Had the script unfolded differently, the iconic Imran Khan would have been in Mumbai on Tuesday, preparing to represent the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital at a medical conference. Once there, he could have made a trip to Calcutta during the second India-Pakistan Test. Owing to a change in plan, though, the World Cup-winning captain (now a Member of the National Assembly) is at home in Islamabad. Recently, however, Imran spoke to The Telegraph for an hour in Lahore ' specifically about his impressions of Indian cricket.
The following are excerpts
Q Going back to when you were young, who is the one Indian cricketer who caught your attention'
A Tiger Pataudi' He came through as glamorous' Then, he played (at Oxford) with my cousin and hero ' Javed Burki' Later, it was Sunil Gavaskar.
There was no Indo-Pak cricket when you made your debut (1971). Was that disappointing or'
Yes, there was that desire to play and do well against India' I remember Burki talking a lot about the 1960-61 tour of India' Also, the public wanted Indo-Pak cricket.
Do you recall being fascinated by any series or match involving India'
(After a pause) I can't, but as I've said, the older generation constantly spoke of that 1960-61 series. Burki was the glamour boy on that tour and my uncle (Jahangir Khan, Majid's father) had gone as manager.
What were your early impressions about Indian cricket'
That they had outstanding spinners.
Your first match versus India was for Worcestershire in 1971. How did you fare'
(Laughs) Not too well'
What were your emotions'
Being a Pakistani, I was keyed-up.
The next was as captain of Oxford, in 1974'
By then, I was a better cricketer and I got a big hundred. Don't recall more.
When Indo-Pak cricket got revived, in 1978-79, you were already a star. What are your memories'
The wickets were docile as we were scared of losing and Zaheer (Abbas) made the most of them' Sadly for the great Indian spinners, they came up against Zaheer on surfaces such as Faisalabad. In fact, he could be lethal even on wickets which spun and, for me, remains the best timer.
You didn't run into Pataudi, but had Gavaskar in the opposition dressing room more than once'
(Interrupting) It was the batting of Gavaskar that made Indian cricket' In the 1960s, the impression was that Indians couldn't play fast bowling. Well, Gavaskar changed that and left a huge impact. His technique was very good and I regard him as arguably the best opening batsman. Kapil Dev, too, made a significant impact.
What did you make of Kapil in his debut series (1978-79)'
Usually, it takes time for bowlers to have control, but Kapil had it from the beginning' He was medium-fast and moved the ball' Obviously, he was a find. (After a pause) Kapil, however, didn't do justice to his batting talent' His batting never went that extra bit and his strokeplay wasn't consistent.
You weren't fit when Pakistan returned the visit next season... From victors at home to vanquished in India was quite a fall'
On paper, we were much stronger, but couldn't withstand the home crowd-induced pressure' We just capitulated' Looking back, the selectors made a mistake by dropping Sarfraz (Nawaz)' We were a bowler short the moment I got injured (in the Kotla Test)' One of my regrets is not being able to bowl on that surface' The ball was flying' I could have been handy in Mumbai as well' We lost there and that defeat demoralised us completely.
That 0-2 defeat led to howls of protest at home. It must have been tough on you'
Like Shoaib Akhtar nowadays, I got singled out' Got a lot of criticism' The disappointment was, I reckon, acute because the expectations had been so high' In the next series (1982-83, in Pakistan), though, I was probably at my best and we emerged convincing winners.
To talk of limited overs cricket, did you expect India to go anywhere close to making the final, let alone winning, the 1983 World Cup'
The Indians clicked as a team and performed brilliantly' Batting, bowling or fielding, they got everything right' They made luck go their way' Unbelievably, however, the same team got thrashed by the West Indies ' and at home ' not many months later'
Being a Pakistani, did it hurt more that India had become the first Asian nation to win the World Cup'
Actually, I was happy' Despite being underdogs, India beat the finest team ever' (After a pause) People speak of the current Australians, but I'm convinced the West Indies of the late 1970s and early 1980s stay No. 1 of all time. A top reason being Viv Richards' presence ' I haven't seen a better batsman, somebody with more class.
Yet, in bilateral face-offs, India appeared to develop a mental block versus Pakistan after Javed Miandad's last-ball six in the 1986 Austral-Asia Cup final'
It wasn't so much that six, Pakistan became a better fighting unit.
You've talked of Gavaskar, but what has been Sachin Tendulkar's impact'
Great, but not greater than Gavaskar's' Indeed, Gavaskar played some extraordinary innings in difficult circumstances' He was more dependable, made the team play around him' Whenever I played against Gavaskar, my priority was to quickly get him' If he stayed, it became progressively more and more difficult to dismiss him' Sachin's a different type: More flamboyant, more of an entertainer, has great strokes and is a superb timer' Yes, great to watch.
Who will you pick as India's finest captain'
Gavaskar' He led very well when we toured in 1979-80 and also did a terrific job in the (1985) World Championship of Cricket. The impression I got, though, is that he was worried about being criticised for any loss.
Specifically speaking about the last 35 years, how would you compare the talent in India and Pakistan'
We have consistently had better fast bowlers, with India consistently having better spinners' Before Partition, some of the finest athletes came from undivided Punjab, which explains why we have had better fast bowlers' In batting, we had the upper hand in the 1970s, with the Indian batsmen going ahead in the 1980s.
Because, in the 1980s, hardly anybody from Pakistan played county cricket' Also, the domestic structure in India is better.
Had Partition not occurred, would a combined team have been superior to the Australia of the present times'
Yes, because the talent pool would have been so much bigger and the level of competition extraordinary' You've got to remember that an excellent domestic structure, which encourages fierce competition, is what has made Australia so formidable.
Is there something Pakistan can learn from India'
Developing a sound domestic structure' The emphasis has to be on regional cricket with quality teams.
Be it as captain or otherwise, is there one Indo-Pak match which stands out'
The Bangalore Test which we won (in 1986-87) to bag the series' We had to contend with a wicket where the ball turned square and we pulled if off despite spin not being our strength' That team effort was remarkable.
You were at a loss for words when the Karachi crowd applauded the Indians last year'
That reflected both their maturity and hospitality' No extremist opposed the Revival Series and that should serve as an example.
The final question: Thirteen years after having moved on from cricket, what's the Imran Khan legacy'
(Emotionally) I've never thought about how I'm going to be remembered' I'm a faith-driven person and a strong believer in God' Whatever I've got is to be used for the betterment of others' Be it a cancer hospital (in Lahore and, soon, in Karachi), a state-of-the-art college (in Mianwali)' If I ever come to power, it will be for a purpose: To make Pakistan a welfare state' I may not succeed, but I would have tried my best' I do look upon life after death, the eternal life' I'm going to be judged on how I lived up to my responsibilities in this life...