Khan was born to an upper-middle class Pashtun family in Lahore, Punjab, in 1952; he was educated at Aitchison College in Lahore, then the Royal Grammar School Worcester in Worcester, England, and later at Keble College, Oxford. He started playing cricket at the age of 13. Initially playing for his college and later for Worcestershire, Khan made his debut for the Pakistan national cricket team at the age of 18, during the 1971 series against England at Edgbaston, Birmingham. After graduating from Oxford, he made his home debut for Pakistan in 1976, and played until 1992. He also served as the team's captain intermittently between 1982 and 1992. Notably, he led Pakistan to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Pakistan's first and only victory in that competition.