February 15, 2014

The golden trio of Pakistani captaincy

Misbah has been a terrific leader but it's still not enough to knock off Imran, Mushtaq and Kardar off their lofty perch

Mushtaq Mohammad's appointment as captain heralded a new dawn for Pakistan © Getty Images

Following the Test against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, the signature win that he needed, there has been discussion of Misbah-ul-Haq's record as captain, with some even suggesting he could possibly contend for the title of the second-best captain in Pakistan's history. Statistically there is certainly a case to be made, and the context provided by those who came before him can only exalt his work, but despite his achievements thus far, the Mount Rushmore of Pakistani captaincy already has three men, and none of them is named Misbah.

The first name, obviously, is Imran Khan. The second belongs to a man who, spiritually if not actually, preceded him: Mushtaq Mohammad. And the third might be the most important man in Pakistan's cricket history: Abdul Hafeez Kardar.

Back in 2011 there was a small debate over the renaming of Gaddafi Stadium following the Colonel's death. At the time Osman Samiuddin reasoned that it would be most fitting to name the stadium after Kardar. His argument then was based more on Kardar's work after he retired, but his playing career - or rather his captaincy alone - could have made a worthy case too.

Some context first: it took India 40 years to win a Test match against every other Test-playing nation at the time, when they beat West Indies in Port-of-Spain in 1971, their first win against them in 25 attempts. New Zealand too had to wait until the 1970s to complete the set. It took Sri Lanka almost two decades of trying, and neither Zimbabwe nor Bangladesh have yet achieved the feat. West Indies had unqualified early successes - they beat Pakistan, India and New Zealand in their first bilateral series, and it took them only half a dozen Tests to win for the first time against Australia and England.

Pakistan too were impressive early. They won a Test match against every other nation (bar South Africa, who they did not play) within six years of their first Test match. More remarkably, they won at least one Test match in their first series against each of those teams. They completed their set in 1958, against West Indies, in a series that was also to be Kardar's last (he had captained Pakistan in every match until then). During this time he had drawn a series in England, and won against Australia. What happened after Kardar was what is supposed to happen to new entrants. What happened under Kardar is unprecedented.

Much like the man who would replace him as Pakistan's greatest ever captain, Kardar was an Anglicised Oxonian, supposedly a "born leader". A Test player before independence, he, like Fazal Mahmood and Imtiaz Ahmed, was selected to the Indian squad for the 1947-48 tour to Australia. All three declined, forsaking international cricket during some of the best years of their careers in the hope that Pakistan would play Test cricket one day. All three, predictably, would be part of Pakistan's first Test XI in October 1952.

Most accounts paint Kardar as fiercely nationalistic and of the belief that the stick was preferable to the carrot. One could argue that almost every successful Pakistan captain since Kardar has tried to imitate the model he created. Of course, Kardar was helped by external factors too. He had the advantage of taking over the captaincy of a newly independent country and all the positives (automatic motivation and team spirit) that come with it. Pakistan could also select players, like Kardar himself, from an established cricketing tradition rather than needing to forge one from scratch - and therefore had something rare for a new entrant, a genuinely world-class bowler in Fazal. But even so, Kardar's achievements as captain are extraordinary.

And considering his resumé, it was unsurprising that he ended up running the PCB (or the BCCP as it was known then). By the time he took over in 1972, Pakistan cricket - on and off the field - was in the gutter. The cricket board "had been for years a homeless entity, existing out of a trunk and then an office in Karachi's National Stadium", as Samiuddin wrote, and the national team had finished the 1960s with just two Test wins. Kardar took the board to Lahore and began the process of the professionalisation, thus setting up the platform that a generation of talented players required. Pakistan spent the first half of the '70s regaining respect, but their fortunes only improved slightly on the field - they became more difficult to beat, but winning was still an alien concept; and when they did get close, the gods weren't kind to them.

Then in 1976, Kardar appointed Mushtaq Mohammad - in his 18th year in Test cricket - captain of the national team for the first time. In the years since Kardar's retirement, Pakistan had won only five of their 53 matches in 18 years (yet bizarrely still had a win-loss ratio of 1.0 or better against two of the five teams they played).

But Mushtaq's appointment was to herald the dawn of a new age. His first match as captain was to be the exact moment when the era began. The top run scorer in that match was a debutant by the name of Javed Miandad. The leading wicket-taker was Imran Khan, who until then had picked up just five wickets in four Test matches. Under Mushtaq the generation of the early '70s finally found the consistency that they had lacked before. Each of Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Asif Iqbal averaged over 49 under him; add Mushtaq himself, Wasim Raja (who too averaged over 40) and the prodigy Javed (who averaged 78), and Pakistan had the closest that they have ever come to a golden age of batting.

But Mushtaq's greatest achievement, apart from inculcating a winning mentality, was the change in Pakistan's bowling set-up. In the years since Kardar retired, more than 45% of Pakistan's wickets had been taken by spinners. Under Mushtaq less than a third were taken by spinners, with more than half being accounted for by Imran and Sarfraz Nawaz alone. So one could argue that Mushtaq Mohammad is the father of all that we consider stereotypically Pakistani: the bullying strokeplayers and the fast-bowler-heavy attacks of the next quarter century. Pakistan would go on to win eight and lose only four matches under Mushtaq, winning a Test (and drawing a series) in Australia for the first time, and winning a series against India for the first time too.

Eventually Kardar left because of altercations with Mushtaq, and Mushtaq's legacy has been gobbled up - consciously or otherwise - by the school of Imran. Thus if they were to be sculpted on to a Mount Rushmore they would probably all be facing away from each other, but what could be more Pakistani than that?

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harsh on February 19, 2014, 9:26 GMT

    Overall it was Mushtaq Muhammad who led the rennaisance in Pakisatni cricket.Before his ear as a capatin Pakistan had great talent but were not able to function as a cohesive team Mushtaq united the likes of Majid,Zaheer,Asif,Imran and Sarafraz into a great sides which could be ranked on par with West Indies and Australia.the 1976-77 win at Sydney was the greatset turning point in Pakistani cricket.Bad umpiring cost Pakistan a drawn rubber in 1977.Mushtaq was the equivalent of a Clive Lloyd for Pakistan whose own performances inspired the team.

    At times Mushtaq could be mechanical as a captain.Similarly tactical errors by Imran cost Pakistan test wins at Edgbaston in 1982 and at the Oval in 1987.Infact Imran was over defensive against India in 1987 with only 1 test having a result.

    The most over defensive skipper was Zaheer Abbas who virtually led to draw a test match.

    I praise Imran for initiating neutral umpiring which played such a crucial bearing on the game.

  • Harsh on February 19, 2014, 9:16 GMT

    I would have loved to have seen Wasim Akram capatain Pakistan more who at his best was phenomenal particularly in one day cricket.It was Wasim who led Pakistan to their 1st win in the trainagular tournament down under in 1996-97 beating WEst Indies and Australia.He also led Pakistan to runner up spot in the 1999 world cup and never lost a series as a captain.

    Although Javed Miandad was overshadowed by Imran overall I still rate him a fine skipper who had the potential of ranking with the greats with his sound experience and knowledge.Remember the 1985 world championship of cricket and the 1980 and 1989 home series v Australia.

    Both Mushtaq and Imran although great leaders had a tendency to tactically err.Mushtaq would often make mistakes on changes with the ball and could be ultra-defensive while Imran did not posess the tactical genius of Mike Brearley,Ian Chappell or Mark Taylor.

  • Harsh on February 19, 2014, 9:08 GMT

    Without doubt Imran Khan was the bets ever captain of Pakistan.He posessed the qualities of a great political statesman and organized a bunch of talented individuals who were fragmented into a world -beating unit.Few skippers ever inspired their fellowmen like Imran who could ressurect his team from the grave like in the 1992 World cup reminding one of a great military commander leading his batallion.It was Imran who led Pakistan to their first series wins in England and India ,to come within inches of becoming the 1st team to topple the mighty Carribeans on their own soil for 15 years in 1988 and capture their 1st world cup world cup title.

    Close behind is Mushtaq Muhammad who organized a bunch of talented individuals into a cohesive unit and draw their 1st seriies on Australian soil in 1976-77.Mushtaq's Pakistan team came close to toppling the West Indians a little later losing 2-1 in West Indies.

    Sadly Wasim Akram's tenure was cut short who had the potential of being a great one.

  • Nasser on February 17, 2014, 13:03 GMT

    1 Mushtaq 2 Misbah 3 Kardar 4 Miandad 5 Imran

    - after you analyse ALL the conditions before and after their captaincies, inter-alia:

    a. win/loss ratio b. away/home win/loss ratio c. taking out the best from team members/instil a to-win mentality d. performance of team members under each captaincy e. strength of the team f. strength of the opposing teams g. the situation of the team before & after - performance and politics.

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2014, 10:22 GMT

    Miandad was the most educated and most unbiased captain of Pakistan.When he started speaking on big occasion he represented Pakistan in most glorious was.

  • zomma on February 17, 2014, 7:45 GMT

    People who consider any other Pakistan captain in the same league as the trio need to first acquire an in depth insight into the history of Pakistan cricket. Memories are short and that is why recent past or current often becomes the only picture. The difference between the trio and the others is that the others were mere captains while the trio were leaders who transformed Pakistan cricket, winning under all conditions including in their worst enemy's own backyard; somewhat similar to what Brearley did for England.The proof of their stature lies in the period proceeding their tenure; the same 10 men who were world beaters under them were falling like nine pins. What we ought to analyse though is what made each of the trio a great leader and look for same qualities in our future captains. Kardar's towering personality and education, Mushtaq's seniority and a sharp cricketing brain and Imran's personal performances as the worlds best allrounder got the best out of the other 10 men.

  • umar on February 16, 2014, 7:07 GMT

    But how come you compare those teams with the Misbah s team. You can't compare a single batsman with mushtaq s team they were all batting legends of Pakistan batting history.And also Mushtaq captained the Pak side on the home territory,while Misbah doesn't enjoy that feat,Misbah has given Pakistan team a calming effect,I mean he is there for last two years as a test captain but there is no one threatening his captaincy as we had seen in the past when there are 7 or 8 captains playing in the side resulting in grouping,so in my opinion Misbah is surely the best captain given the circumstances still managing an excellent win loss ratio, he should be regarded as the best captain ever for Pakistan.

  • Faraz on February 16, 2014, 6:21 GMT

    And how come one keeps on forgetting Miandad's impressive captaincy record? Abroad and at home!

    He lost a series commendably to the WI under Lloyd 0-1 and won a test down under against Australia when both were invincibles in the 1980's despite the lack of support from the senior players and showed commendable leadership at all intermittent times he took over from Imran.

    It is a fact Miandad won a few matches where Pakistan had lost all hope. The case is the match against england in the 1987 WC when Imran left the field. The win against Wi in 1981 Benson and Hedges bowling Wi out for 140 and Pakistan winning by less than 20 runs and a few other matches. How come they are never mentioned?

  • Richard on February 16, 2014, 2:40 GMT

    @ ishrat1971:-" IMO Pakistanis want flair and charisma from their captain which unfortunately Misbah lacks, so even though he may captain them for another two years and win several series he shall unfortunately be remembered for his dour dead bat than for his consistent performance as a captain and as a player."

    Bingo! Give the man a prize. Hit the nail on the head, Pakistan want a 'macho' captain, for want of a better word. Given the choice so do we Aussies, but you have to go with what you have, and you can end up being pleasantly surprised. Misbah is just what the doctor ordered atm, the right man to steady the ship in stormy seas and see it safely into harbour. Allan Border did the same for us. Misbah's a lot tougher than he looks, but it's his fate to be merely tolerated at home and hugely respected overseas.

  • Abdul on February 15, 2014, 18:47 GMT

    In my opinion Pakistan's captain ranking should read like this 1- Kardar..taking on all the countries with a new side 2-Misbah..taking on all the teams away from home grounds after big deep turmoil in our country's cricket 3-Mushtaq being the first captain to win away tests easily 4-Imran 5-Waseem Akram 6-Inzimam 7-Saleem Malik

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