The Curse of the Pakistani Cricket Captain

by Devanshu Mehta

Imran Khan & Javed Miandad

Let’s first get this out-of-the-way– in my opinion, Pakistan has been the most entertaining cricket team of my lifetime.

Ok. On to business.

Bumbai mei khelte hain, Imran se darte hain

As with all good filmi melodrama, this story begins with a Khan.

In 1987, after the World Cup, two subcontinental heroes retired from cricket– Sunil Gavaskar and Imran Khan.

Sunny ascended to the commentary box. Imran got a call from the General– Imran Khan returned to cricket in 1988 at Zia ul-Haq’s behest.

(Note: Zia is the first, but by no means the last ul-Haq in our tale.)

At the age of 39, Imran Khan led his scrappy team to their first World Cup victory and promptly retired. Again.

Musical Chairs

And Pakistan cricket was never the same again. Over the next three years, Javed Miandad, Saleem Malik, Rameez Raja, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Moin Khan and Saeed Anwar had all been One Day International (ODI) captains. What’s worse, they all had to coexist on the same team. In the mid 90’s, Pakistan was a team full of former captains.

Here is the list of all Pakistan ODI captains since Imran (criteria: captained > 5 ODIs):

  1. Javed Miandad (’92-’93)
  2. Saleem Malik (’92-’95)
  3. Rameez Raja (’92-’97)
  4. Wasim Akram (’93-’00)
  5. Waqar Younis (’93-’03)
  6. Moin Khan (’95-’01)
  7. Saeed Anwar (’95-’00)
  8. Aamer Sohail (’96-’98)
  9. Rashid Latif (’98-’03)
  10. Inzamam-ul-Haq (’02-’07)
  11. Mohammad Yusuf (’03-’10)
  12. Younis Khan (’05-’09)
  13. Shoaib Malik (’07-’09)
  14. Shahid Afridi (’09-’11)

That’s fourteen captains in nineteen years. To contrast, Pakistan had played ODIs for nineteen years before Imran retired. In those years (’73-92), they only had ten captains— and only four that captained more than 5 matches, which has been our criteria so far. Four captains for the first nineteen years, fourteen for the next.

Compare with the rest of the teams in the same (’92-’11) period:

  • Australia: 8
  • India: 7
  • South Africa: 6
  • England: 11
  • New Zealand: 9
  • West Indies: 9
  • Sri Lanka: 6
  • Zimbabwe: 10

England comes close, mostly due to their post-Vaughan, pre-Strauss dithering.

And we haven’t even started to talk about Test cricket yet.

Except for short periods of stability, Pakistan has always had a captaincy crisis. The problem is even worse in Test cricket, where captaincy is generally a long-term anointment. Even in the long form of the game, Pakistan has had fourteen captains since Imran, while England has had seven, NZ and Australia five, Sri Lanka and India six. [Criteria for test captains is more than three tests as captain.]

And now, the Pakistan Cricket Board has announced a team, but no captain for the World Cup next month. Will it be Shahid Afridi? Or the third ul-Haq of our tale– the plucky Misbah? Perhaps, the PCB will decide they need a break from captains. Who could blame them?

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