In the field of sports, let alone just cricket, captains play an integral role in shaping their team’s performance as a unit as well as individuals. Narrowing down the scope to cricket, captains in the ‘Gentlemen’s game’ probably have the most important as compared to other forms of sports. Cricket is perhaps the only sport in which a captain does more than just play the game or wear an armband. (Paracha) They must perform both on and off the field; on the field including their own performance, leading from the front, thinking on their feet, and rescue the team from a critical situation if the need arises in case of poor performance by other individuals. Off the field, captains are the ones that have their heads ending up on a chopping block in cases of defeat and they are the ones who must answer disturbing questions posed by the news reporters. (Paracha)
Therefore, the process of short-listing captains for the contest of the greatest captain of Pakistan cricket is a thorough one and it all comes down to the final three which comprises of Misbah-ul-Haq also referred to as ‘Captain Cool,’ Imran Khan, hailed as one of the pioneers of reverse-swing bowling, and Abdul Hafeez Kardar, known as the ‘Founding Father of Pakistan cricket.’ These three all-time Pakistani greats have been selected for this race based on their captaincy skills and individual performances. People might say that Misbah played most of his matches on the dead U.A.E pitches where it is easy to dominate world-class teams and that Imran Khan’s side performed exceptionally well on overseas pitches but it would be wrong to compare them on this basis since Misbah did not get to play overseas much.
However, the true test of a captain’s greatness would be to consider the circumstances under which they took charge and lead the team successfully, the number of test matches the team won under them and the type of players that played under them i.e. who had the potential to turn into superstars and got vital breakthroughs for their captains or a mediocre side that went on to take the world by surprise and became force to be reckoned Therefore, keeping in mind the criteria set for determining the greatest cricketing captain of Pakistan, it can be safely concluded that Misbah-ul-Haq, the ‘Captain under criticism,’ is the greatest captain in the country’s cricket history.
Talking about time, it is something that can either shape people into world-class personalities or cause them to suffer heavy blows in the face due to mismanagement of the circumstances provided to a person. The same can be said for Pakistan cricket captains when they were made to lead the national side under challenging times and many of them steered the ship to safety. The three prominent ones are A.H Kardar, Misbah-ul-Haq and Imran Khan, each of whom was made captains under strict times, each different from the others, and all of them managed to lead the team exceptionally well to a status of recognition and international praise. Mr. Kardar was appointed as the first ever test captain of Pakistan in 1951. The time when A.H Kardar took charge, the atmosphere surrounding the country and the cricket team was probably one of the toughest ones put in front of any leader in any field. Pakistan, at that stage, was struggling to make its mark at the global level has recently acquired independence as well as facing internal issues of religious and political turmoil and so was the cricket team.
Once a part of the well-established cricketing India, the newly born structure had one goal in mind, that is to show the world it could play test cricket, not as a part of India like before but as the Islamic Republic State of Pakistan, and it did so by defeating the inventors of the game, England, then playing under the name MCC, at Karachi in 1951. This victory led the world to believe that Pakistan was a force to be reckoned and it was very well capable of playing the highest form of cricket, test matches. When Pakistan toured India in 1952, its first international venture as a test playing nation, the world had no expectations at all from the amateurs and they lost the first test of the series, in fact, their first ever test match, by a huge margin of an innings and 70 runs. However, Kardar led his men resolutely and bounced back strongly in the second game to level the series in the Lucknow test. This victory made a mark on the world that the raw and inexperienced talent under Kardar’s wings was strong enough to beat a top side that had almost all its players playing national cricket since before partition.
However, as if this victory was not enough on its own to convince the world about Pakistan’s position, Kardar went a step further and defeated the world class MCC team in their own backyard at The Oval in 1954. Fazal Mehmood being the crowd’s darling as he removed twelve English batsmen in the match and picked up the Man of the Match award. Like Fazal Mehmood said, “England had been defeated by 24 runs and Pakistan’s name had come prominently on the map of international cricket.” (Oborne 104) Pakistan, at that time, was the only country to defeat England in a testing encounter in their first series against them and this was the deciding factor that enables ‘The Skipper’ to fulfill one of the criteria of this contest. Jumping almost 30 years ahead, the world came to know of the dashing all-rounder, the legendary Imran Khan as the captain of the unstable and divided Pakistan cricket team. 1982, captain Javed Miandad, had to step down from his post as his appointment had taken the senior members of the squad by surprise, more specifically the flamboyant batsmen, Zaheer Abbas and Majid Khan who managed to get another eight players on their side and all ten of them refused to play under Miandad. Thus, a new captain in the shape of Imran Khan was appointed, much to everyone’s surprise as Javed had resigned on the terms that he would not play under Zaheer or Majid, leaders of the rebellion against him, even though Imran Khan was one of the rebels.
The circumstances faced by Imran were such that ‘Khan had to lead a team that was severely troubled by in-fighting and had in it some players who even refused to speak to each other’. (Paracha) Over the next two years, Imran Khan led the team from a divided side and turned it into one that soon dominated the world, especially the West Indies and the formidable Australians. His evolution from a fast-bowler to a world class all-rounder instilled in him ‘a somewhat authoritarian and an almost dictatorial approach.’ (Paracha) Therefore, Imran Khan becomes the strongest competitor in the race of the greatest captain of Pakistan cricket. Lunging forward approximately another thirty years forward, we see the era of Misbah-ul-Haq, probably the most criticized captain in the country’s history as well as the most loved superstar after establishing a strong foothold amongst Pakistan’s all-time greats. The times he faced when he was appointed as a captain, were probably one of the toughest ones could face.
He, at that time, himself was making a comeback into the national side and had to answer the selector with his performance. To make things worse for him, Pakistan had just been deprived of its three key players; the incredibly talented eighteen-year-old pacer M. Amir, the skillful veteran seamer M. Asif and the captain and the opening batsman Salman Butt, due to involvement in a spot-fixing case. Moreover, another year ago, in 2009, the Srilankan cricket team was attacked by a terrorist group in Lahore while on their way to resume the 2nd test match on day three and the tour was at once, abandoned. Although the real victims of the attack were the Srilankan cricketers Pakistan cricket has been the victim ever since. (Kimber) Such were the circumstances provided to Misbah, and that too with a shaky team that was looked upon as cheaters in the whole world, yet he led the team with dignity and helped Pakistan reach No.1 spot in the ICC rankings. Thus, Misbah-ul-Haq, not only fulfills one of the criteria to be ranked amongst the all-time greatest captains, he also wins the contest.
One of the best ways to conclude whether a captain can be ranked as the greatest one in his country’s history would be to look at his performance as a captain i.e. the number of test matches the team has won under him. Mr. Kardar, the first test captain of Pakistan, only led the team for a short period time but he nevertheless, had a huge impact on the team’s morale and the players due to his captaincy skills and remarkable victories over top teams. Abdul Hafeez defeated all the then test playing nations except South Africa who never faced Pakistan during his captaincy. These victories include the famous wins over India, Pakistan’s first ever test win, and England, both at the oppositions home grounds, as well as a home series win of 2-0 over New Zealand, not to forget triumphs over Australia and West Indies at Karachi and Port of Spain respectively.
This took his tally to 11 draws, 6 wins and as many losses in a total of 23 matches during which he captained the team and has a winning percentage of 26.1%. (Paracha) Kardar held this record of most test wins by a Pakistani captain till Khan was appointed as the captain in 1982 just before Pakistan’s tour to England. He captained the side in two parts, first from 1982 till 1983 when he decided to take a break due to his shin fracture and then came back two years later into the side in 1986 and then went on to achieve even more greatness till 1989 when he retired but was called back by the board to lead the team in the 1992 world cup in which Pakistan ended up emerging victorious. During his tenure as captain of the national side, Imran Khan led the team to 14 victories in 48 matches and lost 8 matches while drawing none. This gave him a winning percentage of 29.16%, higher than A.H. Kardar and the record of most test wins by a Pakistani captain. (Russell)
These statistics allowed Imran Khan to move to the first position in this category until Misbah-ul-Haq defeated Australia in U.A.E in the first test of the 2014 series and leveled Imran Khan’s record of 14 test wins. Misbah eventually went on to surpass this record and kept adding further test wins to his magnificent captaincy profile by defeating New Zealand in U.A.E, Bangladesh, and Srilanka in their own backyards and then overcoming England, first in U.A.E and then in England. With the first test match between Pakistan and Australia in progress, the Pakistan skipper currently holds the record of the most test wins by a Pakistan captain with 24 wins under his belt while losing only 15 matches and drawing 11 matches, allowing him to boast a breath-taking winning percentage of 47.05%. these record breaking figures propel Misbah to the top of yet another competition between the top three contenders for the title of ‘The Greatest Test captain of Pakistan.’
Another nail-biting contest can be seen between these three Pakistani greats if the players gave to them and their subsequent achievements are considered. No matter how excellent a captain’s leadership skills are, his squad certainly does play a vital role in helping their skipper make a name for himself as well as the country. Either a captain is blessed with a team that has individuals who can turn into superstars and hence they goes on to achieve greatness with the help of their captain’s brilliant abilities or the captain possesses enough resolve to lead a mediocre side to success. The three captains under discussion, Kardar, Khan, and Misbah, are undoubtedly three of the best cricketing minds this country has seen and hence their leadership skills are unquestionable. The final criteria to determine a captain’s greatness is the team they lead and the success they achieved with that team.
Going back to 1951 when the great A.H. Kardar was appointed as Pakistan’s first ever test captain, he had a side that had a mix of experienced players like himself and the legendary Fazal Mehmood along with relatively new faces such as the original ‘Little Master’ Hanif Mohammad and other players who were not exposed to international cricket much. Yet, with a team that had no test match experience (Kardar lead Pakistan to its first ever official test match), but many incredibly talented players like Fazal Mehmood, Hanif Mohammad, Khan Mohammad and Imtiaz Ahmed, Abdul Hafeez pulled off unimaginable victories and announced to the world that Pakistan was not to be taken lightly. Imran Khan, on the other hand, built a team that would go down as one of the greatest lineups in cricketing history. Ex-paceman Aqib Javed, who himself played under Khan once said on a TV show, that there was Sir Clive Lloyd’s team, then there was Steve Waugh’s team and then there was a team constructed by Imran Khan, hence highlighting the caliber of the ‘Imran-led’ team.
He had youngsters like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aqib Javed who went on to become all-time greats as well as support from veterans like Javed Miandad, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and himself who had already proven their class at the global level. These players can, without doubt, be any captain’s dream pick, therefore, coupled with Imran Khan’s outstanding leadership skills and cricketing mentality, this squad went on to establish Pakistan’s place as one of the most dominant sides in the world. However, with such players, it seems highly unlikely that a captain would face any difficulties in achieving glory. The context could not have been better to mention Misbah-ul-Haq and his squad. He was appointed as the captain of the test team when he himself was struggling to find form and a permanent place in the side along with other players in the side who themselves were unsure about their future in the team. Misbah was given a team that had no exceptional players apart from Younis Khan.
The team was blessed with the dynamic fast bowling duo of M. Amir and M. Asif along with the previous skipper and stylish opening batsman Salman Butt but unfortunately, they ended up getting involved in spot-fixing and hence faced a suspension from cricket. Therefore, with a team that looked shaky and lacked confidence, Misbah leads the team with a great deal of resolve and calmness which would make Pakistan reach the top of the ICC Test rankings for the first time. The once mediocre players like Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali are now acting as the backbone of the Pakistan team and were named by Younis Khan as those players who had the potential to serve Pakistan for 100 test matches. Therefore, Misbah leads a team which was and much less talented than Imran Khan’s world class lineup and proved to the world that nothing is impossible if you have the determination to succeed and reaches the summit.
On the contrary, there are numerous people who argue against the success of Misbah and insist that Imran Khan was the greatest test captain in Pakistan’s history. The statistics and the respective achievements of Misbah and Khan overshadow those of Kardar, not at all undermining his skills in any way, hence leaving us with two of the strongest competitors. A strong argument to announce Imran as the greatest Pakistani test captain is that he led the team against the West Indies during the 1980s and drew three series with them at a time when they were considered invincible due to their terrifying pace attack comprising of Joel Garner, Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, and Courtney Walsh and lead Pakistan to a series win in England. Moreover, Imran’s supporters argue that Misbah won most of his matches on flat U.A.E pitches where it even the top teams of the world were brought to their knees by Pakistan and whenever he played outside U.A.E, he did not achieve much success.
This leads us to draw an interesting comparison between Khan and Misbah. No Pakistani captain, let alone these two, has ever won a test series against South Africa against South Africa so it would be unfair to bring up Pakistan’s 3-0 loss to them in 2013. Moreover, it is not per the will of the captain or the players to decide where to play. It is the Future Tour program of the ICC that draws up the schedules and unfortunately for Pakistan and Misbah, they don’t get to play much cricket outside Asia. During the 6 years that Misbah has been the captain, Pakistan has played a test series outside Asia just 4 times including the ongoing tour to Australia and excluding one Zimbabwe tour where conditions are not considered so tough to play in. Therefore, when people bring up Imran Khan’s success against teams in their own backyard, it would be only fair to do so if Misbah’s team was also given an equal chance to play on foreign soil as much as Khan’s team did.
In conclusion, there seems to be a never-ending list of Pakistani legends who proved to be brilliant captains including but not limited to, A.H. Kardar, Imran Khan, Mushtaq Mohammad, Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq, and Misbah-ul-Haq. However, only three of these all-time greats, Kardar, Imran and Misbah qualify for the race for ‘The greatest test captain of Pakistan cricket’ based on their exceptional skills, both as captains and individuals. The criteria set to determine the greatest of these three comprised of the circumstances under which they took charge of the team since tough times can show the real character of a person, the number of tests wins under their captaincy and the type of team provided to them i.e. a blend of talent with just a few experienced players like in Kardar’s team, a combination of immense talent and skill coupled with experience as in Imran’s team or doubts regarding players’ and the captain’s selection for the future as well as mediocre players who could not be relied on heavily like Misbah’s squad.
Therefore, in each of the three criteria defined above, Misbah comes out on top in each of them since he faced the toughest circumstances, has the most number of test wins and lead the weakest side, both in terms of skill, experience, as compared to the other two. Hence, it is safe to conclude that Misbah-ul-Haq, is the greatest test captain of Pakistan cricket.
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DAWN.COM. Dawn News, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Dec. 2016.
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