It is no walk in the park to captain a team in the gentleman’s game. They have always been the carriers of this baggage named blame for the right or wrong reasons, but that is the asking price of that prized capital C in brackets after their name. Not all greats of the game could take up this responsibility and produce a good result, which speaks of how difficult the job can be.
From the iconic tales of WG Grace, Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Frank Worrell to this generation’s greats like Kane Williamson and Mashrafe Mortaza, we have had so many great leaders to look up to. The cricketing world has produced enough tales of legendary captains for us to relish it for centuries to come.
Here’s an all-time XI of all those amazing captains who made the game so special with their contribution.
1. Sourav Ganguly
Zaheer Khan and Sourav Ganguly. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
One of the cult legends of Indian cricket, Sourav Ganguly set a mentality in the Indian side which made them believe they can compete against anyone, on any soil. Without a shadow of a doubt, he will go down as one of the finest leaders this sport has witnessed. With a charismatic persona and unmatched aggression, he penned down a beautiful chapter in the history of Indian cricket.
With a win percentage of 53.52 in ODIs, he made a very special name for himself in the fraternity. Under his captaincy, the likes of Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Mohammad Kaif, Irfan Pathan and many others made great progress and contributed profusely to his stupendous success rate.
He also led the team into the final of the 2003 World Cup, where they infamously lost to Australia. Besides his astounding captaincy record, Ganguly paired up with Sachin to make up one of the most formidable opening pairs of all time in One-day cricket. Till date, their pair holds the record for the most runs by an opening combination in this format (6,609 runs in 136 innings at an average of 49.32).
2. Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith. (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
A critical phase of South African history came after the 2003 World Cup, where a young Graeme Smith was asked to take over the captaincy from Shaun Pollock. A move which many expected to be an unnecessary gamble turned out to be a significant milestone moment in their history as Smith became the most capped and most successful captain in the history of Test cricket.
Smith’s most significant contribution came in the Test matches for South Africa, where they began to become an indomitable force. His record was stellar in ODI cricket as well, winning a staggering 92 games out of 150 matches he captained the Proteas. His win-percentage of 64.23 ranks as the second-best among captains (Minimum 150 matches), only behind another legendary leader named Ricky Ponting.
He nearly scored 7,000 runs as an opener for the Proteas in the ODIs, leading them in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. He built a side which terrorized teams in bilateral tours, but the team could never win an ICC trophy. It would be fair to say, the trophy was a tad unlucky to never get wrapped in the hands of this gentleman.
3. Ricky Ponting (c)
Ricky Ponting of Australia acknowledges the crowd. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
The leader of all leaders, the most successful captain in the history of International cricket, Ricky Ponting picks himself in this elite list. The great man from Tasmania made his ODI debut in 1995 and went on to represent the national team till 2012. He finished his career as the second-highest run-scorer and is also third on the list of most centuries in this format.
A lot of people live with the misconception that Ponting had a stellar unit and it was easy for him to lead that side. But that isn’t true as it takes great man-management skills to deal with such a bunch of superstars. He was a master at it and we could easily say his Australian side from 2000-2007 was perhaps the greatest ODI unit of all time.
Besides that, the stat which makes him the captain of captains is a win-percentage of 76.14 after leading the team in 230 games. Australia lost just 51 matches during his tenure at the helm, also winning the ICC World Cup and the Champions Trophy two times each. He is the only captain in history with 4 ICC trophies to his name.
4. Brian Lara
Brian Lara. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
With ample Caribbean swagger and plenty of class flowing from his willow, Brian Lara terrorized bowling units while he was there in the middle. Known as the marathon man of Windies cricket, he played some outstanding big-daddy knocks for the country and although they were going through a critical phase, he stood as a ray of sunshine slightly enlightening a dark tunnel.
One thing which needs to be highlighted while talking about Lara the captain is that he always led by example. He rarely had players who were half as good as him apart from a few brilliant bowlers. Despite the adversities, he had a win percentage of 50 in 125 matches. He captained the side from 1994 to 2007 but had some breaks in between with the likes of Carl Hooper coming in briefly.
He played a crucial role in helping West Indies reach the World Cup semifinals in 1996 but unfortunately, they never reached that stage in the 50-over World Cup again. Lara nevertheless had a stellar individual record in ODI cricket, registering 10,405 runs in 299 ODIs at an average just in excess of 40.
5. Steve Waugh
Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh. (Photo Source: Getty Images)
Losing the 1996 World Cup final to Sri Lanka, Australian skipper Mark Taylor paved way for Steve Waugh to take over the mantle. A lot of pundits doubted if the aggressive all-rounder could take this team to greater heights, but as it turned out, his phase as the leader was a critical chapter in Australian cricket, if not world cricket history.
During this period began the era of what we called the “Mighty Aussies”. Australia had a dramatic outing in the 1999 World Cup, which they eventually won and Waugh made a stellar contribution with the bat. Coming in predominantly in the middle order, he scored 7,569 runs in 325 ODIs for the five-time World Champions.
He captained Australia in 106 ODIs and won 67 games, with a win percentage of 65.23 and under his tenure, some great names like Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden made huge progress.
6. MS Dhoni (wk)
MS Dhoni & Virat Kohli. (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Captain cool is what they call him and he personified calm-and-composed leadership. Sourav Ganguly passed on the torch to MS Dhoni, who turned out to be one of the greatest captains this game has ever seen. From taking some very harsh decisions to developing one of the finest fielding units ever, his contribution to Indian cricket was immaculate.
A tactical mastermind, Dhoni was a difficult person to deal with for the opposition. Some of the famous achievements under his leadership include the World Cup and Champions Trophy wins in 2011 and 2015. India also won their first-ever series in Australia under his leadership, winning the CB series back in 2007/08.
With a win-percentage of 59.52 in 200 games as captain, he ranks second among captains with most wins in this format. He also was ranked the number one batsman in ODIs for a fairly long period of time during his prime days and amassed 10,773 runs in 350 ODIs at an average in excess of 50.
7. Kapil Dev
Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. (Photo by Patrick Eagar/Popperfoto via Getty Images)
India’s first captain to win the World Cup, Kapil Dev and his Daredevils achieved the impossible dream in 1983. With a team which many felt was not on par one-on-one with the other sides, Kapil Dev’s inspirational leadership helped the team scale new heights. The inspiration his team provided paved way for many other legends of Indian cricket.
His team provided the ignition to Indian cricket, which went on to scale great heights in the coming years. The fast bowler was always leading by example, contributing either with the ball or bat whenever the side needed him. He led the team for five years from 1982 to 1987.
He captained the team in 74 ODIs and the team won 39 of them. After giving up the captaincy in 1987, he continued to play till 1994 after which he hung up his boots. He finished his career 3,783 runs at strike-rate in excess of 95 and 253 wickets with the cherry in hand.
8. Imran Khan
Imran Khan. (Photo Source: Twitter)
Arguably the greatest ever cricketer produced by Pakistan, Imran Khan carried an aura as no other cricketer has ever done. He was the undisputed boss, who also continued to inspire a generation of legendary cricketers. Just before he retired, his Pakistani unit which had some amazing youngsters like Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-Haq, lifted the World Championship in 1992.
He led the ODI unit from 1982 until he retired after the 1992 World Cup. His leadership style was a bit autocratic, but that worked brilliantly for the side. Towards the end of the 80s, his Pakistani unit was being as one of the strongest in the world alongside the Windies and Australia.
He led the team in 139 ODIs and a win percentage of 55.92, Besides his personality and outstanding leadership, he was also one of the finest fast bowlers the game had seen. He picked up 182 wickets in the ODI format in 175 games, apart from scoring 3,709 runs with the willow.
9. Wasim Akram
Wasim Akram. (Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)
It wasn’t easy for Pakistan after the retirement of the great Imran Khan to find a good leader, but one of his finest finds Wasim Akram ended up leading the side brilliantly for a fair period of time. Apart from troubling the batsmen with his pace and swing, he was also a brilliant tactician who led the team into the 1999 World Cup final.
Not a lot of fast bowlers did a great job as captain for their respective units, but Akram was remarkable during his tenure. His fast bowling partner Waqar Younis was of great help during this time. Incidentally, Waqar took over the responsibility from Wasim Akram for the 2003 World Cup, which turned out to be Akram’s final assignment in ODI cricket.
His captaincy statistics are as impressive as his leadership really was. In 109 matches, Pakistan won 66 games and he ended up as the most successful captain in their history with a win percentage of 61.46. He was the first bowler in ODI history to pick 500 wickets in a career and until Muttiah Muralitharan surpassed him, he was the highest wicket-taker in this format.
10. Daniel Vettori
Daniel Vettori’s No. 11 ODI jersey. (Photo by Marty Melville/Getty Images)
If the team needed one spinner, there was only one choice among all the iconic captains. Daniel Vettori was another tactical genius, under whom the team developed some splendid youngsters. It wasn’t easy for him to take over the duty from Stephen Fleming, but with the finite resources he had, he did a decent job.
The left-arm spinner was one of the few non-Asian spinners to have played for such a long period of time and to have excelled as a leader was not an easy task. New Zealand came close to achieving something significant under his captaincy, but they fell short.
In his 82 matches as a captain, New Zealand won 41 matches and had a win-percentage of 55.33. He totally played 295 matches for the Kiwis, picking up 305 wickets. The likes of Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson took giant strides under his leadership and towards the end of his captaincy days, the Kiwi cricket was beginning to reach the new heights.
11. Shaun Pollock
Shaun Pollock of South Africa. (Photo Source: Getty Images)
There were two bowlers in the late 90s and early 2000s who proved that pace was not everything. One was the Aussie great Glenn McGrath and the other went by the name Shaun Pollock. With his metronomic accuracy and majestic swing, Pollock’s artistry made the whole community of fast bowlers proud of what they were doing.
He took over the captaincy duties in 2000 and led the team in the ODIs for five years. This was a very controversial time in Proteas history with their nation’s favourite son Hanse Cronje openly accepting his involvement in spot-fixing. It wasn’t easy for Pollock to take over, but he did a fabulous job to ensure the cricketing world forgot what happened with a string of good performances.
He captained the ODI side for 97 games, before stepping down and handing the responsibility to Smith. They won 60 of these 97 matches under him, with a win-percentage of 64.06. He also picked up a whopping 393 wickets in this format.
Honourable Mentions – Clive Lloyd, Mashrafe Mortaza, Allan Border, Mahela Jayawardene, Hanse Cronje.
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