Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Winter Wildlife II: A lion not so rampant, but with his pride still intact

The Lion of Lahore is the subject of an interesting new biography and has an invitation to Lord's next summer

Pakistani Cricketer Imran Khan
This autumn saw the publication of a new biography of Imran Khan, penned by Christopher Sandford. The Lion of Lahore has sadly had less success in politics than he had on the cricket field, but remains a popular figure in Pakistan, admired as much for his fundraising for his cancer hospital and other charities as for his cricketing exploits. The portraits of Imran painted by the Western media over the years range from the simplistic to the wildly inaccurate. Sandford has set out to do a better job, and to bring the story up to date. I look forward to finding out whether he has been successful.

Incidentally, Imran has been invited to Lord’s next summer to deliver the 2010 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. I believe the last time he visited Lord’s in an official capacity was in 1993, when he helped to present the Indian subcontinent’s successful bid to host the 1996 World Cup. At an acrimonious and in many ways historic meeting, England eventually had to withdraw their own bid for the tournament and come to terms with the fact that they could no longer bully ICC members into doing their bidding. Imran recalled, “I was appalled… Most of the Englishmen still treated us as though we represented some junior colony.”

One of the Englishmen Imran might have been referring to was Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who in his Daily Telegraph column had remarked, “how can a country which cannot transport the baggage of cricketers from one town to another stage the World Cup?” The veteran journalist lamented, “there was a time, before money and politics entered the equation, when the community of cricket nations looked no further than the United Kingdom to stage the World Cup.” It makes you wonder whether CMJ still yearned for the time that the community of cricket nations looked no further than the United Kingdom to rule them. That the MCC’s preeminent position in the game was achieved almost entirely through money and politics was apparently lost on him.

However, to its great credit, the MCC now no longer takes its standing for granted. Without losing sight of its traditions, it has modernised rapidly, admitting female members, pioneering an amazing fast-draining outfield at Lord’s and now planning an utterly transformative redevelopment of the ground, aimed at projecting a more welcoming and inclusive image of the venerable old club. Imran should have an altogether more pleasant visit to Lord’s this time around.

(For more on the infamous 1993 ICC meeting and CMJ’s controversial statements about it, see Mike Marqusee’s “Anyone But England,” or Jack Williams’ “Cricket and Race.”)

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