Sometimes, it can be tough being Imam-ul-Haq. The bespectacled guy has the tendency to score runs at will against all oppositions, but all he gets in return are rants of nepotism.
Imam scored a century on his ODI debut against Sri Lanka in 2017, becoming the only second Pakistani batter to achieve this feat. And yet at the time, the story dominating headlines was about the man who picked him – his uncle, Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Yes, his strike rate was a concern early on, but over the years, he has been able to improve his game and transform himself into a reliable opening batter in the ODI format.
With over 2,300 runs and 9 centuries in just 49 games and a batting average of almost 54, Imam is the second-best ODI batter for Pakistan after Babar Azam in the current repertoire of players.
Yet, for many of us, he is simply a “parchi” [a term referring to nepotism] - a rather insensitive and callous one-word dismissal of all his achievements.
Imam has a knack for breaking records. For quick reference, he is the second Pakistani to score an ODI hundred on his debut, the second-fastest in the world to complete 1,000 ODI runs, and the fifth-fastest to score 2,000 runs. Similarly, he is the only batter to score four centuries in the first nine ODIs.
His celebrations after back-to-back hundreds against Australia were calm and composed, depicting extreme concentration – perhaps a clear sign that Imam is ready to step out of the nepotism shadow
In the recently-concluded ODI series against Australia, the 26-year-old southpaw broke England’s Graham Gooch’s 37-year-old record of scoring the most runs in a series.
With two centuries and a fifty, Imam scored 298 runs in the three-match series to help Pakistan win 2-1. This was the highest number of runs scored against Australia by any batter since 1985 when Graham had scored 289 runs in the three-ODI series.
Shining in Tests
The left-arm batter was equally good on his Test debut in 2018 against Ireland. Having lost the first three wickets on just 12 runs in the fourth innings chase of 160, Imam’s gritty 74-run innings steered Pakistan to victory.
Yet, when Test cricket returned to Pakistan, it was Abid Ali – and not Imam – who was picked as the first-choice opener, speculatively because at the time, Misbah-ul-Haq, whose relationship with Inzamam is famously tenuous, was in charge.
Abid, who had years of grinding and domestic runs on his back, proved his worth by winning Player-of-the-Match awards in each of his first two Tests.
His performance overshadowed Imam’s sparkling debut and his Test career came to a halt.
But, when Abid’s form deteriorated over the next couple of months, Pakistan looked towards Shan Masood, and Imran Butt – an opening batter whose only reliable skill was slip-catching – instead of Imam because of the aforementioned reason.
In the meantime, Imam proved his mettle in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, where he scored 531 runs in just five games at an average of 100.20.
His sublime form coincided with Australia’s historic tour of Pakistan, and he was drafted in the Test and ODI squads.
The left-hand batter grabbed the opportunity with both hands and scored hundreds in both innings during the Rawalpindi Test against Australia's storied four-pronged pace attack – brought on by Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Cameron Green.
His grit against the fiery pace attack was unmatched, but his maturity against the world-class spinner Lyon was the highlight of the first Test.
“There is a pattern in which I tried to score runs, and there was a certain plan when playing against Lyon,” Imam said at the post-day press conference.
“I have played against him in Dubai as well, so I knew he's a world-class bowler. I knew that I would have to work on those good areas. The full length is not going to turn that much, that's why I was being respectful against it.”
Remember, this is the same guy who scored a gritty hundred against South Africa in their own backyard and then mimicked a yapping mouth gesture to the fans, putting a finger to his lips – no doubt a shut-up call to his critics who labelled him “parchi.”
In contrast, his celebrations after back-to-back hundreds against Australia were calm and composed, depicting extreme concentration – perhaps a clear sign that Imam is ready to step out of the nepotism shadow and take a step towards personal growth.
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