Since immigrating to USA two years ago, Imran Khan has immersed himself in coaching and administration. He was the Head Youth Coach and Trainer of the California Cricket Academy between 2006 and 2008. As the Senior Selector and Team Manager of the successful North West Region, he took them to the national finals. Imran Khan was the Manager of the USA side that swept the Pepsi ICC Americas Championship defeating both the ODI teams in the tournament - Bermuda and Canada, and destroying two WCL Division 3 teams Cayman Islands and Argentina.
A No. 3 batsman and a medium-fast bowler, Imran has represented Sussex County from Under 13 through Under 19 levels and played and was part of the Sussex second XI in 1996. He also played Surrey Under 19 and represented South of England in 1994. Between 1997 and 1999, he represented Brunel University. He played for the British Universities team between 1997 and 1998 and was part of the International Students team following that for one year. He could not pursue cricket as a profession after that due to a career threatening stress fracture in the lower back at the age of 19. But he was drawn back to the game he loved soon after. He coached AJK (Pakistan) senior team in 2002.
Venu Palaparthi of DreamCricket.com met with Imran Khan to talk about the vast promise and the tremendous challenges for cricket in USA.
DreamCricket: Welcome to New York. Let me start with the most obvious question. Tell me where did you pick up that strong English accent?
Imran Khan: My ancestral background is actually from present day Azad J&K. But I was born and brought up in the UK. That should explain my rather strong British accent. I was also fortunate in that I played a great deal of cricket in UK.
DC: What attracted you to cricket in USA? I mean you have only been in USA for two years. For you to jump right into cricket organization in USA - that is somewhat unusual for someone that is so new to the country. And you are only 31! What made you want to get hands-on with cricket so early?
Imran Khan: Cricket I think is an addiction that seems to have no cure. I really had no aspirations to become involved in the cricketing infrastructure as much as I have, so I must thank The Almighty for his source of strength and the respect he has given me through this sport. Being new to the US I knew cricket would help me meet new people and make new friends. However, that was the only real objective at inception and what has transpired since then is phenomenal.
It's been an exciting journey that I am very grateful for. I think the US cricketing community has really supported my initiatives and their trust in me has really been a major factor in my involvement.
So in reality I guess I love cricket and I possess an unconditional amount of love and effort for this sport that I cannot really explain or account for. As I meet more people and I am introduced to other regions of the US I can clearly see that I am not the only one with this passion. So it's definitely a love for the sport that allows us to make some unbelievable sacrifices of time, money and effort.
DC: Congratulations on the victorious campaign in Florida in November. You were the Manager of the side and you were close to the action. DreamCricket was rooting for the boys and I am sure that the entire country is happy for Team USA.
Imran Khan: I agree whole-heartedly with your observations. No matter what the opinions or divides before the action begins once the team is on the pitch I know that any given nation will be backing its teams and we are no different with regards to that fact. I know that many of the people associated with USACA in an administrative and coaching capacity actually made the effort to travel to Florida and supported the side in any way that they could. People such as Linden Fraser and Paul DaSilva come to mind as they were at all the matches and supported the boys from the side.
It really was a great example of how a collective cricketing community came together to produce the great results we experienced. What people don't realize is that the USACA administration made a number of bold maneuvers and maintained their commitments. Special mention must be given to Manaf Mohamed the Vice President of USACA, whose dedication and hard work was without question first class.
They hired an unknown factor in myself and backed my ability to put the squad together and shape its eventual championship form.
They also allowed the coach, the manager and the captain to act as sole selectors, which was I think the real reason for the squad to function as it did. The management staff was allowed to select their players and then strategize as they viewed it.
We were also aided by the fact that team USA has secured the services of a great coach in Clayton Lambert.
The trust that was bestowed upon us in a management capacity really motivated us as individuals to make sure that all facets of our game were honed to perfection and timed appropriately to peak at the crucial stages.
DC: Should we assume that we are here to stay having reclaimed our place in the cricketing world.
Imran Khan: Yes the US has arrived on the global stage once more and I certainly hope that we build on this and not relinquish the hard won yards that we gained in Florida.
DC: It is our great fortune to have former international players like Clayton Lambert in our midst - people like Syed Abid Ali, Rajinder Ghai, and Sew Shivnaraine come to mind - it is heartening to see how these gentlemen have shaped the cricketing landscape and continue to give so much of their time to developing the game.
Imran Khan: Clayton's knowledge of the game and experience at the highest levels definitely rubbed off on the boys and engulfed all of our attention to detail. I think for a nation such as the US we are extremely fortunate to have had some of the very best former cricketers around in the system. Their contributions are a great reflection on how cricket has grown in the country. Its very easy to toe a negative line on all the things we have yet to accomplish. But when one focuses on what has been achieved in comparison to the competition for time and effort from other sports and lifestyles here in the US, I think cricket has achieved a phenomenal amount. I hope we can continue to attract more current and former first class players to these shores for training and coaching purposes.
DC: The team itself came together splendidly in Florida.
Imran Khan: As I stated at the AGM, the groundwork for developing players has already been laid out by coaches and staff from all across the US. We at the business end receive the culmination of their efforts in the form of a finished product 'the players'. It is our duty then to organize the players into an effective, cohesive and united unit that functions as a well-drilled machine both on and off the field. The success of the side really shows the depth of talent we possess and the fantastic cricket programs that we already have in the US. Thus when we receive the players at the national level, all we are looking to do is hone their mental game and approach. The core of this team, which includes several players who are still in their teens and twenties, will evolve I hope to spearhead USA into the next decade. This core is very solid and with practice and application over the next several years - these players can be developed into a top-draw outfit. I have said this many times already, the US boys have the ability to fit into any first class side in the world today. We just need to keep them engaged and give them more opportunities to keep their skill sharp. Players like Aditya Thyagarajan, Orlando Baker, Steve Massiah, Carl Wright and Sushil Nadkarni just to mention a few are simply class acts and we need to appreciate their abilities. You add someone who is slightly older and much more experienced like Sudesh Dhaniram into the mix, and the pedigree of the squad begins to resemble a world-class outfit. This compiled with our youngsters such as Marshall, Dodson, Timroy etcâ€¦ we have a dynamic squad. The team was physically fit, mentally focused and spiritually at ease with itself. A perfect combination for a championship squad!
DC: As the USA team makes a habit of winning, I am sure more quality players will follow. What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room? Was it charged up or pensive?
Imran Khan: The atmosphere in the changing room was nothing short of electric. When you create a team or squad of potential champions and then set out with the sole objective of victory, the environment begins to mould itself in accordance to your mental attitude. Once the players have accepted their destiny and desired outcome then it becomes a very strange affair. You create this invisible bubble around your camp and no distractions or illusions are allowed to penetrate. You begin to almost smell victory. Comparing our camps to the Canadians and Bermudans for example you could easily parlay the fact that their camps were more concerned with what we were doing then we were with them. There was an air of confidence and dare I say arrogance that began to engulf us day by day and even in our darkest moments we never questioned our ability or outcome.
DC: There was a completely avoidable controversy about a bonus payment after the tournament. I saw that you responded to that controversy and helped put that to rest. Was the management aligned with the team? It appears as if there was some disconnect there.
Imran Khan: These are matters for the USACA administration to sort out. You are quite right in that I responded to an article about these matters and helped end the controversy. My role has been to ensure on field success and I hope I have gone some way towards achieving that. The financial matters are for USACA to deal with and I cannot really comment further on that point other than what I have already said.
DC: There is a widely held view and USA cricketers feel strongly about it too - that elected administrators should not be part of the team or its support staff - do you believe that there must be that essential segregation between administration and the team.
Imran Khan: I think we all know what you are referring to. My view on this issue is very simple. If you are good enough then you are in! That's the bottom line.
I am 31 years old, the team manager and senior selector. If I thought I was good enough to play in the side then I would be in the side! I have played a high level of cricket and I think with some work I could still play at a decent level. However, for me personally the playing side of the game is more recreational and thus the effort put in to that has been reduced significantly, so I am not a contender for the national team. Because I am not good enough!
If an administrator is putting in the hours, has the fitness, form and ability then I will never hesitate to select him or her regardless of age or ethnicity etc. This is a meritocracy!
However, I agree with the point that if we have designated selectors and coaches then the administrators should not interfere with their decisions. That's a valid concern and one that I agree with completely.
Just to clarify a few issues for the wider cricketing community who may be interested in what happened at the ICC Americas - the issue centers on Nasir Charlie Javed - who is also the Executive USACA Director from Florida. He was chosen as a last minute replacement for a number of players who were either injured or could not partake in the competition. His performances and commitment to the side was above and beyond what I expected and at no point were we forced into selecting him. Case closed! I really want to focus on the future.
DC: I totally agree that we should have a meritocracy and thanks for clarifying the point once again about Charlie Javed and about the selection. But the problem also was that there was no national tournament, and some people feel they never got a fair shot. What can we say about the boys who did not get a chance because there was no national tournament where they could showcase their talent?
Imran Khan: I cannot comment on why there was no national tournament because, once again, I am not privy to that information nor did I have a role to play in that decision. I assisted the USA team purely in management capacity.
But I can say this without hesitation - we are blessed to have a wonderful pool of players in USA. Even those guys who were asked to attend the senior trials in Florida but were unsuccessful in their selection for either tours are as important to our plans as those who eventually toured Guyana and played in Florida in the ICC championship. I can only ask everyone to have faith in the system. This is a 'work in progress' and we must recognise that fact and keep building upwards.
DC: As a national and a NWR selector, what is your prediction for the near-term to medium-term, will USA make it to the U19 World Cup?
Imran Khan: I am sure there are a myriad of players in the U19 age bracket that, if their talent is properly harnessed, can easily be turned into world beaters. The challenge is to identify the players for the future, enhance their skills and exposure to a higher level of cricket and then develop the prerequisite training programs required to evolve their games. I have sent a number of high-level proposals to USACA, which focuses on this very aspect.
We need to identify our young talent both in the senior and junior squads. Then we need to arrange for them to attend academies and play in the UK, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Australia. These are all possibilities that are within our reach if we want them. Speaking to Haroon Logart and Mr. I. S. Bindra in New York last weekend, I discussed the possibilities for such programs and they gave us their blessings and full support. However, the onus is on us to take the initiative and conduct these programs as soon as can be.
DC: But what about the next generation of cricketers? I am just thinking 15 years ahead, we need to get cracking with that too.
Imran Khan: I think what's happening in New York (with the PSAL) is very exciting. I would like to state for the record their success in getting cricket into the schools system is an even bigger accomplishment than the US winning the ICC Americas Cup. That is a real momentum of success that we need to replicate all across the country. People must be targeted and tasked with the sole responsibility of working with each region to develop a similar program. The platform and infrastructure required to grow and sustain the game starts at the very lowest rungs and the schools system is pertinent for Cricket to succeed. So the future is defiantly looking up as long as we build upon what NY has achieved. Looking at California we have the California Cricket Academy that plays a similar role and must also be engaged with. There are more academies are developed throughout the US and the level of youth playing cricket can only increase - I have heard of academies in LA, Florida, Atlanta, Kansas, Michigan, Chicago, of course New Jersey and New York.
DC: You are probably familiar with some of the emerging players - can you name them?
Imran Khan: Its very difficult for me to start naming some players whom I have only heard of but have yet to see in action! I will however, state that from the most recent senior team - the younger players such as Timroy Allen, Akeem Dodson and Rashard Marshall - all have great futures in front of them. They have to keep working hard at their games and keep their feet on the ground. The ego has to be squashed and discipline must become a key ingredient if they want to succeed. That is the key thing to remember at that level.
I do believe that these boys can make it if they desire it and are hungry enough! However, there are a number of other youngsters that are on the verge of breaking into the USA side â€“ and they are all very good. Kumar Nandalal who was in Guyana but was injured is a promising left arm spinner and one for the future. We also have boys like Hammad Shaid, Manaf Patel, Ravi Timberwalla, Saquib Saleem, Cameron Mirza, Dennis Evans and Zaheer Saffie who coaches and pundits are really excited about. I have not even mentioned the three youngsters we took to Guyana in Greg Sewdial, Abhijit Joshi and Steven Taylor. So there is a wealth of talent out there and we just have to identify each and every single person and make sure that they get the attention they deserve in their developmental process both for their regions and the US.
DC: It has been 9 months since the ICC suspension was lifted on USACA, do you think that we now have a plan of action to put us back in orbit?
Imran Khan: I would love to really sit down and go through a whole plethora of information, tactics and proposals but in reality I have just got involved with the on-field activities. I have multifarious number of ideas and proposals that I would like to initiate for the generation of funding which is in reality the backbone of any organizational structure. I would also like to see USACA develop itself into a professional outfit with clearly identifiable departments and areas of work. Thus I feel in reality we have a long way to go from where we are now but we are in America the home of 'Corporate business' so for us to follow a standard business model should not be that difficult. We also need to really start thinking about the possibility of each region developing itself into a franchised model, which would then compete in a professional national league structure. I think we can attract the investors and players from all across the world as the US appeals to the global community. Cricket has to become a branded item that sells. Thus USACA needs to brand cricket and sell the brand. The US cricket market is in reality a big unknown, un-chartered territory if you will that many of the global players would love to exploit. We as an organizational umbrella (USACA) must ensure that we are the conduit through which this occurs. Right now I feel that we are not as conducive to the growth of the game as we could be but things are changing and I think there is a silver lining on the horizon.
DC: Let us talk about your own aspirations within USA cricket system? Are you a candidate for the USACA CEO job?
Imran Khan: I just hope that whoever is appointed CEO of USACA is provided and afforded the fullest cooperation and support by the entire organisation. The CEO is in reality the leader of the pack and we must ensure that we comprehend his vision and adopt his objectives. If we can find a suitable candidate who possess business acumen and a sound comprehension of the game here in the US then we could be onto a real winner and their effect will no doubt be felt sooner than later.
A lot of people have thus far asked me if I am in the running for the CEO position and I will state for the record that I am in the picture. However, I support whatever decision the CEO committee takes in their appointment and I will be amongst the first to welcome the new CEO and be willing to share my experience and knowledge with them to the best of my ability.
DC: Canada and Bermuda, two countries that were behind USA on talent, are now ahead in terms of ICC funding. You have seen the teams at ICC Americas. Bermuda now has their players on an annual contract! Leaving aside the fact that USA defeated the two teams, based on your interactions with the two teams and their management, do you think USA can catch up on infrastructure?
Imran Khan: I think that as a squad, playing management and in strategic objectives we were superior in our approach to any one of those sides. Tactically we outmaneuvered the opposition, we intimidated the other sides in how we conducted our business and in general we overwhelmed them.
Now the point to consider here is this. We receive little or no funding at the moment; we have a fairly disjointed national structure with no coherence between the various leagues and regions. However, despite all the disadvantages our players and staff superceded our more glamorized and well looked after cousins. Simply put we have the talent, the dedicated people required and the desire to not only succeed but to dominate this region and make headway into the global first class game.
USA cricketers reflect after beating Canada. At the Broward County stadium.
DC: In your view, what is it going to take to do that? What is the roadmap to get there?
Imran Khan: Where we have failed is that our organizational structure has not matured with time and it is fair to say that it suffered due to the ICC ban. The Dainty led administration is addressing these issues by taking positive steps. As we have heard in the AGM, the regions too are making progress.
Now what is required under a new CEO is a change of direction and pace. Professionals who have the intuitive knowledge about a modern day global corporation must be allowed to run the USACA organisation under the aegis of a business model and not like an old boys network. The appointees must be allowed to function at the head of USACA and take decisions utilizing their best judgment. These experts cannot be second-guessed by existing members or people whose caliber does not match.
We cannot entrust and empower people only then to refute or question their judgments. Therefore, a central body (USACA) must be refurbished to reflect a modern day Multinational Corporation. This must be organized into departments and suitable candidates must be found to staff these departments under an appointed head. Initially people will not be paid salaries or provided an income if the funding from ICC is not there.
However, sales staff focused on generating funding could be on a commissioned scheme. Relationships with every Tier 1 national board must be established. Possible senior team tours to test playing nations must be organized.
The only way to get ahead is if we think ahead. We need to get our team visible. Without an active fixture list no one in their right mind will ever sponsor US cricket. Thus the US team must be actively engaged in fixtures all across the world. This is not as hard or difficult to achieve as it's sometimes presented. Mr. Haroon Lorgat and Mr. Bindra have voiced their support for such an initiative but we must take the first step for this to occur! A professional cricket structure with an active league operating at a national stage must be created as soon as is possible.
This will provide us with the credibility and the platform to engage sponsors and investors alike. We must take the US cricket game to the world. I think for too long people have been waiting for someone to come and get it from us! This is not going to happen. Especially as the economic cycle enters a downward spiral we have to proactively generate the opportunities to grow.
Strong leadership is required. A vision must be created which the entire US cricketing family adopts and adheres to. Leadership is key to the growth of cricket in this nation and I think the present day set up should be recognized and appreciated for its efforts. However, this is a new day and a new dawn should bring new life to what is potentially an extremely fertile plain.
DC: Good luck Imran. USA cricket needs more people like you who can make change happen.
Imran Khan: It's very kind of you Venu, I appreciate DreamCricket's support and efforts in developing cricket in USA, especially at the grass roots level. Your involvement both in developmental cricket and the media coverage you provide is second to none and I want to personally commend you on your efforts. I think we are a family that needs to come together at this juncture and operate in a unified manner with every pertinent player in complete harmony with their given role and responsibility.
You are a private operator but your contribution and effect on cricket in the US is a testament to your ability.
This also places you a in a position of extraordinary responsibility whereby what you say and do through your media channel has a direct bearing on how the world views US cricket.
For too long we have had a clearly demarcated line between those who ran cricket and those who wanted to support cricket here in the US. However, I do sense that wall has slowly been eroded with time. Now that the senior US team has achieved such marvelous results everyone can see the potential benefits if we can just work together under a unified umbrella.
DC: At DreamCricket, cricket is our American dream and we will strive to be a responsible media outlet for the benefit of the 200,000 cricketers out there. It is on their behalf that I thank you for your service.