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ESPNcricinfo Awards

ESPNcricinfo Awards 2017 Captain of the year nominees: the super six

Our half-dozen picks of the best leaders in world cricket

Varun Shetty
Varun Shetty
It's my party and I'll scream if I want to: Virat Kohli won like a boss in 2017  •  BCCI

It's my party and I'll scream if I want to: Virat Kohli won like a boss in 2017  •  BCCI

Virat Kohli
Tests: Played 11, Won 6, Drawn 3, Lost 1
ODIs: Played 26, Won 19, Lost 6, NR 1
T20Is: Played 10, Won 6, Lost 4

On paper, India only lost one "series" of their 17 across all formats in 2017 - the solitary T20 game in West Indies. Unlike in 2016, Kohli led across all formats. He had two major challenges on the field; the first one came in February, when the visiting Australians stunned India with a 333-run Test win inside three days. Kohli turned things around with particularly good use of his bowlers in the face of both formidable deficits and slender leads and India went on to win 2-1. However, it was his worst performance as a batsman since debut - he made 46 runs in five innings. His other big setback came in the Champions Trophy final in England, where India produced their worst performance of the tournament. Kohli's personal failure in that match against Pakistan was particularly magnified. But he finished the year on top of the ODI chart (1460 runs), was the fourth-highest run-getter in Tests, with 1059, and won ODI series against England, Australia and New Zealand. With 31 wins in 47 matches across formats, he was one of the best leaders in cricket.
Steven Smith
Tests: Played 11, Won 6, Drawn 2, Lost 3
ODIs: Played 13, Won 5, Lost 6, NR 2

Through the year, Smith's presence was often the only thing holding Australia together, as a feeble middle order endured difficult away tours of India and Bangladesh. Some thought Smith peaked in 2015, when he hit six centuries and made 1474 runs, but an almost identically purple 2017 - six centuries as he topped the charts again with 1305 runs - established two things: that Smith loves Ashes years, and is by some way the best Test batsman of his generation. His best came at the start and the end of Australia's season. On the India tour, he engineered a massive win to start the series, and through both his batting and captaincy, had India under pressure through the series. In the Ashes he became the leading run-getter at the end of the fourth Test, by which time he had already sealed his first Ashes title. A highlight of 2017 was Smith's captaincy of spin, particularly his use of Nathan Lyon, who finished as the year's highest wicket-taker.
Sarfraz Ahmed
Tests: Played 2, Lost 2
ODIs: Played 13, Won 11, Lost 2
T20Is: Played 10, Won 8, Lost 2

Sarfraz had the best possible start as Pakistan's permanent captain in 2017. First, he saved them from being knocked out of the Champions Trophy with a measured 61 not out in a three-wicket win against Sri Lanka, and then he lifted his team against all odds to the title. Sarfraz was at the forefront of two grand homecomings. The first one, after the Champions Trophy, was raucous and involved bus parades for his team and throbbing crowds outside his home in Karachi. The second was the return of cricket itself to Pakistan, when he led Pakistan to a series win against the World XI.
The emergence of his leadership style was on par with other big events in Pakistan cricket last year, including a historic Test series win in the West Indies, and the retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Stump mics everywhere provided evidence that he was a man who oozed conviction and wasn't afraid of voicing it. His batting took the backseat after he assumed the leadership role, but Pakistan managed an 82% win rate in limited-overs cricket under him.
Asghar Stanikzai
ODIs: Played 16, Won 8, Lost 7, NR 1
T20Is: Played 10, Won 7, Lost 3

Afghanistan's upward trend in limited-overs cricket continued in 2017, with ODI series wins against Zimbabwe and Ireland to start off, before a drawn series away against the West Indies. In T20Is, they had a win percentage of 70%. The all-time peak in their cricketing history, however, came when they topped the table in the Intercontinental Cup and earned status as a Test team. Stanikzai made a century in every I-Cup innings he played this year, and finished fourth in the overall standings of the two-year-long campaign, despite playing only eight innings in seven games. Afghanistan have become rampant under him, with a bowling line-up that has picked up all 60 wickets on offer in first-class cricket this year. Having been earmarked as the sensible one when Afghanistan's foray at the top level began, Stanikzai came of age in 2017 and became their most important batsman.
Heather Knight
Tests: Played 1, Drawn 1
ODIs: Played 12, Won 9, Lost 3
T20Is: Played 3, Won 2, Lost 1

In many ways, the brief to Knight when she was asked to replace Charlotte Edwards as captain was simple - do better than in the T20 World Cup. A semi-final exit in the 2016 edition was a low point for England and all subsequent efforts were aimed at turning things around in the World Cup in 2017 at home.
England were tripped up in the very first match by India, but Knight's team was unstoppable after that. The captain herself led the way in the next match, with a century. That kicked off a winning streak that led them to the final, where staring at the prospect of another upsetting end for England in a world event, Knight tossed the ball to Anya Shrubsole, which led to an Indian collapse that would eventually read 7 for 28 as England lifted the title. Knight had turned things around.
She kept England alive in the Ashes later in the year, making two fifties in the Test, including a rearguard action that saw them play out 105 overs. She led them to a 2-1 result in the T20Is that followed, instead of the 3-0 that they needed to win the Ashes, but was awarded an OBE for her successful year as captain nonetheless.
Mithali Raj
ODIs: Played 19, Won 15, Lost 4

If 2017 was the year women's cricket came screaming into prominence, Raj was its ambassador in India. One of only two players in the team to have ever made it to a World Cup final, all the way back in 2005, India's captain led the way she knew best - by making tons of runs. She began with the qualifiers early in 2017, getting a fifty in each of her three innings as India finished first. She then led them to another win in a quadrangular series in South Africa, where too she made fifties in each of her three innings. By the time the World Cup came along, India had played 11 matches abroad, lost two, and Raj had batted only six times despite her sensational form; younger players like Deepti Sharma, Punam Raut, Mona Meshram and Veda Krishnamurthy were the benefactors heading into the tournament. The form of both captain and team continued into the World Cup, and despite the loss in the final, Raj's side achieved a greater victory - narrowing the gap between the attention received by women cricketers and their male counterparts.

Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo