December 31, 2013

Is Misbah one of Pakistan's best captains?

If you go by the numbers of wins and individual performances while in charge, he hasn't done too badly

As captain, Misbah-ul-Haq averages 57.92 in victorious Tests and 92 in drawn Tests © AFP

When it comes to Pakistani cricket, longevity is automatically a hallmark of greatness when judging captains, since it implies that the leader in question managed to tame the wild forces that rip Pakistani cricket apart long enough to establish some sort of coherent reign.

Two thousand and thirteen marked three years into the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq, and thus represents a remarkable achievement in the context of Pakistani cricket. The question now is: where exactly does Misbah rank on the all-time list of Pakistani captains?

Just as it is when we judge any player's importance in cricket, there appear to be two broad ways of looking at a captain's achievements - their personal performances and the track record of their team. Pakistani captains tend to perform much better once they secure the top post, which is, of course, the best way of warding off challenges to their reign. It is a facet visible in most Pakistani captains, and, for me, is best exemplified by Shoaib Malik's figures. A player with a bit of a Machiavellian reputation, his ODI average jumped 11 runs during his stint as captain.

To begin our exercise we must first stop to marvel at the majesty of Imran Khan's golden age. Although Imran will forever be remembered as the captain who won the World Cup, arguably his greater triumph lay in having led Pakistan in three Test series against the greatest side of all time and not losing a single one.

While those drawn series against West Indies require context to be appreciated, Imran's statistics as captain are possibly the most unequivocal proof of his prowess. As captain, his batting average in Tests jumped from 37 to 52, while his bowling average dropped from almost 23 to 20. Nearly half his career five-fors and five of his six centuries were recorded as captain. During his spell, he was one of the highest-averaging batsmen and lowest-averaging bowlers in the team.

It is unlikely therefore that any captain in Pakistan (or even world cricket, for that matter) will ever be able to rival Imran, which means that the highest Misbah can aspire to be is second-best. There are three other captains who can challenge that position: Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

To be honest, I was surprised to see Miandad had led Pakistan in as many matches as he did, given that he played in Imran's era and got the captaincy in bits and pieces. However, Miandad led Pakistan to as many Test wins as Imran (14), had a superior win-loss ratio (2.33 to Imran's 1.75), and won more Test series than any other Pakistani captain (eight series wins to Imran's five). Miandad's marquee wins included a home series against Australia and beating England both home and away. However his batting average dropped almost three runs as captain, and he only had one away hundred as captain compared to three by Imran, who also took six five-fors away from home as captain. While he was undoubtedly a remarkable captain, Miandad seemed to be unable to play as inspirationally as Imran (or even others) could.

Akram comes next in the list of pretenders. He led Pakistan to 12 Test wins and six series wins. His teams won 48% of their matches but also lost 32% of them, and out of his ten series he only drew one. His marquee wins included away wins in England and New Zealand as well as the Asian Test Championship.

It is also relevant to look at the ODI records of Akram and his successors, because the format's priority and prestige had increased during their time. Akram's teams had a 61.5% winning record in limited-overs, which is almost identical to Waqar's and behind Shoaib Malik (66.6%) for Pakistani captains with at least 20 matches under their belt. Akram led Pakistan to a World Cup final, a World Series win Down Under, as well as a host of Sharjah trophies.

Individually, the captaincy didn't seem to affect Akram's figures much, with his batting and bowling averages both showing improvements of around one run when captain across both formats. Of course, what the stats don't reveal is the shadow of match-fixing that plagued Wasim's legacy, which is perhaps the reason his record feels less significant.

That leaves the two Haqs to contend with - Inzamam and Misbah. In terms of bilateral ODI series, Misbah leads Inzamam. He has 12 wins and five losses to Inzamam's ten-six, although both these figures are bolstered by some frivolous wins. Both also won away series in India and the West Indies, though the fortuitous Asia Cup win and presiding over the first series win by an Asian team in South Africa gives Misbah the edge. In Tests, Inzamam led Pakistan to five series wins (and can lay claim to a sixth, over South Africa, although he missed most of the tour including the match Pakistan won). Misbah has five. Both have had famous wins over England at home (Misbah's was in UAE), with Inzamam adding a series win over India at home as well.

Individually, Inzamam's Test average went from 49.6 to 52 as captain, while in ODIs it went from 39.5 to 43.8. The numbers also seem to suggest that Inzamam's teams lived and died with him - in matches Pakistan won, his Test average went up to 94, while his ODI average shot up 19 runs to 58. Conversely, when losing, his Test average plummeted to 19.8, while in ODIs it went from 39.5 to 33.

Misbah's Test average as captain improved from 46 to 57, while his ODI average also went up four runs to become 49. What's interesting is that while Misbah averages 57.92 when Pakistan win a Test, his average shoots up to 92 when Pakistan draw one. It's a salient feature, since it allows us to see the difference in the fortunes and styles of the two sides.

Inzamam's side was considerably more blessed than Misbah's. Under Inzamam, both Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan averaged over 60 in Tests. In contrast, Misbah has been the best batsman in his side, with an average of 57, followed by Younis at 54 and Azhar Ali at 43. Mohammad Hafeez's average of 34.8 as a top-order batsman under Misbah is lower than Shahid Afridi's 42.5 under Inzamam.

In terms of bowling, Inzamam had far more talented players (Mohammad Asif, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul etc) but Misbah's players have the better record, with Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman having shared most of the wickets. What these figures make clear is that Misbah's team has managed to match the record of Inzamam's side despite having far less talented personnel.

Of course, even with all these stats there are still a thousand arguments left for each of the candidates, and many ways to look at this question. However, there is no doubt left that Misbah has joined the ranks of Pakistan's best captains and has a chance to establish himself as the all-time second-best.

The author would like to acknowledge the help of Emad Zafar Iqbal in researching for this piece.

Ahmer Naqvi is a journalist, writer and teacher. He writes on cricket for various publications, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here