The art of winning a World Cup the “Imran Khan way”

Shukriya Pakistan

The day Pakistan won the world cup in 1992, Imran Khan gave a historical,and somewhat selfish, speech while receiving the famous “Waterford crystal”.  Whoops and cheers erupted as he nervously talked about how important the win was for him personally as he could see his dream of the cancer hospital becoming a reality, while cautiously holding the trophy. Most didn’t really care about what he said as what they saw was intriguing enough….


Imran lifting the trophy was the sight everyone chose to remember and none paid much heed to the few skeptical rolling eyes at the complete omission of gratification for team mates, public support and cricket board from probably one of the most memorable speeches in Pakistan’s sporting history.

That attitude just abbreviated his entire career as the “Best Captain Pakistan ever had”.


Having thought long and hard about what made Imran the “Leader like no other” I have finally managed to figure a few bits out .

The fact that although people admire the nobility and altruism of an Edhi but they would rather be led by a ruthless Genghis Khan is not easy to gasp but unfortunately true.

In a study done by business school professors from Stanford, Kellogg, and Carnegie Mellon, three experiments testing participants’ perceptions of generosity and social ranking were conducted. The study subjects could keep a pot of 10 game chips worth a total of $20 or give the sum to a group pool. When they gave the chips away, they either helped their fellow group members, or both benefited their own group and hurt another group at the same time.
After they finished, participants answered questions about how they perceived their fellow participants. Those who gave more away, got more respect and admiration, something which the study authors termed as “prestige”. Others, who were more self-centered were perceived as “dominant”.

At the end of two of the experiments, the researchers asked participants to choose someone to lead them in two different contexts. In a non-competitive situation, subjects chose a leader full of prestige, respect and admiration.But to lead them in a competition with another group, subjects voted for a person who scored high on the dominance scale.

According to firms such as Gallupand Blessing White as well, it seems employees would rather have their leadership team be made up of the “dominant” style leaders when it came to competitive organizations.

It turns out that the perception of dominance is critical to leader emergence, because it fits people’s prototype of what a leader is, leaders should be decisive, assertive, strong, powerful, independent.” -Robert Livingston of Kellogg
Imran’s ruthlessness might have left him with fewer friends but he did end up getting the job done.

Majid Khan, who played an influential role in getting him selected for the national team when he was nothing more than an average batsman who could bowl a bit in his early days, was shown the door once Imran felt that his cousin’s performance was below par.


I am sure many people (read:Insafians) reading this blog must be doubting my sanity by now as i seem to be advocating ruthlessness and selfishness as the “only”qualities which made him “Imran Khan”.

Gary Williams and Robert Miller wrote in Harvard Business Review that there are in fact five different effective leadership styles. They classified them as charismatics, followers, skeptics, controllers or thinkers .They implied that each style is highly effective in certain environments and nothing else defines Imran’s overall leadership mantra better.

In 1970s,Imran Khan’s charisma was portrayed by some English writers as a manifestation of the Indian princely tradition. This was basically an attempt to domicilate him for an English audience. In reality, Imran was not aristocratic at all. His father, Ikramullah Khan Niazi, an architect educated at Imperial College London, was involved in the independence movement before Partition and was never deemed an “apologist” for British rule.


During his early days,while playing for Oxford Blues(where he opened the bowling, batted at four, and eventually captained) and Worcestershire, he admits to being highly receptive to the style and discipline of county cricket and qualities that his then seniors possessed, be it at the county level or the national level where he played intermittently until 1976.

Imran was doubtful about various players like Salim Malik who he considered only good enough for the submissive subcontinent pitches. Malik was just one of the many examples where his skepticism made him unpopular among his peers. He, however, did regard him highly enough to continue playing him in the team.

Khan was probably the only captain in Pakistan’s history, apart from Kardar and Mushtaq Mohammad, with the tenacity of character to stand up to the cricketing bureaucracy. Again like Kardar, he was autocratic and a control freak. Like Kardar (who greatly admired Imran) he made his own selection decisions.


They were both individuals of high personal integrity. Both were educated at Oxford, an experience that gave them an elaborate insight into the western culture .

Various cricketers like Ramiz Raja and Wasim Akram who played under his rule, have confessed that he completely controlled the cricket board, team management and team selection. A “no” from Imran in those days meant your future is doomed in Pakistan’s international cricket scene. Conversely, players like Qadir, Inzimam ,Waqar, Akram and Mushtaq are just few of the many examples where his affirmative “nod” gave Pakistan extraordinary cricketers whose resume did not boast of any substantial achievements at the time of their induction into the team. Some of these bar Waqar and Qadir, played integral roles in our World Cup triumph in 1992.


His success is first and foremost a victory of will, intelligence and self criticism. Javed Zaman Khan (Imran’s mentor in his early days) narrated how when he first played top-class cricket he had an ugly, slinging action: “Through hard work and dedication, he changed this.” That is probably just one facet of his “thinking” abilities that many of his counterparts envied.


Innovative field positions and aggressive bowling changes were possibly his biggest assets on the field, while “reading” his players personalities improved his man management off the field.

Underpinning his characteristic leadership brand was the “art” of seamlessly switching between domination and prestige which can be coined as the “Imran Khan modification” of the “science” of leadership.

We must also not forget that transforming all his qualities into an unbending persistence and devotion was one cause: to mark Pakistan’s authority on the world stage and consequently actualize his long standing infatuation with building Pakistan’s first charity based cancer hospital.


No leadership style or leader is perfect.

His charisma did land him the stigmatic “playboy” image which he still resents.

His “hunch” did not always pay off where he persisted with cricketers like Mansoor Akhtar who failed miserably while more capable others sank in the darkness of obscurity .

His oligopolic control over the cricket board’s affairs has caused unrest amongst many of his successors like Younis Khan and Afridi who locked horns with their respective PCB bigwigs quoting Imran’s example. Most of them eventually resigned after publicly denouncing their bosses once the realization dawned upon them that they were not “Imran” .
This,however, came with its own price tag of various ex-captains playing under a man much junior than them in Misbah leading the current Pakistan squad.


Misbah has no shortage of talent and self belief. I don’t think anyone can question his thinking abilities, persistence or batting skills. The way he has been able to tame the ferocity of Lala so far speaks for his man management skills too.
What he lacks is “ruthlessness”!

The aggression on the field which he should be oozing with, the moment he sets foot on the ground, is more apparent in Afridi’s demeanor then his ,which subliminally creates two powerhouses in the team and that hits us bad when the shit hits the fan (which is very often).


At every critical match turning moment, Misbah’s positive and unfaltering body language should be the “only” image dominating his team’s thoughts, not the aggression of his deputy and definitely not the brashness of the opposition.


He, does need PCB to wake up and stand behind him fully as they need to empower him with complete autonomy.

We can spend days arguing about the “best leadership style” but in the interest of remaining time span (which can be very short) that we have left to get things right in the current campaign, lets agree on one fundamental point, Misbah can’t become Imran but he can most certainly emulate his “timely shifting of gears” between “ aggressive dominance” and “ altruism”. misbah