Kaptaan vs Kaptaan

Published November 13, 2016
Illustration by Sohail Hasan
Illustration by Sohail Hasan

The jury is still out if Misbahul Haq is actually the country’s most successful captain ever, but such debates never end with any definite conclusion. Do they? This is what we said a few weeks ago here in this very space while discussing the fiercely and ferociously fickle world of Pakistan cricket captains.

Now that Misbah has become the longest-serving (surviving?) individual in that capacity, it’s time to return to the debate. But let’s keep it a Socratic debate where the purpose is to open up avenues of thinking rather than shutting the doors with myopic arguments with the intent to force a conclusion.

It’s quite fashionable in recent times to compare Misbah’s tenure with that of Imran Khan, but there is actually a bit more to the issue than that. While Khan was, and remains, a legendary figure and among the greatest of all-rounders who have ever graced the field, public memory, for whatever it is worth, has converted him into a fabled character for leading that equally-fabled bunch of ‘cornered tigers’ to the 1992 World Cup glory in Australia.


Who is Pakistan’s greatest cricket captain ever — Imran Khan or Misbah-ul-Haq? Let’s set public perception aside and look at cold, hard evidence


At the risk of committing a cricketing blasphemy in the eyes of the legions of Khan fans across the land, one might venture to point out that it was the shorter version of the game, and the victory was the equivalent of what Younis Khan and his charges in England achieved in 2009 for which this lesser Khan doesn’t get counted among the great captains.

Misbah’s status as the national captain, and the worth of the landmark he has achieved with his longevity, needs to be seen in the context of Test cricket to have a level playing field. Let’s turn to some statistical data for a bipartisan view.

Before we get down to individuals, it seems appropriate to put the touchstone of a national benchmark in place. At the end of the recent outing against the West Indies, Pakistan has played 402 Tests, winning130 of them and losing 114, with the remaining 158 ending in a stalemate. This translates into a winning percentage of 32.33, and a win-loss ratio (WLR) of 1.14.

The relevant data for Misbah stands at 49 Tests with 24 wins, 14 losses and 11 drawn games. The winning percentage is 48.97, and the WLR is 1.71. For Imran, it is: 48 Tests, with 14 wins, 8 losses and 26 draws. The winning percentage is 29.16, and the WLR is 1.75.

This data, cold as it is, proves one critical element: Misbah’s winning percentage is a good 16.64 points above the national average, while the corresponding digits for Imran are 3.17 points below — repeat, below — the national average; the difference between the two greats being an astounding 19.81 points.

Contrary to the popular trend of comparing the two and deciding in favour of Imran, statistics suggest there is hardly anything to compare. Misbah wins it hands down. Of course, he is not as charismatic or charming or handsome or articulate as Imran was — still is to some eyes and ears — so Misbah is handed the second position as an act of largesse. Taking the two names in the same breath is for many an accolade worthy enough for someone like Misbah. Data suggests otherwise. It should actually be the other way round, it insists.

The problem with data is that it doesn’t account for emotions. It continues to call a spade a spade. Let’s see what else it has to bolster the argument. Imran is also considered a highly attacking captain who was not afraid of a loss and would do anything to go for a result. The national average of drawn games, mind you, is 39.30 per cent over the course of 402 Tests. Under Imran, a draw was the result in 54.16pc of his tenure, while in Misbah’s case it is 22.14pc. Imran is 14.86 above the national average, while Misbah is 17.16 below the benchmark. The difference between the two is, again, an astounding 32.02 percentage points. There is hardly any point comparing the two. It’s a non-starter except in the domain of public perception where fables beat facts without much of an effort.

Away from the statistics, the manner in which the two started and sustained their respective tenures might open up the debate a little further. Misbah had captaincy thrust on him in the wake of the 2010 off-field disaster in England. Imran was the compromise candidate in the wake of a player revolt against Javed Miandad playing under whom was considered an act below the self-esteem of some lofty selves.

Moving on, Misbah has been around as the senior statesman ever since he was elevated to the office, having missed only one Test. Imran picked and chose his outings and left the team in the lurch quite frequently. Miandad and Zaheer Abbas had to fill in whenever he was away; 29 times in all. He had his injuries, but he also had his choices. ‘Pakistan first’ was not a call that consumed his energies back then, it seems.

Misbah has nurtured a team with calculated professionalism and while respecting the system. Imran did it with an iron hand and with public disdain for anything in the name of a system. And he was not always right in picking his men. The people who found themselves in the cold for being on the wrong side of the divide are more than a few, but naming them would be no fun for it is, indeed, a matter of perception. But two of the worst freeloaders can be named because their own records are there to settle the matter: Mansoor Akhtar and Rameez Raja. Just take a look at their Test records and you will not feel like arguing any further.

The whole point is not to run anyone down. Imran was what he was. But the condescending tone towards Misbah that is often used while comparing him with Imran is somewhat irritating.

If at all Misbah has to be compared, he needs to be seen against the exploits of, hold your breath, Mushtaq Mohammad, who, unlike Imran, is more legendary than fabled. Incredulous, right? We will be back here next time to conclude this Socratic debate. Just wait.

humair.ishtiaq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 13th, 2016

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