Illustration by Sohail Hasan
Illustration by Sohail Hasan

Without beating about any sort of bush, let’s get going with the Socratic debate we had initiated the last time regarding successful Pakistani cricket captains.

We touched Misbahul Haq and Imran Khan in the previous column, and today it is about going a little further back in time to add two more glittering names to the discourse.

Read more: Kaptaan vs Kaptaan Part 1

There may be many ways to assess a captain’s influence on the team, but none better than the outcome of the matches. Statistics do have certain limitations, but nothing beats them in terms of their ability to draw a picture as close to reality as is possible. They do that nine times out of 10 and, therefore, let’s stick to them.

We start with Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the man who practically gave Pakistan cricket its identity in its infancy. The fact that the team was able to register at least one victory against every single Test-playing nation in its debut series owed much to his leadership skills. At Lucknow against India, at The Oval in England, at Port of Spain against the West Indies, and the home victories against the visiting Australian and New Zealand sides, were testimony to Kardar’s skills to optimise the potential of a motley bunch of players, and put Pakistan on a firm footing at the outset.


Captaining any hypothetical all-time Pakistan XI will be a tricky task with super egos floating all around. Who is there to do the honours?


Kardar led Pakistan in 23 Tests, winning and losing six each, registering a success ratio of 26 per cent, and a win-loss ratio (WLR) of 1.0 (against 1.7 each for Imran and Misbah, as discussed previously). This was no mean achievement considering the circumstances in which it was achieved, but statistically he remains behind Imran and Misbah.

With due reverence to those who followed in his footstep, however, there was none to match his skills. During the 1950s, Pakistan played 29 Tests, winning eight of them. Six of these came under Kardar who quit in 1958, while the other two came under Fazal Mahmood against the West Indies at Karachi and Dhaka.

During the 1960s, Pakistan played 30 Tests, winning just two, both of them under Hanif Mohammad at home against New Zealand. It is quite evident that with the departure of Kardar, Pakistan suddenly lost the ability to win.

Towards the turn of the decade — October, 1969, to be exact — Intikhab Alam found himself leading the side without being able to register any improvement in terms of the team’s keenness to win during his 17-Test tenure. There were 11 drawn games under him and five losses, which means there was one victory — a precious commodity in those days. From October 1969, when Intikhab had taken over, to October 1976, Pakistan played 20 Tests — Majid Khan was the captain for three of them — but there was just that lone victory.

This basically leads to some baffling conclusions. Of the 37 Tests played by Pakistan in 15 years between 1960 and 1975, Pakistan could win only three. On an average, a victory every five years or one in a dozen Tests. If one includes the 1959 part of Fazal’s tenure as captain as well, it means five victories in 43 Tests over 16 years under seven captains. Lest you may have forgotten already, Kardar had six successes in 23 outings over six years. That, for you, is some perspective.

The post-Kardar drought spanning over a decade-and-a-half finally came to an end when Mushtaq Mohammad turned the whole thing around in 1976. What underscores his talent as a leader of men was the fact that he turned things around with almost the same set of players who had been around for some time. Sadiq Mohammad, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Raja, Wasim Bari, Sarfaraz Nawaz, Imran Khan had all been there with their talent and potential, but without someone who could make them perform as a unit.

Mushtaq led Pakistan for just two-and-a-half years during which he won eight, lost four and drew seven, with a success ratio of 42pc (against 29 for Imran and 49 for Misbah) and a WLR of 2.0. Among all those who have led Pakistan at least 15 times, only Javed Miandad has a better WLR of 2.3 (14 wins and six losses in his 34 Tests).

Mushtaq clearly is the man who brought the winning attitude to a team that had all the stars but nothing to show for it. He started off with a 2-0 series win against New Zealand at home that marked the arrival on the scene of Javed Miandad and Sikander Bakht. Then came the memorable tours of Australia and West Indies that brought in Mudassar Nazar and Iqbal Qasim, and marked Pakistan’s first ever win on Australian soil, and only the second victory in the West Indies. The landmark revival of Pakistan-India ties was sealed with a thrilling 2-0 score line at the height of the famed Indian spin quartet. His last hurrah came on the twin tour to New Zealand and Australia in 1979 with a win each on either side of the continent. Mushtaq remains the only Pakistan captain not to have lost a series in Australia. That is some achievement.

The biggest attribute of Mushtaq’s captaincy was his ability to optimise the potential of his wards and give them a vision. The opening partnership of Majid and Sadiq blossomed under him like never before. Zaheer, who had nothing but two double centuries on previous tours to England, started scoring against other sides as well, most notably against Australia and India. Asif Iqbal became the middle order mainstay, earning the sobriquet ‘the man of crisis.’

Mushtaq’s man-management skills, however, were never more evident than in the case of Sarfaraz Nawaz who could do all sorts of things with a cricketing ball, but had an attitude that was bigger than his talent. Mushtaq turned him into a team man, getting the best out of him at least twice in his eight victories as captain.

At Karachi in 1978, Sarfaraz opened the path by dismissing Sunil Gavaskar with a delivery that broke the concentration of the master who had all but secured a draw for the Indians. Sarfaraz finished him off as well as the tail, taking nine wickets in the match and allowing Pakistan a chance to go for victory.

And then came the Melbourne miracle of 1979. On the last evening of the Test, Australia, with seven wickets in hand and only 77 runs needed for victory, was coasting along nicely. Called in for another go, Sarfaraz took charge and the match finished 65 balls later. Sarfaraz’s contribution: seven wickets for one run from 33 deliveries, finishing the innings with figures of 9/86. It remains one of the greatest bowling feats in the history of cricket.

How critical was Mushtaq’s role in getting such feats out of Sarfaraz could be seen by the simple fact that Asif, who replaced Mushtaq as the national captain in characteristic Pakistani circumstances, refused to take the paceman to India for being a bad influence on the team, and paid the price by losing the series.

Mushtaq should have continued to lead the side for some time. A win every five years or a dozen Tests was the average when he had taken over. Under his charge, it was one every four months or every third Test. His statistics could have been even better had it not been for the missed tour to England in 1977-78 during which Wasim Bari was leading the side in the absence of the Packer-contracted players, but that, of course, is a matter of conjecture.

It was under Mushtaq that Imran became the phenomenon that he was and for which he will always be remembered. His actual career as a frontline fast-bowling all-rounder practically started in 1976. It was nice of him to continue the tradition of spotting and grooming talent when he had the opportunity.

So, who is the man to lead any hypothetical all-time Pakistan XI: Kardar, Mushtaq, Imran or Misbah? We will all have our choices and that is perfectly fine in any Socratic debate, but Mushtaq does have the statistics to make a case for himself and an attitude to back it up with. In nurturing the young and reining in the wild, Mushtaq stepped on no one’s toes and discreetly turned a seriously dysfunctional, non-performing unit into a major force in world cricket.

The hypothetical Pakistan XI will surely have super egos floating around aplenty, and it would be nice to have someone like Mushtaq to get the best out of them. He was not as aristocratic as Kardar, nor as authoritarian as Imran, nor as docile as Misbah. Think about it.

POSTSCRIPT: This piece has been written without any acknowledgement of the rather surprising response (reaction?) to the first part of the discussion. The third part of this series will consider and respond to the feedback.

Read more: Kaptaan vs Kaptaan Part 1

humair.ishtiaq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 27th, 2016

Opinion

Editorial

Olympics contingent
21 Jul, 2024

Olympics contingent

FROM 10 in Tokyo the last time, it is now down to seven in Paris, and split across just three disciplines. When...
Grave concerns
21 Jul, 2024

Grave concerns

PUNJAB Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz’s open assault on the Supreme Court for ruling in favour of the PTI in the...
Civil unrest
Updated 21 Jul, 2024

Civil unrest

The government must start putting out fires instead of fanning more flames.
Royal tantrum
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Royal tantrum

The PML-N's confrontational stance and overt refusal to respect courts orders on arguably flimsy pretexts is a dangerous sign.
Bangladesh chaos
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Bangladesh chaos

The unfortunate events playing out in Bangladesh should serve as a warning sign for other South Asian states.
Fitch’s estimate
20 Jul, 2024

Fitch’s estimate

FITCH seems to be more optimistic about Pakistan accelerating its economic growth rate to 3.2pc during this fiscal...