As a captain, what Asif Iqbal liked about a young Imran Khan was his determination and he believes that the current Pakistan Prime Minister will certainly do his bit in improving bilateral ties with India at all levels. Imran played a lot of cricket under Iqbal’s captaincy and the 76-year-old has seen how the former drive to achieve his goal. Not much has changed now that he is leading the nation, Iqbal feels. “If he believes in something, he will go all the way in achieving that goal. He believes that India and Pakistan can live as friendly neighbours. I think he will at least try his best and go all the way for peace…not just as cricketers but as Pakistanis, we believe in what he says,” Iqbal, who has been living in London for decades now, told PTI during an exclusive interaction. “He is totally committed and that’s what Pakistanis need economic prosperity, stability in the region. I am not qualified to comment since I don’t know. This is what the media says,” the veteran of 58 Test matches said.
Iqbal, who was given a standing ovation in his farewell Test match at the Eden Gardens in 1980, is “frustrated” how “external factors” spoil the narrative of a healthy Indo-Pak bilateral cricketing relationship. “Times have changed but it has got nothing to do with sports itself or cricketers in general. Its everything to do with politics. I am totally frustrated. The reason for this (strained relations) is our politicians, who have had no interest in sports. “Fortunately, we now have Imran Khan as Prime Minister, who has shown an intention to curb the hostility. That is brilliant,” Iqbal said ahead of the India-Pakistan World Cup contest here on Sunday.
However, he did not elaborate on how any of Imran’s policy decisions have shown the intent to curb hostilities, which have risen after the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives. Iqbal reiterated that bilateral cricket can change relations. “When they start playing bilaterals regularly, you will see totally different attitude of players and supporters. They love watching cricket as a sport, as a rivalry, which is healthy not a rivalry where we would kill each other.
“You can fight tooth and nail on the field and then enjoy a good time off the field,” he said. On the current state of Pakistan cricket, Iqbal said skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed, as per his assessment, has achieved “much more” than many of his predecessors save Imran, who gave the country its only World Cup title. “Sarfaraz has delivered more than most of the big names in Pakistan cricket,” declared Iqbal. A product of elite private schooling, Iqbal believes that the current generation, which has evolved from the maidans and streets, are more skilful than the English speaking school cricketers of his times.
“Boys with economically stable background paid more attention to education than sport. Parents during our times used to stop children from playing sports saying that you are wasting your time. “Captain in our times was selected on the merit of someone’s stature, family background, whether or not he can express himself properly language wise, because of cricket being a British sport, but no longer,” Iqbal spoke about the distinct class division that existed in sport back then.
“Now you get cricketers, they are not really from private schools. They are from street and maidans but they are better cricketers than the ones that schools produced during our days. That is my explanation for the current difference between past and present leaders.” With T20 cricket providing stable livelihoods to many, the game awareness nowadays is far more than the time when cricketers used to get Rs 10 per day as Test match fees. “Cricket has evolved. Not just current cricketers from Pakistan but all cricketers from sub-continent. Five teams are from sub-continent out of 10 which is a huge contribution.
“They (the players) are much more aware that they have to be physically fit to be a part of the current generation, they also have to produce results as this (T20) is their livelihood and they are dependent on it. “When I started, we used to get 10 rupees a day for representing Pakistan but we never even thought the money was large enough or not. Times have changed. Cricket right now is an industry where cricketers are goods who need to be good enough to stay in the market and remain saleable,” he observed.