There was a reason why we were unbeatable under Imran Khan

Published: March 9, 2013

Those of us fortunate enough to have witnessed the Pakistani team of the late 80s and early 90s – aptly remembered as ‘Imran’s Tigers’ – know what I’m talking about. PHOTO: FILE

Watching the Pakistani team turning it on against the Springboks at Centurion, my memory took me back in time.

As a cricket enthusiast who had just entered his teens, there was nothing more joyful than watching a Pakistani cricket team – led by the great Imran Khan – regularly punching above its weight. Speaking about Imran, we often talk in terms of his charisma, his extraordinary prowess as a genuine fast bowler, his amazing feats as a world-class all-rounder, his exemplary work ethic, remarkable fitness, astute leadership and of course his uncanny ability to spot and nurture young talent.


However, what is often not mentioned is his undeniable role in single-handedly changing the overall psyche of a cricketing nation; its character and its image. We never discuss his part in inspiring a whole generation of cricketers who would carry his heritage for years even after the great man had made his swansong. Those of us fortunate enough to have witnessed the Pakistani team of the late 80s and early 90s – aptly remembered as ‘Imran’s Tigers’ – know what I’m talking about.

Source: Herald Sun

Led by a warrior, this team was not the most talented one to have represented Pakistan, but the brash, fiery bunch of proud youngsters displayed the kind of courage, passion and a never-say-die attitude that not only made them a darling of the Pakistani cricket fans but also made them the hot favourite of  spectators all over the world. They wore their emotions on their sleeves, looked the opposition in the eye and most importantly, believed in themselves.


The memory of Salim Malik coming out to bat against Malcolm Marshall with his arm wrapped in plaster has become part of the folklore and define what the Pakistani team of that period stood for. To a large extent, this fearlessness was also responsible for much of the team’s successes during that period as Pakistan conquered England and India on their territories apart from holding the mighty West Indians – arguably the greatest team to have played the game – to three straight stalemates. The team defeated Australia, won two Australasia Cups, a mini-World Cup in India and of course the big one; the World Cup in 1992; however, it wasn’t simply the results but the way these results were achieved that made Pakistan one of the most thrilling teams to watch on the circuit.

Such was Imran’s legacy that the team did not lose its disposition even after the great man had bid adieu to the world of cricket. The team of the 90s will be remembered as one of the most vibrant and attractive units to have ever represented Pakistan.

Even though Imran was no longer around, the crowds loved to watch this team play, the commentators would marvel at their exploits while the opposition had no choice but to admire their abilities.

Inevitably, absence of a strong leader coupled with lack of direction from the helm led the players to go astray.

Controversies of all sorts ranging from ball-tampering to match-fixing and from drugs to infighting started becoming synonymous with the team. To its credit, the team remained competitive on the field but words such as mercurial and volatile got added to the team’s description.

The administrators –who had the responsibility to get things right – failed miserably in their job; instead of channeling all this energy in the right direction, the men at the top chose the easy way out and decided to get rid of all those who they thought were part of the problem.

Thus, a whole generation of exciting, passionate individuals had their careers brutally cut short one-by-one.


The players who replaced the old guard were warned not to indulge in any misadventure lest their careers would also suffer the same fate. As a result, the new breed of youngsters was forced to adopt an approach that was extremely cautious, in fact bordered on lackluster.

Consequently, the Pakistani team slowly but surely started to lose its appeal; style gave way to ineptness and things reached a stage where the system would automatically jettison anyone who would pose even the slightest of challenge to mediocrity. This is the precise reason why a temperamental Shoaib Akhtar was such a misfit into a Pakistani team of this modern era.

Barring few exceptions, the current crop of youngsters representing the national team is in no way less talented than their predecessors; however, it is the body language that is in stark contrast to what it was only a decade back.

Where once we had the firebrand duo of Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail walking out to bat with their collars standing up looking like men on a mission, we now have to contend with the nervous-looking Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Farhat and the like, pushing and prodding rather than driving and pulling, unless of course it’s a low-pressure match in the shorter format of the game and the stakes are not as high.

Where once we had the two Ws, we now have Umar Gul as our pace spearhead who – despite being a capable bowler and a destructive one in T20 – simply doesn’t have the persona to intimidate the opposing batsmen.


Where once we had a Miandad egging on the fielding side, we now have Azhar Ali, Shoaib Malik and Asad Shafiq – all fine batsman – but who would avoid eye contact and look the other way in the face of verbal abuse. We have got a captain in Misbahul Haq whose body language does not inspire confidence, who looks tentative rather than assured at the crease.

Photo: AFP

Regardless of the results which have more or less been satisfactory, this defensive attitude has made Pakistan team a dull, unattractive outfit, much like a bland New Zealand team or a pre-Ganguly Indian side. The phenomenon of setting an intimidating tone right from the beginning has been replaced by a preference to protect and preserve, especially when it comes to as big a match as say an India-Pakistan encounter in a world championship.

Photo: AFP

No wonder the bigger teams no longer look forward to playing against Pakistan.

If Pakistan Cricket is to rediscover the aura, the old magic – something similar to the team displayed at Centurion – the players will have to evoke the same kind of flair that made their predecessors the biggest draw-cards in the cricketing world and made them one of the most eye-catching units to watch on this planet.

We do not merely want to see ‘talented, well-behaved, decent ambassadors’ of the country stepping out on to the field; we do not want this “we’re-here-to-make-friends” approach killing the sheer joy of watching a Pakistani team play.

Photo: File

We want aggression, hostility, fire in our players – qualities that characterised the nation’s cricket.

We don’t want to see our players applauding the rival players on the field; we want a furious rather than a smiling Younis Khan walking back to the pavilion; we want a Shahid Afridi who would whack the ball over midwicket rather than going for a cheeky paddle sweep over fine leg, a Junaid Khan who would rely on raw pace rather than line and length.

Agreed, we can do without the bare-chested, shirt-wagging celebrations and the foulmouthed send-offs; but a certain degree of unruliness – something that the Imran’s Tigers were known for – is necessary.

A few carefully chosen words from our faster men, a spine-chilling stare from our openers and an imposing demeanour from the captain can go a long way in restoring the irresistible, unstoppable brand that team Pakistan once used to be.

Read more by Syed here, or follow him on Twitter @MustafaFairplay

Syed Mustafa

Syed Mustafa

An MBA from the Institute of Business Administration who currently works at Engro.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Abu Bakr

    Truth. Appreciate this fine piece sir.Recommend

  • Saeed

    Whoa a wonderful article, well written and how true, well done sir. Instead of India Pakistan bhai bhai attitude, at least on the field we should wage all out war. Unfortunately our players have been so corrupted by money that they want to play in IPL so badly hence no aggression in case it jeopardize their chances. Pity the nation. Recommend

  • Op

    brilliantly wrote..that’s what we want to see aggression like of Imran, wasim, waqar even shaoib Akhtar…because sports is all about challenge, passion and aggression. Miss those celebrations of Wasim akram..runup of Waqar,Recommend

  • Queen

    Absolutely Brilliant. I think Pakistan team had almost the same spirit, passion, and fire under Wasim Akram’s captaincy. Some sparks were seen during Afridi’s term as well. In the present situation, we need an aggressive captain like IK or Wasim, someone who can reignite the fire :)Recommend

  • Muhammad

    Hands down best piece on cricket i have read on ET till date.Good job!
    Cricket is in our blood and we need pieces like this to rehash some memories of the great times gone by.Recommend

  • Muhammad


    “Unfortunately our players have been so corrupted by money that they want to play in IPL so badly hence no aggression in case it jeopardize their chances. Pity the nation.”

    My friend;seriously!!!Recommend

  • Mirinda

    I think you are one PTI supporter who doesn’t want to think about certain things and want to keep on praising IK no matter what. If you mind looking at the stats this team under his captaincy lost quite frequently. This is the same team who lost to WI by 10 wicket got bold out in 60’s against ENG in the same WC.
    Fortune and prayers helped us winning WC with brute of deliveries by Wasim and excited Inzi. . Today under these circumstances we did well, got some rare talent, we also won a WC(some people would say 50 or 20). I think IK was at right place on right time and nothing to take anything away from him.He did fine.Recommend

  • Awais

    no offence but we were very beatable even under Imran Khan.Recommend

  • Raza

    What’s wrong with applauding an oppsition player after a great knock or spell? I agree with most of the article but sports is also about respecting your oponent and I’m glad that Pakistani players of today are mature enough to do so. Recommend

  • SK5


    “Watching the Pakistani team turning it on against the Springboks at Centurion, my memory took me back in time”, correction its the proteas not the springboks. The springboks are South Africa’s national rugby team :)Recommend

  • Sarosh-e-Dost

    A great article!
    Though I was not even born in the era of Imran Khan’s captaincy but this article has everything to describe his leadership qualities in the field. After reading it, I can feel the passion our team used to have in 90s. Good job done.
    I hope to see the same passion and firepower from our team in near future.
    IK was, is and will remain the best for sure.

  • Akbar

    Toopster Nice Write Up.Recommend

  • SAS

    Nicely written.Recommend

  • Huma

    Brilliant! Can sooo realte to this!Recommend

  • Anjum Hameed

    So what’s wrong with a shirt off celebration?.. Or a risqué send off?..or has the damn moral police of the Islamic republic got to you??..better to celebrate with your shirt off and a glass of beer than burn down Christian homes and shoot someone for being a Shia..if these are the teachings of our moral code, may I humbly request to be a Buddhist in my next life..the reason our team is what it is, is because they have to portray hypocrisy even in the act of a smile in case our beards attack them for being ‘fahaash’..Recommend

  • Pakistanian

    Dil jeet lo series againt India back in 2005 I think.. Hum nay dil jeet liye woh series jeet gaye..!Recommend

  • Adeel Zaman

    Toopa: Great column brother.. agree with most of your points… about his leadership skills and talent development/nurturing and of course the aggression was un-matchable… however, like every human, he had his negatives as well (like he would listen to advice seldom only) – which btw is often a trait of strong leaders. Anyways, i think, we need an aggressive person right now more than the “best” person to turn the path of the nation around.Recommend

  • Historian 1

    Past enthusiasm in Pakistan cricket cannot be re invented until international cricket is played inside Pakistan and match fixing/ spot fixing is rooted out.Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    There is an essential difference in quality; not the same fast bowlers, nor even spinners. Qadir, Mushtaq and Saqlain were as good or better…and as far as batting goes…they should not be in the same playing field. Miandad, Inzimam, Yousuf, Salim Malik, Saeed Anwar, Ijaz, Shoaib M, would all walk into the present. Swagger is based on ability, otherwise its found out very quickly.
    But this is not unusual. England went through a barren and meidiocre patch for 2 decades. Quality is a cycle and will reappear someday again. We need to work at it and yes that is based on good administration.Recommend

  • Parhakoo

    Uff….kia likh ditta hai bhai. Too good.Recommend

  • Syed Mustafa

    @Sarfaraz: Aaqib v Gul, Saqlain v Ajmal, Saleem Malik v Younis, Aamer Sohail v Farhat; similar in quality if you consider the records, but significantly different in attitude. You see, this attitude has even affected the fans. I’m sure you remember the ‘Crash of ’87’, when Pak lost out in the World Cup SF to Aus in Lahore and the loss to Ind in the QF of ’96; there was depression, gloom all around. Just compare it with our reaction to the SF loss to Ind in the last World Cup. The way we accepted our defeat was shocking to me. The players received warm welcome at the airport, we were actually happy that our team had qualified for the semis! I wouldn’t call it maturity, I think we’ve agreed to settle on mediocrity. And more than the results, it is this attitude that bothers me. We will never rise again if we stop challenging ourselves. England’s resurgence started under Nasser Hussain, who brought something different to the table as opposed to the ‘typical’ English captains Atherton & Stewart. Similar is the case with India, Ganguly brought about wholesale changes to the way Indians approached the game. My point is, we should never underestimate the contribution of the captain when it comes to defining the team’s character, body language and the way players carry themselves.Recommend

  • abhi

    Yes flamboyance seems to matter a lot otherwise Pakistan’s test record under Misbah’s captaincy is not bad compare to its record under Imran’s captaincy. see link for comparison;id=7;type=teamRecommend

  • Muhammad Rameez Javed

    Thats what i say. Bang em in the face. Look at em right in the eyeball. Alas!! we dont have any quality left…Recommend

  • Arif Hussain Nomani

    Absolutely True having seen the Pakistanis play the anticipation of a cricket series in Austrailia, India and South Africa is all but gone. We loved the sport because of the sportsmen that played the agression, passion and the persona is all gone. The charisma, guile and the winning attitude. I remember weeping after the WC SF 1996 could not eat for three day. Now we accept whatever we get it is the same mood of the country in everything its like if we have a bomb blast and and 4 or 5 Pakistani Brothers die we console ourselves that thank god it was a small blast and luckily there were a small number of casulaties.

    God I want my Pakistan of 90s back I want my Lahore of 90s back and I want the Pak Cricket team of 90s back too.Recommend