Imran Khan: The Cricketer, The Celebrity, The Politician

Published: 2009
Pages: 416
Author: Sandford, Christopher
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: 4 stars

Imran Khan: The Cricketer, The Celebrity, The Politician

One of the most charismatic cricketers of the 20th Century was Pakistan’s great all-rounder Imran Khan. He was highly successful on-field, which culminated in him leading Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup. However Imran was almost as well known for his off-field celebrity, with a glamorous life in the jet set circles of Europe. Since his retirement from international cricket, Imran entered the world of politics in Pakistan, but success in this arena has not come as easily as on the sporting field.

While there have been a number of biographies of Imran over the years, they are now quite dated having been released more than 15 years ago and prior to his move into politics. Recent years have seen the release of two new analyses of his life. One was written by noted biographer Christopher Sandford, while the other was penned by Imran himself. It seemed appropriate to review them together, as they each bring a different perspective and viewpoint on Imran’s place both in history of cricket and his wider influence on the nation of Pakistan.

Imran Khan: The Cricketer, The Celebrity, The Politician
By Christopher Sandford

As a biographer, Christopher Sandford has published books on a who’s who of the entertainment world. Legendary figures such as Kurt Cobain, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen have all been the subject of Sandford’s analysis. However it is not just quantity that defines his work, with Rolling Stone describing him as the “pre-eminent author in his field today.” The obvious question of why he deviated from his usual subject area and focussed on Imran Khan in his most recent book is answered simply by the author: he is a lover of the game of cricket and a great fan of Imran.

Imran has long been seen as a polarising figure, with his strong personal beliefs and determination manifesting in an attitude that has been interpreted by some opponents as simply too hardline. Sandford reviews Imran’s life and understandably focuses upon key moments in his life such as his time at Oxford University, the 1992 World Cup and his forays into politics. It appears clear that Sandford is familiar with Imran’s cricketing prowess, as well as his after hours romantic exploits. Sandford describes both the private and public faces of Imran, which entails a careful analysis of his love life, the failed marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, charity work for his cancer hospital and his more recent political career. He examines Imran’s attempts to maintain a foot within both the Eastern and Western worlds, and how this has impacted upon his personal life.

A biography has one significant advantage over an autobiography in that the author should be able to take a less personal view of events than the individual in question. However, the author also needs to walk a fine line in not becoming either overly critical or displaying too much adulation. Sandford manages this balance, and provides an engaging analysis of the complex character that is Imran. Ivo Tennant’s 1994 work, simply titled Imran Khan, was previously acknowledged as the definitive biography and is indeed still an excellent book. Sandford’s 2009 effort can now be considered superior to Tennant’s, primarily because it includes the events of the past two decades.

Rating : 4 stars

Pakistan: A Personal History
by Imran Khan

In contrast to Sandford’s biography, Imran’s own volume is presented as an ongoing journey of experiences. This book successfully mixes together Pakistan’s own tumultuous history with Imran’s life story. It considers the role cricket played in establishing Imran as a hero within his native country, the challenges that he had to face and overcome, and how these experiences led him to humanitarian and political aspirations. Perhaps a bit surprisingly though, cricket seems to often take a backseat to Imran’s spiritual and political beliefs.

Pivotal moments in his life are explored, with his examination of the impact that both the death of his mother and serious injuries had upon his self-belief being particularly interesting. Imran comments on his faith, and how he was inspired through the writings of key Islamic figures such as poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal. It reviews his time in England, but the book’s underlying theme of religion and belief are present with reference to his visits to a mosque. Imran devotes a considerable part of the book to describing his political ambitions and the founding of his own party called Tehreek-e-Insaf, which roughly translates to the Movement for Justice. One of the significant advantages of Imran’s book over that of Sandford’s relate to its perceptions of the political reality of Pakistan. An outsider will always struggle to clearly understand the complex interaction of social, historic and environmental factors, and Imran is ideally placed to provide a critical analysis.

However, there are a few flaws with this book. Cricket, which was Imran’s platform into public awareness, sometimes seems to be sometimes downplayed. As with every autobiography, the writer cannot be truly objective about events in which they were intimately involved. Throughout the text, Imran occasionally comes across as both naive and at times quite arrogant. Nonetheless, he does successfully manage to be self-critical, and his analysis of key events and Pakistan’s culture are fascinating. Imran’s previous autobiography All-Round View was published in 1988, prior to the World Cup victory in 1992. This 2011 book is a good combination of both personal recollections and analysis of Pakistan’s complex political environment, and is a worthy successor to All Round View.

Rating: 4 stars


It might seem excessive to read two books dedicated to the life of the same individual in rapid succession, however I found Sandford and Imran’s works to be complementary. The foci are not the same, and because of this differentiation, they manage to be highly readable concurrently. Both books are recommended reading for anyone interested in Imran’s cricketing career, and his ongoing part in the emergence of Pakistan on the world stage.


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Comment by Sohail Majeed | 8:01pm GMT 11 December 2023

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