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Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Bob Willis: the rare breed of pace-bowling captains

With Cummins an injury away from leading Australia, we look back at that rare breed of pace-bowler captains in international cricket

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Courtney Walsh was captain for the 1996-97 tour of Australia which West Indies lost 3-2

Courtney Walsh was captain for the 1996-97 tour of Australia which West Indies lost 3-2  •  Getty Images

With Pat Cummins now an injury away from leading Australia we look back at that rare-breed of pace-bowler captains in international cricket. For the purpose of this list, to focus on specialist bowlers, we have excluded allrounders (using the cut-off of a batting average of 30) which means some players who were very fine pace bowlers, such as Shaun Pollock, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Ian Botham, as well as the likes of Jason Holder and Ben Stokes from the current day, are not included.
Record as captain Tests: 22; Wickets: 85 at 25.71; Won 6, Lost 7, Drawn 9 | ODIs: 43; Wickets: 48 at 29.66; Won 22, Lost 20, No Result 1
Walsh captained West Indies from 1994 to 1997, initially as a stand-in for Richie Richardson (starting with the Antigua Test against England were Brian Lara scored 375) and then in his own right after Richardson retired following the 1996 World Cup. His full-time stint in charge came just as West Indies were starting to lose their aura, especially overseas, and it was a 3-0 thrashing against Pakistan in late 1997 that ended his reign. Against New Zealand at Wellington in 1995 he claimed his career-best match figures of 13 for 55. His final match as captain was the final of the Akai-Singer Champions Trophy against England at Sharjah in late 1997.
Record as captain Tests: 25, Wickets: 107 at 23.35; Won 12, Lost 8, Drawn 5 | ODIs: 109; Wickets 158 at 22.63; Won 66, Lost 41, Tied 2
The fact Akram did not make the most of his batting talent at international level means he falls well under the cut-off for the allrounder mark (feel free to debate that all day long) although his career-best 257 not against Zimbabwe in 1996 came when he was in charge. His captaincy came in three stints between 1993 and 2000. In Test cricket he captained the 1996 series win in England, the home whitewash of West Indies in 1997, the famous victory over India in Chennai and a couple of months later led Pakistan to the Asian World Test Championship in 1999. However, later that year his team were beaten 3-0 in Australia and that ended his time. In ODIs Akram, the match-winner in the 1992 final, was captain for two World Cups. His 1996 tournament was ended by injury which meant he missed the quarter-final against India which Pakistan lost then in 1999 he took the team to the final only to be blown away by Australia.
Record as captain Tests: 17; Wickets 67 at 23.47; Won 10, Lost 7 | ODIs: 62; Wickets 97 at 24.29; Won 37, Lost 23, No Result 2
For a role that is quite rare (a pace bowler being captain), Pakistan have had more than their fair share with Fazal Mahmood and, of course, Imran beyond the two here. Younis first captained at the age of just 22 in 1993 - as a stand-in for Akram - and won his first Test against Zimbabwe by 131 runs, taking what remained his career-best 13 for 135. It was eight years later that he got the job full time and after a defeat by England at Lord's he won seven of his next eight matches as captain. Then the wheels came off against Australia when Pakistan were bowled out for 59 and 53 in Sharjah which was followed by another innings defeat. The 2002-03 tour of South Africa brought two more heavy losses and the World Cup that followed would bring the end of his captaincy and international career.
Record as captain Tests: 1; Won 1 | ODIs: 88, Wickets 102 at 35.85; Won 50, Lost 36, No Result 2 | T20Is: 28, Wickets 20 at 36.35; Won 10, Lost 17, No Result 1
A stalwart of Bangladesh cricket, Mortaza is comfortably their most successful ODI captain winning more than 50% of his matches. That has included some of their most notable moments including progressing to the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup which was followed by a golden run at home with series wins against Pakistan, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. In 2017 he then led the team to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy in England and then a series win in West Indies during 2018. He was again captain for the 2019 World Cup which started superbly with victory over South Africa before fading away. Mortaza can also say he has a 100% record as Test captain, winning against a patched-up West Indies in Kingstown in 2009 although he was injured in his seventh over.
Record as captain Tests: 18; Wickets 77 at 21.59, Won 7, Lost 5, Drawn 6 | ODIs: 29; Wickets 36 at 24.30; Won 16, Lost 13
One of England's greatest fast bowlers, Willis was named captain a year after his most famous performance - Headingley 1981 - although he had led in an ODI against Pakistan in 1978. His first summer was a success with series wins over India and Pakistan but the one chance he had to captain an Ashes series on the 1982-83 tour saw Australia regain the urn although England did secure a thrilling three-run win at the MCG. Overall, his Test average with the ball was almost four runs lower as captain. He captained England at the 1983 World Cup where they were beaten in the semi-finals by India. His last Test as captain was on the 1984 tour of Pakistan before injury curtailed his series. Midway through the next English season he was forced to bring an end to his career.
Record as captain Tests: 21; Wickets 56 at 34.80, Won 4, Lost 11, Drawn 6 | ODIs: 68, Wickets 89 at 29.22; Won 18, Lost 47, No Result 3
Streak was Zimbabwe's captain for one of the most significant moments in their history when Andy Flower and Henry Olonga staged their black-armband protest at the 2003 World Cup. During his captaincy his bowling lost some of its zip from his peak period in the mid-to-late 1990s when he had an outstanding record, but he continued to shoulder a heavy burden. Success was fleeting but there was a Test victory against India in 2001 in which Streak removed VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in the first innings then claimed Tendulkar again in the second. In ODIs he produced a fine all-round display against West Indies at the SCG when he scored 45 (out of 138) then took 4 for 8 in a Zimbabwe victory.
Record as captain ODIs 9; Lost 9 | T20Is; 24; 30 wickets at 21.15; Won 7, Lost 15, Tied 1, No Result 1
Malinga's white-ball captaincy record is not overly flattering, but it does include the significant high-point of leading them to the 2014 World T20 title when he replaced Dinesh Chandimal partway through the tournament, firstly when Chandimal was suspended for a slow over-rate and then when he opted to leave himself out. Malinga was appointed to the role full-time after that success although only for a year. In 2019 he returned to the captaincy but results were poor until lockdown came. There was one remarkable display, though, when he took 5 for 6 against New Zealand including four wickets in four balls.
Record as captain ODIs: 3; Won 2, Lost 1 | T20Is: 27; 30 wickets at 24.53; Won 11, Lost 15, No Result 1
Remember when Broad was England captain? In 2011 they went down the route of three separate captains with Broad given the T20I job a little over a year after the team had won the title in the Caribbean. They didn't come close to defending the title in 2012, but Broad kept the job until the next event in 2014 when their group-stage exit was capped by a thumping defeat against the Netherlands. That was that for Broad who has not played the format internationally since.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo