Imran Khan’s advice that I didn’t take

Arjuna Ranatunga on Pakistan’s new Prime Minister


Arjuna Ranatunga and Imran Khan during a function ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

A couple of days back; I congratulated my friend Imran Khan on becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan. It has been a remarkable journey. Imran was highly successful doing the second toughest job in Pakistan – being the Test captain. I have little doubt that he will succeed doing the toughest job in Pakistan, for which the public have now elected him.

Since I played West Indies only in ODI cricket during their peak, I couldn’t fully gauge what those fast bowlers could do. But I have a fair idea having faced Imran. Wasim Akram was perhaps the toughest I faced, but Imran at his peak was unplayable. You can handle pace, but when someone has the ability to swing the ball at good pace that becomes tough. Imran was capable of doing that.

Imran ran through our line-up in the 1982 Lahore Test on a green top. He took eight wickets in the first innings, until last month a record against Sri Lanka. Roy Dias scored a fabulous hundred when the chips were down and that is why I rate him as one of the best batsmen I have seen alongside Aravinda de Silva. We were thrashed in that game by an innings and hundred odd runs. Imran gave us the first taste of what it means to play quality fast bowling. He was a genius.

Our next tour to Pakistan in 1985 was a memorable one. I remember sharing a hundred odd partnership with Aravinda. That was on Aravinda’s 20th birthday. He was 93 not out overnight and the next morning reached his maiden Test hundred by hooking Imran for a six. That was one of the best sights of the sport - a youngster taking on the world’s best fast bowler.

Imran was the king of Pakistan even then. He did things his way and there were no questions asked. I  was only a school kid at that point but he was a star cricketer. As a youngster I admired him and learned from him. But at no point did I bow down. I played my cricket with aggression. Whether it was Imran, Sir Viv Richards or Greg Chappell, the moment I entered the cricket field they were my rivals and I wouldn’t budge an inch. I enjoyed that combativeness. Like Imran, I hated losing. 

Imran was intelligent. As a bowler, he set batsmen up. He was not just a captain, but a leader. Spotting talent is a rare gift and Imran had that. Once he was convinced that a player had the knack to make it big, he would back him no matter what. He could easily convince the selectors. I guess I had a bit of that too having done something similar with the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu Nuwan Zoysa and Muttiah Muralitharan.

Inzamam-ul-Haq is a case in point. People knew little about Inzi when Imran convinced the selectors that he should be part of the 1992 World Cup squad. Inzi eventually proved Imran right with that crucial knock in the World Cup semi-final that put tournament favourites New Zealand out of the competition.

Imran is ambitious. Sometimes you tend to think that this is impossible. But once Imran sets a goal, he would chase that with single-mindedness. People say that Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup winning team had plenty of talent. But don’t forget that Imran brought the best out of that talent. The Karachi – Lahore rivalry in Pakistan cricket is intense. Only strong leaders like Imran can bring the team together.

He was an inspiration to us four years later as we triumphed in the 1996 World Cup. But, I must confess one thing; moments before the World Cup final, he gave me an advice. An advice that I didn’t follow.

Imran is from Lahore. Nobody knows Lahore more than him. Before the toss of the World Cup final, he advised me that I should bat first. I was confused. Here’s someone whom I admired and someone who knew the conditions well. But, as a team we had already decided to chase. I was hesitating. When in doubt, I always consult Duleep Mendis. So, I walked up to him and informed what Imran had told me. We had a chat. Then Duleep told me that we should stick to what we had planned. So that was one advice of Imran that I didn’t take. However, he was overjoyed when we won the World Cup. Well, that night entire Pakistan wanted us to win.

About 15 years ago when I entered politics, he gave me another advice. He told me to get out of traditional politics and start something new with a quality group of people. But I wasn’t too keen to do that. Imran’s perseverance is remarkable. Cricket has taught him a few things – never give up. He suffered massive setbacks in his formative years in politics. Today, he is the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Surely political trends all over the world are changing. Thanks to social media, younger generations are looking at other possibilities in politics rather than sticking to forces that have prevailed over the years. Imran has achieved his goal.

I am pleased with the initiatives he has taken.  He has given up the luxuries which the former heads of states enjoyed. But I must caution Imran here. In a country like Pakistan, where security is a big concern, I am a little bit worried that he is making himself vulnerable to harm. But I admire his guts. Politicians are here to serve. Not to be served. 

I remember the first day I entered Parliament. My late father also was a Member of Parliament. So as both of us stepped inside the Parliament, he advised me never to misuse public funds and abuse power. Those words I will never forget. I don’t do politics for the whims and fancies of anybody. I am here to serve the people. I will never do something that is harmful for my country. I have enormous amount of respect for the people for the faith they have had in me.  I don’t think any other politician has won four general elections representing three different parties from three different districts.

I am happy with the work that I have done over the last three years. I am very happy with the work I did at Ports and in my current portfolio of Petroleum. Sometimes I don’t even travel to my electorate as Ii spend up to six days a week at the Ministry as there’s so much work to be done.

Our nation is divided by party politics, religious and ethnic differences. We don’t think like a nation. Our government has taken steps to change it. I don’t totally agree with the free market ideologies of the UNP. But under the UNF government things have changed.

Some people ask me whether I could do an Imran Khan down the line. Well, it took only one and half months for HE Mathiripala Sirisena to become President in the country. It is up to the people to decide our destinies.

Finally, people are expecting Imran to do miracles.  That will not be possible. Change will take time. It happened to us too. People expected us to do things overnight, but it took us time to bring about change.

(Arjuna Ranatunga was speaking to Sunday Island’s Rex Clementine)

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