Legends Month: The best of Imran Khan
As part of Legends Month on Cricket Network, look back on one of Imran Khan's greatest performances
27 May 2018, 09:02 AM AEST
It endures as one of the more incongruous images to emerge from one-day cricket's quadrennial showpiece.
Pakistan's Oxford-educated and sartorially aware captain Imran Khan at the pre-game coin toss – an event that nowadays draws more people on to a sporting field than a fire drill at a secondary school – clad not in his match attire, but a white T-shirt emblazoned with some sort of appliqué tiger.
Given that pivotal moment was supposedly being beamed from the MCG to a global television audience exceeding one billion, the idea of eschewing team uniform would normally send administrative heavyweights and tournament sponsors into paroxysms.
But by that stage, Pakistan's 1992 World Cup quest had transcended a nation's dream for sporting immortality and become embodied within the then 39-year-old 'Lion of Lahore's' personal mission that had burned deep within for more than four years.
Since the day that the imperious all-rounder hoped to crown his career with a semi-final victory over Australia in his planned farewell match in front of his home fans, and then triumphantly lead Pakistan to the 1987 final at Kolkata, only to see his script consigned to the shredder by Allan Border's brave men.
So at the behest of mourning fans and intuitive officials, Imran returned from retirement in 1988 and targeted the 1992 tournament in Australia and New Zealand to realise his two driving ambitions – cricket glory for his country and the accompanying impetus to build a cancer hospital in honour of his late mother.
That bold aspiration seemed a distant hope when the fifth iteration of the World Cup kicked off in February 1992.
Pakistan had already lost strike bowler Waqar Younis to a back stress fracture before competition began, and in the days leading into their opening match against the West Indies in Melbourne, their ageing captain had ripped shoulder tendons and was crippled by pain.
More hurt followed, as Pakistan's young (apart from seasoned hands Imran and his deputy, Javed Miandad) outfit managed a solitary win from their first five games – against Zimbabwe, with Imran unable to take the ball.
Consequently, there was more than Pakistan's onward travel plans at stake when they readied for their meeting with hosts Australia (also battling to remain in the tournament) in Perth, and Imran decided it was time to invoke props.
Prior to the Australia game, he appeared in the Pakistan dressing room clad in the T-shirt with its glittering tiger – crouched and snarling, with tail erect – and implored each player individually to believe that they had the innate talent and the available time to secure the trophy.
"I want my team today to play like a cornered tiger, when it's at its most dangerous," Imran told a slightly bemused Ian Chappell, who had inquired about the unusual centre-wicket regalia at the WACA Ground coin toss.
A dominant win over the reigning champions, in which Imran claimed two key wickets, was then followed by victories against Sri Lanka, and New Zealand twice within four days on the co-hosts' home soil as Pakistan found themselves in the final and within touching distance of their leader's prophecy.
By this time, Imran had radically revamped his role from opening bowler and middle-order hitter to second or third-change seamer lifted to number three in the batting order, and whose job (alongside Javed) was to bat cautiously until the final 10 overs.
At which point young guns Inzamam-ul-Haq and Wasim Akram bore license to cut loose.
It had worked in the semi-final at Auckland, where Imran (44 off 93 balls) and Javed (57 not out from 69) anchored Pakistan's pursuit of a hefty 262 which was then iced by Inzamam's decisive 60 from 37 deliveries faced.
Imran and Javed were called on again early in the final against England, when openers Ramiz Raja and Aamir Sohail both departed for single-figure scores, and the enormity of the occasion threatened to engulf the underdogs.
The pair's 139-run third-wicket stand and Imran’s nerveless 72 allowed Pakistan's middle-order to do their thing, and the target of 250 was always going to be a stretch for Graham Gooch's team when their talismanic opener Ian Botham was adjudged caught behind off Akram for a duck.
Symbolically, Pakistan's first major global tournament title was secured when England's last man Richard Illingworth spooned a catch to mid-off from Imran's bowling, the 22-run win met by memorable scenes of players prostrating in thankful prayer and celebrating in wide-eyed delight.
Even the future politician's subsequent claim that his inadequacy as a public speaker was to blame for his failure to mention his teammates but proclaim the significance for the proposed hospital in his victory speech could not quell the party that erupted in Pakistan and ran for days hence.
With the Lion of Lahore leading his tigers on one final victory lap, before moving on to tackle even tougher challenges.