The recently concluded Abu Dhabi test was Misbah’s 14th test win. He now holds the joint record for the most Test wins by a Pakistan captain, along with Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. That is just for now, when Misbah has captained Pakistan in only 31 Tests, while Miandad and Imran led in 34 and 48 respectively.
With the New Zealand series around the corner and Pakistan on a roll, it would not be surprising if Misbah leaps ahead to become the country’s most successful Test captain. So is Misbah the greatest Test captain in the history of Pakistani cricket?
At least on paper he does appear to be so, but there is a catch in stats – they are like bikinis, revealing a lot but not everything.
Misbah has led Pakistan in 31 tests with 15 home tests in UAE and 16 away tests. His record in UAE is second to none with eight wins in 15 tests, and he is yet to lose a series in UAE. These wins include series wins against Sri Lanka, England and Australia (whitewash) and draws in two hard-fought series against the mighty South Africans (arguably the best Test team of today).
Away from home, his record is not bad either, with six wins from 16 tests. However, four of the six away Test wins have come against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and other 2 wins against lowly ranked West Indies and New Zealand. Misbah’s only series win outside UAE has come against New Zealand in 2011. He also led Pakistan to a 3-0 defeat in South Africa (whitewash) and two series defeats in Sri Lanka while drawing test series against the lowly ranked West Indies and Zimbabwe.
So what does the above tell us about Misbah’s captaincy?
Before we arrive at a conclusion, let us have a quick look at the other two most successful captains of Pakistan: Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.
Imran Khan led Pakistan to 14 wins in 48 games. During Imran’s captaincy, Pakistan did not lose a single Test series at home, one of which was a 3-0 routing of India in 1983 and 3-0 white wash handed to Australia in 1982.
However it is Imran’s 'away' track record that is most impressive. He led Pakistan to a Test series win in India and England in 1987, and was the only captain in the '80s who challenged the men from the Caribbean by not losing a Test series to them. In all the years when Imran was at the helm, Pakistan only lost three Test series: 2-1 to England in 1982 (his first one while in-charge), and two against Australia in Australia (2-0 in 1984 and 1-0 in 1989).
Javed Miandad had hop-on and hop-off captaincy stints, as he was asked to lead Pakistan at three different times of his career. Thrust into captaincy at a young age of 23, he faced rebellion in his first stint by senior cricketers, resulting in a Test series defeat at home against West Indies (1-0) and one to Australia in Australia (2-1).
Miandad resigned and Imran took over the reins, but Miandad still led Pakistan whenever Imran was injured or unavailable.
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In these periods, he did not lose any home Test series and recorded series wins against England and Australia, and a Kiwi whitewash. His only away opportunity during that time came in New Zealand in 1985, where Pakistan lost a close Test series 2-1. Miandad’s third time in realm came after the retirement of Imran Khan in 1992, where he led Pakistan to a series win England and a one-off Test win in New Zealand.
Though Wasim Akram has only 12 wins compared to Misbah, Imran and Miandad, I felt it would be better to throw him into the comparisons too.
Wasim, like Miandad had three captaincy stints with the first one in 1993 after Miandad was sacked. In that short stint, Wasim was on the receiving end of a 2-0 series defeat in the Caribbean and his only win came against the minnows Zimbabwe.
Wasim’s second stint was more productive, as he captained Pakistan to a series win in England and a home whitewash of West Indies in 1997; his only series loss comin against Australia in Australia in 1995 (2-1).
Wasim's third and last stint came in 1999 before the much anticipated Indian tour, where he led his men to a 2-1 win in Tests. However, a poor trip to Australia, where he became the second Pakistani captain to lose all Test matches in a series, saw him giving up captaincy for good.
Considered purely in terms of win/loss ratios, the numbers tell a bizarre story.
Miandad is leading the pack with an overall win/loss ratio of 2.33. Second is Imran, with Wasim and Misbah close together at third position.
Breaking the overall numbers into separate ones for home and away wins, we find that all four captains are more or less as good as each other when it comes to winning away Tests; Misbah technically being the winner here.
At home, Wasim Akram is the winner for not having lost a single one of his nine tests. Miandad, who led in 11, lost just one game while winning ten. On third position is Imran Khan, who edges out Misbah by 0.5 points.
So we can see now that as far as the percentage of victories goes, the skippers rank differently in every criterion.
After the above analysis, I think it is reasonable to say that as all four great Pakistani captains have been invincible at home, in (Misbah's case UAE), it is the away record which should reflect their true stature.
But even so, one cannot simply pick a winner based on the hundredth decimal point.
Outside of the math (and even inside it), I would say Imran Khan still stands out as Pakistan's greatest captain. He has an impressive away record which includes series wins in India and England. Miandad and Wasim Akram can get their hands for runners-up position as both have notched wins in England and in Wasim's case, India too.
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Misbah, on the other hand, has had limited opportunities away from home, as he has never led in England, Australia or India. But his away record in Sri lanka, Zimbabwe and South Africa is not stellar either. Out of four matches against Sri Lanka, he won none, and as for the three matches against South Africa, he lost all three.
At 40, it looks highly unlikely that Misbah will lead Pakistan in Tests in Australia and England (and thus salvage his away record against better teams), because Pakistan’s next assignment in that part of the world does not arrive before 2016.
Misbahul Haq may yet go down in cricket history as Pakistan's most successful Test captain. For cricket followers like me, however, he will be remembered as a great captain in familiar conditions of UAE, but with not much to write home about outside the desert.