The legend has it that Edward John Smith, the captain of the RMS Titanic, felt he let himself, his troops and the passengers down when the ship began to sink. As portrayed in James Cameron’s movie in 1997, he locked himself up and although there was a chance to save himself, he did not. Well, it doesn’t precisely epitomize or personify how a captain should be but throws light on what it takes to shoulder the responsibility of people trusting them.
Skill and temperament are obviously important for any cricketer to make it to the top level, but what separates leaders from the other 10 is their ingenuity, proactive decision-making and ability to keep the morale high when the chips are down. These are the facets which some individuals have excelled at in the glorious game, transcending their status from captains to leaders.
Here are some names in cricket history which will always be remembered for a long time as the best leaders of our game.
10. Kapil Dev
A lot cannot even dare to wonder where Indian cricket would’ve been if Kapil’s Devils had not done what they did in 1983. As the great all-rounder himself said in many interviews, they had no high hopes of winning the World Cup beating the likes of West Indies, Australia or hosts England before the tournament, but they never backed away from giving their best.
Maybe they underestimated their own abilities to a certain extent and achieved the impossible. That was Kapil Dev’s legacy as a captain, he dared the team to dream big and also produced a sensational result in 1985, winning the Benson and Hedges Trophy in Australia.
His tenure as a captain lasted just over five years, but it provided enough inspiration for the coming generations to script more fairytales. He led India in 74 ODIs, winning 39 of them and a lot of experts often rate the Indian side from 1983-1985 as one of the finest cricket teams of all time.
9. Hansie Cronje
Keeping all the controversies aside for a few minutes, one cannot ignore a chapter named Hansie Cronje in the history of cricket. If not for the match-fixing scandal, he could’ve been the greatest cricketer and captain produced by South Africa. Cronje led the team twice in World Cups, nearly reaching the finals in the 1999 edition.
Going purely by statistics, one could also argue Cronje’s name should be much higher in the list. He had a win percentage of 50.94 in Tests and a staggering 73.70 in the 138 times he led his team in ODIs. He did have a bunch of amazing players who helped greatly in making those stats look as glittery as it does, but his presence was always felt in the middle.
A lot of experts loved the way he would juggle with his bowling options and played an instrumental role in making Lance Klusenar one of the finest all-rounders of the time. One of South Africa’s most loved individuals till date (Despite getting banned for life), Cronje died at a young age of 32 in an unfortunate plane crash.
8. Sourav Ganguly
Sourav Ganguly took over the captain when Indian cricket was facing quite a predicament in the form of match-fixing. To fill the shoes of Mohammad Azharuddin as the captain was not going to be easy, but the Bengal Tiger had his own ways of dealing with situations. Many rate him as the greatest Test skipper India produced.
It was during his era when the Indian side believed they could win anywhere. The Natwest series win in 2001 was the beginning of a glorious chapter in Indian cricket and he also led the team brilliantly to the World Cup final in 2003. Under his captaincy, India won 21 Tests out of 49, losing 13 and the other 15 ending in a draw.
More than the statistics, it was his contribution in bringing up some fine young talents into the scene and also instilling a belief in them that they could be world-beaters. He is also one of the five Indian cricketers with more than 10,000 runs in ODI cricket, adding to his 7212 run-tally in Test cricket. When it came to leading by example, very few in the game were as good as the Prince of Bengal.
7. Arjuna Ranatunga
Rated as underdogs and minnows in their early years in cricket, Sri Lankan cricket needed a tall figure to emerge and make the nation believe they could achieve anything regardless of their size. Arjuna Ranatunga was one such inspirational personalities, who built a breathtaking team beginning from 1988 and made Sri Lanka a dominant force in the gentleman’s game.
Many players like Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Marvan Atapattu got the exact push they needed from Ranatunga, which helped them defeat Australia in 1996 final and win their first and only 50-over World Cup. He was one of cricket’s first personalities to win the sobriquet “Captain cool” for his outstanding temperament on the field.
Upon the platform his side built, Sri Lanka became a dominant force in Test cricket in the early 2000s, just after Ranatunga’s retirement. From 1988 to 1999, he led the Lankan side in 249 games and till date remains their most prolific leader in both formats.
6. Imran Khan
Among all the names mentioned in this list, no one exerted a level of dominance as a captain as much as Imran Khan. Pakistan’s most flamboyant and charismatic cricketer of all time, the all-rounder helped in the grooming of some fine gems in Pakistani cricket, which includes the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Imran Khan announced retirement after the 1987 World Cup, but made a comeback in early 1988 upon the request of then-President General Zia-ul-Haq. Some very iconic chapters of his career as a captain came after his comeback, which includes a breathtaking performance against West Indies in 1988 and ofcourse, the World Cup triumph in 1992.
Imran Khan was a relentless man, who was known to punch above his weight. That is exactly what he did in his cricketing career as well as his political career, which paved way for him to become the first international cricketer to have become the Prime Minister of a country.
5. Graeme Smith
Shaun Pollock did a great job as a captain when the demons of match-fixing ruined the image of South African cricket in the early 2000s. But when Pollock’s time was coming to an end, a young Graeme Smith was handed the leadership responsibilities. Little did they know what he was going to achieve.
The classy left-handed batsman was a tactical mastermind and a composed presence in the field. Time and again, his leadership put South Africa out of many predicaments and he was beginning to earn the reputation as one of the finest leaders the game has seen.
The only cricketer to have captained a side in over 100 Tests, Smith till date holds the record for most wins as a captain in the longest format. He led the team in 286 International fixtures and won 163 of them. Not winning an ICC trophy was a huge drawback in his brilliant career, but that takes nothing away from how sensational he was till he retired in 2014.
4. Steve Waugh
Although the first name which comes to mind when we think of the Mighty Aussies is Ricky Ponting, we can never forget what Steve Waugh before him to set a beautiful platform before Ponting took over. An aggressive, passionate and exuberant presence in the field, Waugh’s Australian side resembled domination levels which only was seen only in Lloyd’s Windies team.
A number of players like Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Jason Gillespie and others owe a lot of credit to this man for their success at the International stage. Although he had his share of disagreements and controversies with other major names in the team like Shane Warne, Waugh was fearless when it came to decision making and always put discipline as a major criterion.
The numbers he registered as a captain are as astounding as any you’ll see. Australia won 41 out of 51 Tests under him, to go with 67 wins in 106 ODIs. Waugh bid adieu to international cricket after the famous Sydney Test in 2004 against India.
3. Clive Lloyd
West Indies didn’t lose a Test series in over two decades beginning from 1970, a stat which would raise many eyebrows to the current generation cricket lovers. Despite having all the stardom in their ranks, they needed a calm and endearing presence at the helm to lead this side and what Clive Lloyd achieved as a captain for the Windies side in their golden days.
The captain of the side which won the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979, the fear factor was always lingering in the field, petrifying the opposition mentally. In the 74 Tests he captained, they lost just 12 times, winning 36. With a mind-boggling win percentage of 77.71 in 84 ODIs, words cannot truly portray their domination in the making years of this format.
Lloyd’s legacy as a leader doesn’t just include glorious numbers, but he also carried the torch of Windies being the kind beasts, the roots of which were laid by Sir Frank Worrell. Lloyd captained the side from 1974 till his final International appearance against Pakistan in 1985.
2. MS Dhoni
Captain cool MS Dhoni deserves a lot of credit for how he planned the transition phase of Indian cricket, a period which can destroy the future of a nation if not handled properly. With the likes of Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh entering the fag end of their career, it was MS who kept giving chances to their successors between 2008 and 2011, so that they could be ready to take over when the time comes.
Classic examples of which were sticking with Virat Kohli in Tests despite many protests and keeping Cheteshwar Pujara in and around the team, waiting for Rahul Dravid to depart. Maybe the 2011 World Cup side was a mix of his brilliance plus the prodigies from the Ganguly school of cricket, but every good thing that happened in Indian cricket post that, he deserves a lot of credit.
The 2007 World T20 and 2013 Champions Trophy victories were perhaps the most underrated of his achievements, where his skills as a leader made an above-average side look like world-beaters. The only captain in history apart from Stephen Fleming and Ricky Ponting to have led the International side in over 300 games, MS Dhoni bid adieu to the captaincy responsibilities in 2017.
1. Ricky Ponting
A lot of them say Ricky Ponting was the captain of the best Australian side, rather than him being the best captain Australia ever had. A man with a very strong demeanor and commanding presence, Ponting was arguably the finest leader the Mighty Aussies could’ve asked for and the numbers he amassed speaks for itself.
It takes quite a toll on an individual to handle so many high-profile men in the dressing room. Every superstar in that Australian dressing room during his days as captain entrusted in Punter to lead them and no matter what man-management challenges he faced, he always excelled. That is the legacy of the great Ricky Ponting, who is the only captain in history to lift 4 ICC trophies (2 World Cups and 2 Champions Trophies).
In Tests, his side had a win percentage of 62.33 in 77 Tests whilst his record as a captain in ODIs might never find a parallel. In 230 matches, Australia lost just 51 times under him, winning 165 of them. He is also the highest run-scorer in both formats for Australia, leading the side by example pretty much every time.
Honorable mentions – Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming, Sir Vivian Richards, Allan Border, Michael Vaughan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Mike Brearley
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