From Imran Khan to Azhar Ali – Pakistan’s ‘leaders’ over the years

Published: June 9, 2015

Beginning of new era, Captain Azhar ali. Photo: AFP

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Nelson Mandela defines it so simply; a leader is one who comes on the forefront when his subjects are in danger. If I go about comparing this example with our cricket team’s captains, I’m afraid very few come to mind that can fit the criteria of a ‘leader’.

Leadership comes with huge responsibilities that not everyone can fulfill. But we do have some names that have done justice to their titles.

For example, Imran Khan; he was a true leader of Pakistan cricket, not just because the players who played under him called him so but also because his innings were always timely and responsible and he would always help his team whenever required to produce results.

Imran Khan. Photo: AFP

Though Imran batted mostly on the fifth or sixth position, he would set an example of leading from the front and batting at number three whenever his team needed him the most. The best example was his 72-runs against England in World Cup 1992 final when Pakistan’s two wickets had fallen on 24-runs. It was a baffling situation, the game seemed to be in England’s favour and players had no idea what to do. In such a time, Imran stepped forward and went in number three; not only did he save the match, he also showed what a fearless leader looks like.

Moving on, not all Pakistani captains have been as successful as Imran. Inzamamul Haq, for example, though a notable leader of his time, had his own flaws. He was a good captain, I won’t deny; even today, when I go through his statistics, I realise that was he actually a fearless leader of our team, who knew when to man-up and when to let others take the limelight. But he had his misses as well.

Inzamamul Haq. Photo: AFP

Inzamam batted up the order in the late 90s and his average was the best – 54.88. He scored two centuries and three half centuries in nine matches and Pakistan won five out of those nine games. But what he did after he became captain surprised me greatly. I still wonder why Inzamam didn’t maintain the same slot when he was made a captain. He promoted himself on fourth and fifth position during captaincy and even it was the time when Pakistan had Kamran Akmal, Imran Nazir, Imran Farhat and Salman Butt as openers, but none of the opening pairs were settled or consistent enough to be tried in continuation.

Therefore a puzzling question comes to mind: Was Inzamam the sort of player who needed a push or was he an actual leader? His records seem to favour the former. For instance, in the World Cup semi-finals, it was Imran who pushed him to play the match, despite his stomach issues; it was in this match that he made a name for himself and ended up scoring 60 odd runs which contributed in Pakistan’s victory.

So I am not so sure if Inzamam can be called an apt Pakistani leader.

Standing besides Inzamam, we have Misbahul Haq – a captain who never led the team from the front, even after facing serious criticism for not promoting himself at number three when the team required him the most. Misbah played 87 innings as captain for team Pakistan, averaged the best among other batsmen playing with him but could not manage many victories at the end of his ODI career.

Misbahul Haq. Photo: Reuters

The final match of the T20 World Cup 2007 and the semi-final match of the 2011 World Cup were the two occasions when he could have won the hearts of many by his ‘leading-from-the-front’ ability but his ‘defensive’ approach led not only the team but the entire nation down. His slow pace gave him the title of Tuk Tuk, which continued to be associated with him till the end of his career.

A few outstanding innings came by Misbah’s bat on such occasions when Pakistan didn’t need them; for instance, scoring the fastest hundred against Australia when Pakistan had already made 570 in the first innings. Misbah came to bat at the time when the team was already leading by 451 and a century at such a point could only be to attain the individual record status and nothing more than that. There is no doubt that some of the most exceptional innings are on Misbah’s credit, but we wouldn’t have fallen in our rankings if he had played those terrific innings at the required time.

We really needed a brave leader in the recent World Cup when we were against West Indies, and in the World Cup quarter-final match when we needed runs on board, and in the Champions Trophy 2013 when we returned without registering a single win; the list can go on.

The poor performance of Pakistan cricket team in The Champions Trophy 2013. Photo: Reuters

However, with March 2015, his defensive era finally came to an end and Azhar Ali turned out to be the new captain – someone who hadn’t played ODI cricket for almost two years at the time of his appointment.

However, he made a comeback in the team with a big responsibility on his shoulders.

New ODI captain: Azhar Ali. Photo: AFP

In the beginning the decision of making him a captain was opposed by many as we needed a leader, not just a captain, but almost 60 days after his selection, Azhar seems to be the right man for the job.

Under Azhar’s captaincy, Pakistan has to faced series whitewash against Bangladesh, which opened doors for many critics. Nevertheless, if we look closely at how Azhar ended the defensive era by opening the innings since the beginning of his captaincy period, we’ll come to know that his approach is much larger than we thought.

Leading from the front requires lots of courage and Azhar has that potential which could be reflected by his scores as captain – 72, 36, 101,79, 102 and 46. After Amir Sohail and Rameez Raja, Pakistan has come across a captain who opens the innings for the team after a very long time.

Azhar is a talented man and his decisions prove that.

Azhar not only score big when the team was batting first but in the second ODI against Zimbabwe, Azhar came to bat when Pakistan had to chase the target of 268, knowing the fact that Pakistan couldn’t manage much victories batting second. He played his part, hit a century and silenced his critics.

On top of that Azhar has the ability to convert his fifties into hundreds; a job which his predecessor didn’t know how to do.

Azhar silenced his critics by scoring big in 2nd ODI. Photo: AFP

“You take the front line when there is danger”.

While it is team effort that makes nations win matches, it is the captain who makes all the difference. Here’s to hoping that Azhar becomes that kind of captain for us in the future as well.

Fazeela Saba

Fazeela Saba

She has a masters degree in English Literature and currently works as a sports anchor and journalist. She occasionally participates in sports-related talk shows and is interested in becoming a prominent sports writer. She tweets as @saba_fazeela (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nouman

    One of the dumbest BlogRecommend

  • Cricketer

    The editor has a degree in English literature mmmmmmmmm………….this article has quite a few mistakes in the area of grammar. However, top marks for effort. Shame you didn’t write more on Imran Khan’s career, but never mind, we got to read about some of the other less successful captains of Pakistan. Recommend

  • Salman

    This is probably one of the worst and most shallow commentaries I have ever read. Firstly, you have conveniently missed out the names of a number of other captains who lead the team during the era you give your expert view on. Secondly, leading from the front does not mean that you have to open the innings. By your logic, Dhoni would be one of the worst captains in the world. Professional cricket is a little different from the one that is played in schools, where the captain opens the innings, bowls the first ball and then keeps the wicket when he is not indulged in the previous two activities. Cricket is not a flare sport like football, it is more like baseball where consistency and statistics are much more important. The sooner the team, the management and the people realize this, the better.Recommend

  • PAK

    You are wrong Fazeela Saba, after reading your article i can understand you do not know a thing about cricket. Misbah ul Haq by far is the most successful captain of Pakistan and yes this man has led the team from the front every time when our team was down and under. But still this is cricket you need 11 players to perform, one man show cannot win you the game.Recommend

  • Mohsin

    wow simply amazing… you do not know anything about cricket at :)Recommend

  • Misbah

    wow…… whattay blog!!!!…keep on writingRecommend

  • kaamAdmi

    Most successful captain in tests is Misbah followed by Javed then Imran. Misbah gets the credit of doing it without superstars and mostly at neutral venues. Imran is only Pakistan captain to have lost two world cups i-e 1983 and 1987(where he snatched defeat from jaws of victory by bowling out W Akram before Saleem jaffer in QF). Later he lamented that he did not know steve waugh was an al-rounder. had Misbah dunnit people would open fire at his house (like they did on Akrams house in 1999). Akram also captained in 1996 and 1999 but escaped the dubious honor of losing two in a row by sitting out the QF in India.Recommend

  • ghalib

    Terrible know nothing about cricket. Ask any REAL cricket analyst and they will tell you misbahs one of the greatest captains of our generation.Recommend

  • Humanoids

    Fazeela stick to something else, cricket is not your cup of tea. After IK we had JM who won the 1992 test against England in ENG and then in 1993 the Aussie-NZ tour resulted in a mutiny by Wasim-Waqar against the captain JM. The man they sayw as the brain behind IK’s captaincy. After that we never recovered. Its not in our genes to give it to the best man and senior man with “brains” the stress is on “brains”. Look at our society its as our team…..IK was an exceptional leader but its not u start making them like rabbits multiply! The country is always in “such a rush” the “jaldi”!
    Misbah I think was a savior and who ever so does not recognize that should start commenting or writing about Bollywood flicks cause just moving yourself to opening Azhar has done what IK/JM did that is it the barometer mark has been achieved!
    1- IK/JM had 100x the team MuH had
    2- IK took over from JM with a solid team
    3- MuH took over after 3 pakis were caught
    4- Younis and AFRAIDi both refused to take the team
    5- Check your facts about Inzi regarding coming up the order, as he was always accused of being a defensive capt even by IK himself!
    6- Look at the team MuH had and the power MuH shielded IK was a god MuH was never given that power much like or PMs. So selectors were COAS and the captain a meagre PM, it was opposite in IK time a pathan who has white gf’s living in UK is all the right ingredients- plus his bureaucratic back ground!
    7- IK,JM, Younis Khan and MuH are true nationalists! WA and WY were fishy characters!
    ….but learn before writing about sweeping presumptions!Recommend

  • Humanoids

    yep especially the line “Pakistan has to faced”Recommend

  • Fazeela Saba

    I don’t understand why people become judgmental so quickly. There were just a few captaincy examples and I never mentioned that a captain has to open the innings. If that was the case I would have not mentioned Misbah for No.3 spot. Opening was just a case with Inzimam and not others but yes opening the innings in the current scenario of Pakistan cricket is a courageous job to do.Recommend

  • Fazeela Saba


  • Fazeela Saba

    Your opinion. Please celebrate your knowledge of cricket and don’t be judgmental.Recommend

  • Fazeela Saba

    part and parcel in a blog.Recommend

  • Umar Asad

    Hmm…..he still needs to prove himself against Australia, India and South AfricaRecommend

  • PAK

    I am not being judgmental and neither it is my opinion. These are the facts that you have sidelined whilst writing this blog.Recommend

  • Alishah Altaf Hussain

    Wasted 5 minutes in reading this Dumb article… I would have fired you if I be the concerned management !Recommend

  • Muhammad Ahmed

    sorry to disappoint u bro, JM was captain we lost 4-1 in England ODI in 1992, 2-1 in NZL and lost whole world series in 1993 in auss- loosing 6 out of 8 matchesRecommend

  • Muhammad Ahmed

    Hmm..though can be graded as controversial & debatable article (as
    obvious in comments below) however provides a quick summary of Pakistan
    captain legacy, no one can deny Inzi and Misbah (both Haqs) had
    defensive approach, IK no doubt was the bravest leader. whats heartening
    to see that the writer showcases Azhar Ali as promising leader
    (although she comes from a channel background who loves criticizing for their
    own sake..good to see u joined Express Media now)..In comments here, one frend’s comparison of Dhoni is useless as dhoni had enough power-pack
    batting on top order he never required to go on top, when he needed he
    did if some1 remember his match winning inning in 2011 final chase he
    promoted himself over Yuvraj,, well done Fazeela, hope to see more
    critical but less controversial articles from u :) keep it upRecommend

  • saif

    Well, people are judging you because you are supposed to be a sports journalist and your article clearly lacks any insight or analysis, instead of asking why people are being judgmental, you should read a few articles by people at cricinfo and you yourself will understand the difference in both the level of writing and the level of knowledge, to name a few Kamran Abbasi, Sharda Ugra, Osman samiuddin etc. It seemed more like someone simply talking than an actual article and people might not have been as judgmental if your description said “university student and freelance writer interested in cricket” instead it said “Master of English Literature and a sports anchor and journalist” which basically means that the article would be delivering a good sports insight accompanied with quality writing skills, neither of which were present in this article.

    A few grammar errors which make things worse one is “Azhar not only score big when the team” should be “scores”.

    P.S just trying to give some constructive criticism here as if you are to have a serious online audience you gotta do much better than this simply because of the level of writers you are competing with here.Recommend

  • Musadiqkhan

    You need to get your facts right. It was Afridi who captained the side after ban on 3 Pakistani players. He led a team of bits and pieces to 2011 WC semi-final and finally he had to leave captaincy after his issues with Butt Sahab and Waqar.Recommend

  • abbasi

    Madam why u forgotten the leader who fought from front shahid afridi he was best choice after inzi but due to his way of talking spread a spread he became out from captiincy Recommend

  • Rana Rashid Ali

    Nice one Fazeela. I want more from you on Azhar Ali in future. Keep up good work.Recommend

  • Salman

    Hi Fazeela. I did not mean to sound judgmental, though that is exactly what I ended up doing. I apologize for that. I just felt that the article was written without enough research and was a bit biased. Once again, please accept my apologies.Recommend

  • Khalid Rafi

    This article should be re-titled, ‘I Hate Misbah’ + the little information I have on other Pakistani captains. How can you call yourself a journalist when your primary aim is to attack one of Pakistan’s greatest cricketers with baseless comments? none of what you say makes any sense.

    You said that he played unimportant innings like scoring the fastest Test Century which the team didn’t need, How is scoring the fastest Test Century unimportant, it gave Pakistan an extra 100 runs from 56 balls which made Pakistan’s win even more emphatic and it is in itself a massive achievement. And how is it his fault if the team is not scoring? Your comments exceed logic and clearly have little or no knowledge about a sport you make a living off.Recommend