“Though Imran Khan and I have been very good friends and played cricket as a bowling duo for nearly a decade, my differences with him are political,” says Sarfraz Nawaz, former Pakistani Test cricketer and politician, in a chat with The Express Tribune.
Sarfraz says he coached Imran in the art and science of the reverse swing, a technique he had pioneered.
During Ghulam Safdar Butt’s tenure as Pakistan Cricket Board president, Sarfaraz says he “rescued” Imran from an inquiry over misconduct.
“Imran was accused of forcing a PCB official out of a dressing room in Peshawar,” he says. “He asked me for help so I requested General (r) Khalid Mahmud Arif, then Vice Chief of Army Staff, to drop the inquiry.” Sarfraz says the general was reluctant but agreed. “Imran announced his retirement from Pakistan cricket a few days after the inquiry was shelved but then changed his mind and came to me to make a graceful return,” he says.
“I spoke to General Ziaul Haq about Imran’s desire to return,” Sarfaraz says. “Zia said he would arrange a reception where Imran could announce his return to cricket.”
Sarfraz says he hired a group of young people on Zia’s orders who launched a campaign demanding that Imran withdraw his retirement. “These young people took out processions from Masjid-e-Shuda Lahore to urge Imran to return,” he says.
According to Sarfraz, he also had a role in securing the captaincy for Imran after Javed Miandad stepped down.“I spoke to some members of the team and together we convinced Miandad during a trip to London to step down. We told him it was time to make Khan captain. To his credit, Imran brought the World Cup to Pakistan in 1992.”
But differences arose when, after Sarfaraz was appointed as adviser on sports to the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto in her second term, Imran began issuing statements critical of Bhutto and her husband. “He made up false allegations,” Sarfraz says. “Benazir and Asif Zardari then asked me to issue rejoinders to his accusations.”
He admits he ridiculed Imran in many statements to the press at the time. “But I never maligned his character,” he says. “To counter my press statements, however, Imran issued filthy allegations against me as well.”
From contractor to cricketer
Sarfaraz was not always hanging out in the corridors of power. Born on December 1, 1948, Sarfraz did his matriculation from a public school in Mozang in 1962, securing second division marks.
“Don’t judge me,” he says, smiling. “Most of our sportsmen have passed their matriculation in third division.”
His father, Malik Muhammad Nawaz, was a contractor. “I also started my career as a contractor for the family’s construction company in 1965,” he says. Building a cricket stadium for Government College University in Lahore was his first construction project. “We had to abandon it because of the war in 1965.”
This was a great loss for his company. “But now I understand it was a blessing in disguise.”
Some boys had begun playing cricket there even though the stadium was still under construction.
“I went to speak with them once. And instead of abandoning the area to play somewhere else, they introduced me to the game,” he says. Aftab Gul, Waseem Raja, Saleem Altaf, Naeem Altaf and Shafiq Ahmed were among those boys.
After joining Mozang Link Cricket Club, Sarfaraz had played only a handful of matches before he was chosen as captain of the Punjab University cricket team.
Love, marriage and a bit of glamour
Sarfraz married Rani, one of the most successful actresses of the subcontinent, in 1982. She was also from Mozang. Malik says he knew she had cancer when they had married.
“I met her at some function in Lahore and she asked me if I knew anyone who could help with her treatment in London,” he says.
He says he helped her as much as he could and fell in love with her along the way. It was Sarfraz’s first and Rani’s third marriage. At the time of their marriage, Rani had been signed for the film Sher Khan by Younas Malik. “She had already taken Rs100,000 for it,” he says. “She decided to return the money because she wanted to spend time with the family.”
He says Younas Malik was unhappy over her decision. “He offered to let me play the lead role if Rani agreed to stay.” He says Rani flatly said no.
She died in 1992, spending nearly a decade with him.
Flirting with politics
Sarfraz was elected as a member of the Punjab Assembly from Lahore in 1985 in a party-less general election. He was made the vice chairman of the Punjab Sports Board under then chief minister Nawaz Sharif, who was the chairman.
As chief minister, Safraz says Sharif failed to curb corruption in the construction of Lahore Hockey Stadium. “I pointed out the embezzlement during a meeting of the construction committee, of which I was made chairman,” he says. He adds that Sharif did not order an inquiry to probe the allegations, though he had been strongly advised to look into the matter. Malik resigned in protest.
Problems with PCB
Sarfraz says he has always had a combative personality. “I have never shied from speaking my mind,” he said. He says that this was why the PCB had suspended his pension. “I criticised the role of Najam Sethi in the PCB. I had voiced my concerns over the appointment of Moin Khan as chief selector,” he said. “I disagree with the PCB policies and they don’t like me for it.”
Sarfraz is now back to his family’s construction business and is based in Islamabad. He is also a consultant for the PCB.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2015.