'The 1992 World Cup defined my cricket'
I will always associate my earliest memories of the World Cup with the lovely month of Ramzan and getting up well before dawn. That particular time in the morning is supposed to be quiet, calm and slow, but in 1992 it was lively and buzzing because of the cricket World Cup. Everyone around me, friends and family, would get up in excitement, as much for the sehri (pre-dawn meal) as for the matches being telecast live from Australia and New Zealand.
I was barely 11, maybe 12 - an age when I had already begun to understand the game and had started playing cricket in the streets. Whatever I was able to grasp about the game at that time, I didn't think that Pakistan was going to go all the way. They lost a lot of games in the early stages of the World Cup and my excitement around the tournament started to go down. I lost my optimism and sense of thrill. But suddenly, after we beat New Zealand, things started to brighten up.
Though it was 23 years ago, I still remember about 80 or 90% of the tournament, mainly because of how our team hiccuped its way through the event. But at the end of the day, we ended up the winners.
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The 1992 World Cup is what defined my cricket and the cricketer in me. I then started to hear tales about Imran Khan's leadership and stories about him from other players, and that began to shape my thoughts and dreams. Even on many occasions, although the situation was not good for Pakistan, he was one man who never let his players feel defeatist. It was as if his unflinching belief had led Pakistan to the title.
So many players in the dressing room told me how surprised they were at Imran's belief that they were going to win the World Cup, even though the team was far from it. After losing a handful of matches, he would not even think about defeat, so much so that the players could well have been asking themselves, "What is kaptaan saying? We are losing and he is still talking about us winning the World Cup".
Pakistan winning that World Cup taught me the most important thing I could have learnt about failure. That failure is actually another opportunity that can eventually lead you to success. So I am never afraid of failing. I look at Imran bhai and the decisions he took then, including batting at No. 3 in the final. Cricket always teaches you many lessons to never be afraid of failure.
"I grew up with the memories and stories of 1992. About leadership, courage, belief, fighting spirit. I applied these lessons in my career and it helped me when I captained Pakistan in 2011"
I grew up with the memories and stories of 1992. About leadership, courage, belief, fighting spirit - that inspired me. I applied these lessons in my career and it helped me when I captained Pakistan in 2011.
Since 1992, each World Cup has left unique memories in my mind: the 1996 Pakistan v India quarter-final in Bangalore; my first World Cup in 1999, which saw the arrival of Shoaib Akhtar, and how I had to receive treatment for an injury the night before the final. Then we had a disappointing game and after the defeat in the final, all our hard work in the tournament went in vain.
The next two World Cups - 2003 and 2007 - were nightmares. Bob Woolmer's sudden death just shook us in 2007 and put the entire tournament in perspective. We had to stay back for a few more days, everything was against us, the media reporting around Bob's tragic death was dirty and created chaos and anxiety in the minds of our families. There was a sense of fear all around. No one wanted to be alone in their rooms and everyone bunked together two or three to a room - even a senior player like Inzamam-ul-Haq. It has to be one of the worst World Cups I can think of.
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Being captain in the 2011 World Cup was an important part of my career, as I had to lead a squad at a low ebb. Pakistan had lost its hosting rights and we were recovering from the ugly spot-fixing scandal a few months earlier. Nobody expected much from Pakistan, no one thought we could do anything good. I had to lead the side with care and tried to encourage the boys to abandon negative thoughts and fight hard, to be in the present. We managed to achieve something that nobody had expected - we lost in the semi-final. Overall it was a good experience for us. Pakistan played cricket like they always did - going for a win. I was proud of my team.
Now that we're going back to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup, my life, I think, has come full circle, from the memorable month of Ramzan in 1992.