The legend has it that Edward J. Smith, captain of the infamous Titanic, felt he had let himself and his troops down when the ship sank in 1912. As portrayed in the James Cameroon film in 2012, he locked himself in a room and didn’t try to save himself. The incident doesn’t clearly embody how a leader should be, but it shows how the responsibility of so many can take a toll on you.
The game of cricket was lucky enough to witness some outstanding leaders in its rich history. The role of a captain in this sport compared to many others is way more significant and tough and not delivering the expected result could result in a severe backlash from the fans, especially for the big sides like India, England and Australia.
Here’s a list of the 10 best captains the game has seen in these years, who created a pathway for many budding cricketers and also inspired a whole new generation to take this sport as a profession.
10. Hansie Cronje
Although remembered for the wrong reasons in cricket history books, Hansie Cronje was South Africa‘s most prolific sporting personality in the post-apartheid period. The all-rounder was their most enigmatic and influential figure in the late 90s before match-fixing allegations drove him away from the game.
It was a tough period for South African cricket to regather momentum after a very long ban, but with an able leader in Cronje at the helm, the transition was pretty smooth. He is often credited for the development of Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusenar and the next generation superstars like Mark Boucher as well.
His stats speak for how amazing he was during his tenure. In 138 ODIs as a captain, his side won 99 games and in the longest format, his side won 27 of the 53 games. Cronje passed away in a tragic plane crash in 2004.
9. Arjuna Ranatunga
It often takes a lot of time for the International side to exert its dominance at a global level after earning an official ICC status, but to have won the World Cup inside 14 years of its existence was a feat only Sri Lanka could’ve pulled off. The inspirational leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga made the newbies of cricket fly high sooner than expected and they didn’t take long to reach the pinnacle.
The 1996 World Cup was a huge turning point in their cricket history, which paved way for the next two decades for the side. Ranatunga’s mastermind tactics to send aggressive openers and attack with spin in the early overs proved pretty pivotal as they lifted the trophy beating Australia in Lahore.
Ranatunga was their undisputed leader from 1988 till his final day as an International cricketer in 1999. In the 249 international games he led the team, they won 101 games and had a par win-percentage of 40.56, but the foundation stones he laid helped the game witness a sensational cricketing unit in the coming years.
8. Sourav Ganguly
Indian cricket’s most important phase came under the leadership of Kapil Dev, but its most memorable days came when Sourav Ganguly was at the helm of a sensational unit. His Indian team was one of the first Indian sides to have asserted a level of dominance at the international level and also set up a magnificent platform for the next captain to take over.
A lot of his prodigies like MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan went on to play a crucial role in helping India win the 2011 World Cup, a dream which he couldn’t fulfill in 2003. One of cricket’s most decorated figures, Ganguly’s passion and commitment inspired a whole generation to follow his path.
Ganguly captained India in 147 ODIs, helping them win 97 of them. His team achieved some tremendous results outside of Asia, which made a statement to the world that Indians are not home-track bullies. The finest memory for most fans in his illustrious career would be his celebration at the Lord’s balcony after India defeated England in the Natwest Tri-series final in 2002.
7. Imran Khan
One of the cult heroes of Pakistani cricket, Imran Khan is perhaps the finest cricketer their nation has produced in its rich history. A talismanic fast bowler, exuberant striker in the lower middle-order and most importantly, he was a staggering leader who commanded instant respect from the cricketing community for the outstanding service he rendered over the years.
Imran Khan had briefly given up the captaincy responsibility after the 1987 World Cup and called it time for his career, but came back next year before the series against West Indies where he picked up 23 wickets in 3 Tests. The finest chapter of his cricketing career came approximately four years later, where his side went on to win the World Cup in Australia & New Zealand.
Imran Khan is often hailed for developing young talents like Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq and others, who went on to become great ambassadors of Pakistani cricket. He led the team from 1982 and 1992, where he led the side in 187 games, winning 89 and losing 67.
6. Kapil Dev
It is difficult to imagine where Indian cricket would’ve been if not for the heroics of the Kapil Devils in 1983. 15 brave yet not so ambitious men traveled to England in 1983 in a quest to win the World Cup, which many felt was way too far-fetched for the Indians. But on 31st July, it was Kapil Dev lifting the World Championship trophy in the Lord’s balcony, scripting one of the finest fairytales of all time.
Kapil Dev played an instrumental role in instilling belief in the team that they could beat anyone. The result of his hard work was clearly seen in the 1985 Benson & Hedges Trophy, where his team romped through everyone else to claim the trophy. A lot of critics still rate it as the finest side India produced in its vast history.
Kapil Dev led the side from 1982 to 1987, before handing over the responsibility to Mohammad Azharuddin. In the 108 International fixtures he captained India, they won 43 of them, losing 40. He was also the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket for a brief period, going past the legendary Sir Richard Hadlee.
5. Steve Waugh
Although it was Ricky Ponting who stakes the claims as the captain of the Mighty Aussies, it was under the impeccable leadership of Steve Waugh where its foundation stones were laid. One of cricket’s all-time great middle-order batsmen, Waugh’s aggressive intent with the bat pretty much was reflective in his approach as a captain.
The second Australian captain to have won the World Cup after Allan Border, Waugh was instrumental in developing young talents like Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, who went on to reach the pinnacle of their careers under Ponting.
No Australian captain in history boasts of a better win percentage than the great man. In the 57 Tests, he led the side, Australia won 41 times, losing only 9 of them. He had a win percentage just in excess of 65 in ODIs as well, making him a worthy candidate to be in the top five of this marquee list.
4. Graeme Smith
With Shaun Pollock stepping down as the captain in 2004, South Africa needed a new captain but no one saw the youngster Graeme Smith taking charge. It proved to be a masterstroke in the long run as Smith’s astute knowledge and calm head while leading the unit helped the Proteas develop into a powerhouse.
The only captain in history to have led an International side in over 100 Test matches, Smith is the most capped captain in the longest format and also holds the record for most wins (53). During his tenure, many talents like Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Vernon Philander and others turned out to be superstars for the country.
He was the undisputed leader for South Africa in the other formats as well. In 150 ODIs, the Safaris won 92 matches and had a win percentage of 64.23. The only disappointment for him in his tenure was not winning an ICC trophy.
3. Clive Lloyd
No captain in the list had a more intimidating team under him than Clive Lloyd. Making his debut as a captain in 1974, the legendary southpaw led West Indies to two consecutive World Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1979 and also reached the final in 1983. It was under his leadership where Windies really hit their truest potential and managed to script some unforgettable tales.
Lloyd instilled a fearless attitude in the team and allowed the likes of Gordon Greenidge and Sir Vivian Richards to bat fearlessly while giving similar freedom to his unbelievable bowling unit constituting legends like Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Sir Andy Roberts and Colin Croft.
In the 74 games Lloyd led the Windies, they lost just 12 games, winning 36 times. The time he spent as a captain in limited-overs was relatively less, but pretty significant. In 84 ODIs, Lloyd’s team won a staggering 64 games with a win percentage of 77.71.
2. MS Dhoni
The man they call “Captain Cool”, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s emergence as a captain in the 2007 World T20 was one of the biggest turning points in Indian cricket history. MS Dhoni was the first captain to have won three different ICC trophies as a captain, winning the World T20 in 2007, World Cup in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013.
Dhoni suffered a critical phase in his captaincy career when a lot of senior cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were entering the fag ends of their careers and eventually retired. Yet, the pathway he set for some youngsters helped team India find the replacements soon enough and ensured this transition period was not as traumatic as some expected.
Dhoni is one of the three captains in history to have led an international team in more than 300 matches apart from Stephen Fleming and Ricky Ponting. In the 332 matches he led India, the most by any captain in history, he recorded a win-percentage of 59.52.
1. Ricky Ponting
Among the many captains and leaders the game of cricket has seen, Ricky Ponting will forever have a special place in the hearts of many fans, in some cases for the bad reasons as well. Ruthless, relentless, commanding, aggressive and most importantly, a masterful man manager, Ponting led the most outstanding unit cricket ever witnessed.
He wasn’t just the captain of a side which was superb on paper, he also ensured his captaincy helped that team achieve what was possible beyond reason and belief. Always a top-notch contributor with the willow in hand, not many personify the saying “Leading by example” as well as the Tasmanian cricketer. He is the only cricketer to have lifted four ICC trophies as a captain (Two Champions Trophies and two World Cups).
With a win percentage of 62.33 in Test cricket and an astounding win percentage of 76.14 in ODI cricket, Ponting’s statistics are difficult to catch up with for the coming generations. He had his fair share of controversies on and off the field, but none can disregard the genius captain he was.
Honorable mentions: Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming, Allan Border, Shaun Pollock, Sir Vivian Richards, Brian Lara
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