captain. They were in the team together for two decades, and even played for Sussex in English county cricket in the 1970s.
In his time, Khan was the best allrounder in the game, the finest cricketer Pakistan has produced, and one of its greatest heart-throbs. He was as comfortable mixing with celebrities off the field as he was facing West Indies bats and bouncers on the field.
Khan even got better with age, his second decade in the Pakistan team eclipsing his first. In his last 10 years, he averaged 50 with the bat and 19 as a fast bowler.
The Oxford graduate played 88 tests, a record 48 as captain. Under the “Lion of Pakistan,” the team lost only eight times. They enjoyed historic series wins over England in England and India in India, and dueled with the great West Indies sides to draws.
Perhaps Khan’s greatest legacy was to transform Pakistan cricket’s modern-day fortunes, turn a mediocre side into exciting champions. There was no better example than the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Pakistan won only one of its first five matches, then won the next three to squeeze into the semifinals by a point. They came from behind to upset New Zealand in Auckland to reach their first final, where they defeated England by 22 runs in a thriller in Melbourne. Khan took the last England wicket to clinch the victory.
Khan was renowned for giving raw but talented cricketers a chance. The likes of heir-apparent Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq all played under Khan’s captaincy before making big names for themselves in international cricket, and even went on to lead Pakistan.
“It was in your leadership skip @ImrankhanPTI that we became world champions in 1992. It is in your leadership that we can again become a great democratic country,” Akram wrote on Twitter.
Recent captain Shahid Afridi tweeted: “Pakistanis have a lot of expectations from u I really hope u lead from the front!”
Khan’s never-say-die approach stood him in good stead for politics.
His party won just one seat until the 2013 general elections when they won 27 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. This time, they have won at least 119.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Miandad said of Khan’s 22-year struggle in politics.
“It’s not easy in Pakistan to topple the big guns of politics, it needs patience and continuous struggle.”
Miandad believes Khan has the ability to clampdown on corruption, and will not compromise to make decisions on merit.
“During his playing days, Imran was a man of principle,” Miandad said. “I know him very well, he will be the same in his next innings in politics.”