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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2015 Captain of the year nominees: leader of the pack

Five men come to mind when it comes to picking the captain of 2015

Raunak Kapoor
Under Virat Kohli, India turned a 1-0 deficit around to beat Sri Lanka  •  Associated Press

Under Virat Kohli, India turned a 1-0 deficit around to beat Sri Lanka  •  Associated Press

Virat Kohli
At the end of his first year as full-time Test captain, one thing was clear: Virat Kohli will do what it takes to win. Whether it is taking a shot at an improbable final-day chase, playing five bowlers, partaking in send-offs for opposing batsmen, or putting it over the world's No. 1 team on underprepared pitches, Kohli does what he thinks is necessary to get the job done, and he shows little regard for those questioning his ways along the way.
Rejuvenating a side that had almost forgotten what it was like to win a Test was one of his biggest achievements of 2015. Getting the best out of his bowlers was probably another. A first away series win in four years was achieved when India turned a 1-0 deficit around to beat Sri Lanka in August. The confidence showed in the bowlers saw R Ashwin turn in the best performances of his career so far, and the supporting cast step up when needed. A 3-0 drubbing of South Africa, regardless of all the talk about the pitches for the series, made it five wins out of nine in 2015, capping a mighty satisfying year for India's new Test captain.
Alastair Cook
The last two years couldn't have ended any more differently from each other for Cook. Beaten by Sri Lanka in 2014, stripped of the ODI captaincy, and axed from the team just a couple of months shy of the World Cup set the seal on a year in which he averaged 32.50 with the bat from eight Tests. In striking contrast, 2015 ended with a thumping Test win against the South Africans in their own den, and Cook finished as the year's third-highest run scorer, with 1364 at 54.56. And let's not forget regaining the Ashes, which made up for England's bitter disappointment at the World Cup.
Cook's development as captain in 2015 made that Ashes victory that much sweeter. He was more attacking than in 2014, with more freedom in his approach, more relaxed in demeanour and more innovative in his field placings. Be it straight-ish short mid-ons on slow pitches in the UAE or a declaration on the second day of the Trent Bridge Test, the Cook of 2015 had developed into a pretty sound all-round leader.
Being decent tactically, getting the best out of a relatively new guard of players and securing the urn, while being dependable with the bat is already significantly more than many expected of him 12 months ago.
Pakistan have been splendid in Tests and lacklustre in ODIs more than once in recent times. Last year, Misbah-ul-Haq continued the fortification of Pakistan's adopted home, which Australia failed to breach in 2014 and England in 2015. On the other hand, limited-overs laurels were limited, and Pakistan's pursuit of them at times comical. Still, they were far from the worst Full Member side in the World Cup, and they produced arguably the finest spell in the tournament when Misbah threw the ball to Wahab Riaz in Adelaide against Australia. Test wins in the subcontinent over Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were significant, but more so was the fact that Misbah made Pakistan click collectively. Every man seemed to prosper under his reign, from feisty left-arm quicks to skilful spinners to senior statesmen with the bat (three among them ex-captains, all averaging over 50 in the year). Five wins in eight Tests gave Misbah the highest win percentage among Test captains in 2015, a feat befitting the captain of a side that was awesome in whites.
Mashrafe Mortaza
Any year that changes the perception of a team on the international stage for the better should almost automatically translate into immortality for the man that led them through it. Some day Mashrafe Mortaza will likely go down in history as the man who paved the way for greater things for Bangladesh.
Prior to 2015, home series wins against any one of India, Pakistan or South Africa would have made it a good year for Bangladesh cricket. To manage all three in a span of four months was incredible. And yet, even those wins probably weren't Bangladesh's biggest achievement of 2015, as England lived to painfully tell the tale.
Mortaza's most telling tactical stride was to identify and empower a young pace contingent to win him matches. Be it Rubel Hossain in Adelaide or Mustafizur Rahman in Mirpur, Bangladesh's quicks fired in 2015, and Mortaza provided the spark. An inspirational leader, respected as much in dressing rooms as in boardrooms (rare in Bangladesh cricket), he rallied his players while continuing to battle the fragility of his own body. He made Bangladesh a force like never before in 2015.
Brendon McCullum
The man whose name has come to stand for a brand of cricket and a form of captaincy in itself. The inspired World Cup run at home, which fixed the attention of a rugby nation on its cricket team for six weeks, had a lot to do with what McCullum did and what he stood for while doing it.
New Zealand made theatre out of fast bowlers who pitched it up and swung it, with slips and short catchers lurking; and batsmen who hit the ball like they hated it. Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill, Trent Boult and Tim Southee all enjoyed the best years of their international careers under McCullum in 2015.
Often the response to a boundary was an extra man catching; often the response to swinging and missing was swinging harder. It didn't always come off, but when it did, it was breathtaking. McCullum's role in breathing new life into a format that seems to have plateaued in recent times makes him stand out among his peers. To have done it while upholding the ideals of sportsmanship makes it that much more admirable.
The results were mixed. ODI series wins at home against Pakistan and Sri Lanka either end of the year made for a good home season, but they were neutralised by defeats on the road against England and South Africa. Regardless, 18 wins from 24 ODIs was a run to be proud of.

Raunak Kapoor is a presenter for ESPNcricinfo. @RaunakRK