Pakistan’s sporting greats who put the nation on world map
Pakistan have a rich history in sports, producing several great athletes and icons in different games over the years.
As Pakistan celebrates its diamond jubilee, we take a look at some sporting personalities who not only had a significant impact on the country’s sporting history but also became global sporting icons in their own right.
Jahangir Khan is a former squash player. He is widely regarded as the greatest squash player of all time, having won the sports’ top competition, the World Open, six times, and the British Open title 10 times (1982-1991).
In 1981, at the age of 17, he became the youngest winner of the World Open, beating Australia’s Geoff Hunt in the final.
He retired as a player in 1993. But by then, he had set a record for the most consecutive wins by any player in any sport - 555 wins, a record that still stands today.
After putting down his racquet, he went on to lead the global squash body, serving as the president of the World Squash Federation from 2002 to 2008. Later in 2008, he became President Emeritus of the World Squash Federation.
Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi is the former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team.
He began his international cricket career at the tender age of 18, during the Test series against England in 1971.
Imran had a storied career during which time he developed a reputation as one of the most utilitarian all-rounders the sport had seen till then. He continued to play until 1992, serving as the team’s captain intermittently between 1982 and 1992.
It was then fitting that in the last match of his career, he managed to win the sport’s biggest title, the Cricket World Cup. It turned out to be Pakistan’s first and only victory in that format of the competition.
Imran retired permanently from cricket six months after his last ODI, the historic 1992 World Cup final against England in Melbourne, Australia. He played in 88 international Test matches, scoring 3,807 runs in 126 innings at an average of 37.69 runs per innings, including six centuries and 18 fifties. His highest score was 136.
Considered one of cricket’s greatest all-rounders, he scored 3,807 runs and took 362 wickets in Test cricket and was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
After retiring from cricket, Imran ventured into philanthropy and then politics. He founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and was elected as the country’s 22nd prime minister in August 2018.
Javed Miandad is a former Pakistani cricketer, national team captain, coach and commentator. He is known for his unconventional style of batting and captaincy.
ESPNcricinfo described him as “the greatest batsman Pakistan has ever produced” and his contemporary Ian Chappell extolled him as one of the finest batters in the history of cricket.
Miandad represented Pakistan in Tests and One-Day Internationals between 1975 and 1996. He won accolades and applause from cricket historians as well as contemporaries. Miandad was ranked 44th among the best cricketers of all time by the ESPN Legends of Cricket.
He is widely known for his iconic last ball six against India in 1986 at Sharjah and for his contribution with the bat during the 1992 ICC World Cup.
After hanging up his playing gloves, Miandad went on to coach the Pakistan national cricket team on three occasions apart from holding key positions on the Pakistan Cricket Board.
In 2009, Miandad was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
Jansher Khan is a former squash player who won a record eight World Open titles, and the British Open title six times.
Jansher Khan, dubbed as “the fastest man in squash” is widely regarded as one of the greatest squash players of all time.
He was ranked number 1 in the world of squash in January 1988. He maintained that ranking until January 1998, (513 weeks) (118 months) (9.8 Years).
His retirement in 2001 brought an end to nearly 50 years of domination of the sport of squash by Pakistan.
After retirement, he went on to head both, the World Squash Federation and the Pakistan Squash Federation.
Zaheer Abbas was a stylish and elegant cricketer who represented Pakistan in the 1970s and 1980s.
Zaheer first burst onto the scene in 1969 when he debuted for Pakistan in the longest format. In only his second ever Test, which he played against England, Zaheer smashed the English for 274 – the sixth-highest score by a Pakistani batsman in history.
He is the only Asian batsman to score 100 first-class centuries. He played in 206 first-class matches for Gloucestershire over 13 years, amassing over 16,000 runs.
Zaheer represented Pakistan in 78 Tests and 62 ODIs, scoring 5,062 and 2,572 runs respectively.
In his prime, he was a sight for sore eyes. His avarice for runs matched that of the Australian legend Donald Bradman. Perhaps that is why he was dubbed as the Asian Bradman.
In August 2020, he was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.
Wasim Akram is widely regarded as one of the all-time greats of the game. He is a former captain, coach and commentator. Many experts consider Akram to be the finest left-arm fast bowler in cricketing history dubbed the Sultan of Swing.
He made his debut in 1985 against New Zealand and finished with 10 wickets. Initially, his career was limited by a slope disorder in the late 1980s. But he made a comeback in the 1990s as a fast bowler with a greater emphasis on swing and reliable middle-order batting.
He played a crucial role in Pakistan’s success at the 1992 World Cup, while he also led them to the final, seven years later.
Alongside Waqar Younis, Akram formed a fearsome bowling partnership and at a stage, the duo were unplayable.
As a 35-year-old, Akram announced his retirement from ODIs, after the 2003 World Cup. Akram had earlier quit Test cricket in 2002.
He holds the record for the most wickets in List-A cricket (881) and is Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker in both formats of the game. In terms of ODI wickets (502), he is second only to Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka (534).
Shoaib Akhtar aka “the Rawalpindi Express” is the fastest bowler in the world. He was the first bowler who recorded bowling at 100 miles per hour, a feat he achieved twice in his career.
Though his numbers don’t do justice to his talent, when he was at his peak, it was a treat to watch. His breathtaking spells of fiery pace bowling, the way he made batsmen quiver in their boots with his blink-and-you-miss-it pace and bounce, was an unmatched experience.
Many legends of yesteryears found themselves on the receiving end of Shoaib’s blistering spells. Be it greats such as Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting or be it, or Sourav Ganguly. You name them and Shoaib has given that batter a taste of his medicine.
His most noteworthy performance was in 1999 in India, where he took eight wickets in the Asian Test Championship game in Calcutta.
Shahid Afridi is one of the greatest all-rounders of the game. The former national team captain enjoyed great success both with the ball and bat that won countless games for the country.
Afridi made his ODI, Test, and T20I debuts in 1996, 1998, and 2006, respectively.
Afridi was selected as leg spin bowler Mushtaq Ahmed’s successor in the ODI team for the four-nation Sameer Cup in October 1996. But Afridi also proved his explosive capabilities with the bat, scoring a century off just 37 balls, shattering the ODI cricket record for the quickest century.
His explosive batting style with bombastic sixes earned him the moniker of “Boom Boom”.
After being passed over for selection, Afridi announced his retirement from international cricket on February 19, 2017.
After being chosen to represent and captain the World XI against the West Indies in the 2018 Hurricane Relief T20 Challenge charity match, he briefly returned to international cricket.
He represented Pakistan in 27 Tests, 398 ODIs and 99 T20Is, where he scored over 11,000 runs and claimed over 500 wickets.
Sarfaraz Ahmed is a former wicketkeeper-batsman and Pakistan national cricket team captain.
Sarfaraz was named as Pakistan’s T20 International captain following the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 in India, while he was named Pakistan’s ODI Captain on 9 February 2017.
Sarfaraz first rose to prominence after guiding Pakistan to win against India in the ICC U-19 World Cup final in 2006.
He was then called up to the national team to replace Kamran Akmal, who lost a finger during the one-day series between Pakistan and India in November 2007. He played his first ODI on November 18, 2007, in the final match of the series.
He became the first Pakistani cricket captain since the great Imran Khan to win a major 50-over world title. In June 2017, Pakistan went into the Champions Trophy as the lowest-ranked team and lost heavily against India to start off, but he guided the team to a red-hot streak to beat South Africa, Sri Lanka and hosts England, and finally India, to claim the prize.
He became the youngest cricketer to be awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz - Pakistan’s highest civil award.
Younis Khan is a former cricket batsman and captain of the Pakistan national team. A little unconventional in his batting, he went on to set a record for the most runs scored in Test cricket by a Pakistani.
His Test average is over 50 and is one of the few cricketers to score a triple-hundred in an international test match. Other key career moments include a famous double-hundred against India in India, and a brilliant rearguard partnership to clinch Pakistan’s 3-0 Test whitewash over England.
As a captain, Younis enjoyed success in leading Pakistan to the World Twenty20 title in 2009.
Younis walked into retirement in May 2017 after churning out 10,099 runs in 118 Tests. Not to forget more than a half-a-dozen thousand runs in ODIs as well.
He has also scored the most centuries by a Pakistani batsman in Tests, even more than Inzamam’s 25 and is the only player to score Test hundreds in all 11 Test playing nations.
Ali Sadpara was a Pakistani mountaineer. His is not only a name but a motivational story that will last forever. He was the true definition of love, care, compassion, passion and dedication.
He climbed eight of the 14 peaks taller than 8,000 meters. His extraordinary love for the mountains and devotion to improving the lifestyle of his village is everything that is a significant part of his success story.
He was a member of the group that, in 2016, successfully completed the first-ever winter ascent of Nanga Parbat - The Killer Mountain, the ninth tallest mountain in the world. The group also comprised Italian alpinist Simone Moro and Basque alpinist Alex Txikon.
Sadpara, along with his 21-year-old son Sajid, teamed up with Icelandic mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Chilean mountaineer Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto for a joint ascent of K2 and left the highest camp on the evening of 4 February 2021.
Sajid was later forced to descend due to an oxygen regulator malfunction, leaving the other members of the team at the K2 Bottleneck, close to the summit. Sadpara, Sigurjónsson, and Prieto continued their ascent to K2’s summit, but did not return by night as planned, and were declared missing on 5 February 2021.
On 18 February 2021, Pakistani authorities announced that the three men were officially presumed dead. On 26 July 2021, three bodies believed to be of the missing mountaineers were found on the slopes above Camp 4. Sadpara’s body was found around 300 meters (980 ft) below the K2 Bottleneck.
Samina Baig is a mountaineer and became the first Pakistani woman to climb the world’s tallest mountain Mt Everest and Pakistan’s highest peak, K2. She is also the first Pakistani to scale the tallest mountains on all seven continents (seven summits).
Samina was the first to climb the peak Chashkin Sar (above 6,000 meters) in Pakistan in 2010, which was later renamed Samina Peak after her. Samina Baig captured all of the seven summits at only 23 years of age.
Samiullah Khan is one of the most spectacular former Pakistani hockey players. Known for his Panther-like speed, he was nicknamed, ‘The Flying Horse.’ Posing a threat to all sides, he was unstoppable.
He was a prize asset when Pakistan won gold medals in the biggest tournaments. This included two World Cups (1978 Buenos Aires, 1982 Mumbai) three Asian Games (1974 Tehran, 1978 Bangkok, 1982 New Delhi) and one Champions Trophy (1980 Karachi).
Samiullah captained the side which won the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games.
His exploits earned him the Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence) in 2014.
Sohail Abbas is one of the most creative and iconic former Pakistani hockey players. He was popular as the ‘King of the Drag Flick’, making him the ultimate penalty corner specialist. It was his speed and accuracy which made him the master of penalty corners.
He became the first player in the history of world hockey to score 300 goals. His total tally was also simply world-class, scoring 348 goals in 311 appearances.
Abbas won a gold medal at each of the 1999 and 2003 Sultan Azlan Shah Cups held in Kuala Lumpur. Sohail was also the top scorer in the 1999 competition, with 12 goals.
With five goals, he was also the top scorer in the 2003 tournament. Pakistan beat Germany 1-0 in the final at the Azlan Shah Stadium, on March 30, 2003. He also went on to secure a gold medal at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
Sohail himself scored a goal in the final, courtesy of a penalty corner.
Mohammad Yousuf is the former IBSF World Snooker Championship, 2006 IBSF World Masters Championship, and 1998 ACBS Asian Snooker Championship.
Born in Mumbai in 1952 he took a fancy to billiards.
At the IBSF World Snooker Championship in Johannesburg in 1994, he defeated Johannes R. Johannesson of Iceland 11-9 to win the title. In Amman, Jordan, in 2006, he defeated Australian Glen Wilkinson 5-4 to win the World Masters Championship. Furthermore, he took part in the Doha Asian Games in 2006.
Mohammad Asif is a snooker player who represents Pakistan in different international tournaments. He is a two-time winner of the amateur IBSF World Snooker Championship.
Asif has won the IBSF World Snooker Championship title twice, in 2012 and 2019.
He alongside Babar Masih won the IBSF World 6-Red Team Championship in August 2017. They also won the Asian Team Snooker Championship in September 2018 in Doha.
In 2022 he turned professional. He is the first Pakistani player to graduate to the professional snooker tour after qualifying for the final of the inaugural Asia-Oceania Q School event in Bangkok, Thailand.
Mohammad Bashir was Pakistan’s most decorated wrestler and the only Pakistani wrestler to win an Olympic medal.
He won the bronze medal in the welterweight (73 kg) division of freestyle wrestling at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
In addition to winning four medals in the Asian Games, Bashir earned three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. These included a gold medal from 1966 Bangkok, two silver medal-one in freestyle and the other in Greco-Roman style in 1962 Jakarta, and a bronze from 1958 Tokyo.
His gold medals at the Commonwealth Games were won in 1958 (Cardiff), 1962 (Perth), and 1966 (Kingston). Mohammad Bashir participated in the lightweight class (70 kg) at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964 but could only advance to the third round.
The Pakistani government awarded Mohammad Bashir the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 1962 and a Pride of Performance Award in 1968.
He died on 24 June 2001.
Inam Butt is a Pakistani wrestler. He is most known for winning the gold medal in freestyle wrestling against his Indian opponent, Anuj Kumar on points at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The Gujranwala native also took home bronze at the 2014 Asian Beach Games, gold at the 2016 South Asian Games, gold at the 2016 Asian Beach Games, silver at the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship, gold at the 2017 World Beach Wrestling Championships, and silver at the 2017 Commonwealth Wrestling Championship.
Butt won gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the 2018 World Beach Wrestling Championships, the 2019 South Asian Games, the 2019 ANOC World Beach Games, the 2021 World Beach Series, the 2021 World Beach Games, the 2021 Asian Olympics Qualifying Rounds, the 2021 World Beach Series, and the 2021 World Beach Wrestling Series.
In the 2022 Commonwealth games, he secured his second silver medal.
He also received a Pride of Performance award on March 23, 2019.