Captaining a Pakistan side is always a tough job – more because of the political issues associated with it. So, let’s see how strong the case is for Misbah-ul Haq, the present Test captain, in the race for the greatest ever to hold on to that post, by comparing him with his famous predecessor and distant relative, Imran Khan.
Imran Khan, the charismatic blue-eyed boy of Pakistan cricket, is considered by many as its greatest captain of all time. Khan captained his side a record 48 tests, winning 14 of those. He is recorded to have never lost a test match against the arch-rivals India and handed a whitewash to the touring Australian side in 1982-83 along with a 3-0 bashing of India in a 6-match home series. Like Miandad (another successful Pakistan captain), Khan too scripted a series win in English soil. But the greatness of Khan comes in his unparalleled success as an ODI skipper, leading his country to the World Cup triumph in Australia and New Zealand, 1992. After a sluggish start to the campaign (with just one victory in first 5 games including a loss to India and 10 wicket loss to West Indies and a lucky point for a wash-out against England, in which they were bundled out for just 74), the right-arm fast bowler turned the tables around in the finishing stages of the campaign in which they subdued an inspired Martin Crowe led New Zealand side twice and most importantly, in the semi-final. A devastating and memorable spell by Wasim Akram in the final against England sealed the title for Pakistan. The talismanic Khan retired (a rare Pakistani feat these days while being skipper) soon after the triumph, leading his side 139 times and finishing 75 times on the winning side – both Pakistan records.
Misbah-ul Haq, the standing skipper of Pakistan Test cricket, has won most Tests – 20. And, that too came in just 37 Tests. He also lost 10 of those. Misbah’s moment of glory came when he guided Pakistan to a clean sweep of 3-0 over top-ranked England in the UAE in 2012-13. And last year, Pakistan beat Australia 2-0 in a two-test series at the same venue. Earlier, Misbah took over the reins at a time when Pakistan cricket was plagued by spot-fixing scandal during its England tour of 2010 (leading to the suspension of the trio – Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer). He was chosen ahead of Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and Kamran Akmal, and it was an acid test for him as Pakistan hosts South Africa in the UAE. He led the team from the front, eking out a series draw against the formidable Proteas who are even better performers away from home. Recently, Pakistan beat England 2-0 in a 3-match Test series to become the No. 2 Test team in the world.
Now there is a raging debate about whether Misbah can be considered the greatest Pakistan captain ever ahead of Khan? Before looking into it, let me tell you that Misbah has been the perfect balance of pros and cons in cricket. For instance, in the inaugural World T20 in 2007, Misbah twice valiantly batted to bring his team into the game from rough waters only to sink the boat when the coast was on sight. And, both the times were against India, and once at the final. That final ball run-out to effect a bowl-out or that scoop catch to Sreesanth – he has done it all to conclude his heroic comeback spirit each occasion. To me, he is one of the greatest comeback stories of cricket. He was playing World T20 at the age of 33 (his recall to the national side six years after his initial, nondescript debut), when most of his contemporaries have bid adieu to that particular format with more interest in Tests and ODIs. He has always faced more odd challenges and he has played them really well.
But as for the debate, I beg to differ. Misbah has nothing but a modest ODI captaincy record. Winning the Asia Cup in 2012 was his biggest achievement in ODIs where as Khan has World Cup in his bio-data. Again, Misbah’s record away from home is dismal. Unlike Khan and Miandad, Misbah has little success overseas. They only won in New Zealand and in contrary, have been white-washed in South Africa (3-0) and Sri Lanka (2-0), in addition to losing a test in Zimbabwe (the only country other than Bangladesh to do so in last 15 years) in 2013. So during Misbah’s time, Pakistan more or less has been stationed in the UAE (International cricket has been suspended in Pakistan since attack on the touring Sri Lankan team in March, 2009) and as such its success is largely attributed to the doctored pitches there suited to Pakistan’s strength. Nevertheless, Misbah should be given due credit for bringing up new talents while managing his seniors subtly and leading Pakistan through a tough phase in their cricketing history being away from home since 2009.
So for me, it remains Khan’s ‘shaan’ than Misbah’s ‘haq’. What do you feel?
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Photo by World Cricket