Best Test bowling performance as Pakistan’s captain

May 12, 2024

Best Test bowling performance as Pakistan’s captain

In the 147-year-long history of Test cricket only 30 Test match captains have taken 35 Test wickets or more while leading their national team. Six of them happen to be Pakistanis, five are Englishmen, while Australia and the West Indies have four apiece. There are three Indians in this list and two each from New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe provide a single representative per head.

Best Test bowling performance as Pakistan’s captain

In this vaunted list of thirty captains ten, including two Pakistanis, have crossed the 100 wickets mark during their captaincy. Another ten have taken more than 50 wickets during their tenancy, again inclusive of two from Pakistan.

The six Pakistani captains in this exclusive line-up consist of four pace bowlers and two leg spinners. Heading the list is Imran Khan who took 187 Test wickets in his 48 Tests as captain of Pakistan. This is not only the highest wicket haul by any Pakistani captain during his tenure, but is also the highest by any captain of any country during his reign as the leader of his national Test side. His tally is almost 50 wickets ahead of the next best, Richie Benaud, who took 138 wickets while captaining Australia.

Best Test bowling performance as Pakistan’s captain

Imran had already played 37 Test matches before he was appointed the captain of the national team for its tour of England in 1982. He had taken 158 Test wickets by then at an average of 26.56 runs per wicket. In his very first series at the helm of the team Imran produced an outstanding display of high quality fast bowling, taking 21 wickets in the 3 Test rubber at an average of 18.57. Later, in the 1982-83 home season, when Pakistan hosted India for a 6 Test series, Imran took a record 40 wickets at just 13.95 runs apiece. Imran was now at his peak but sadly he also sustained a stress fracture of his shin bone during this highly successful series against India and had to take a long break of thirty two months from bowling at the Test level.

He resumed his Test bowling career against Sri Lanka in a home series in the autumn of 1985, with Javed Miandad captaining the side. He took 17 wickets in this series at just 15.94 each. This was followed by a tour of Sri Lanka, when Imran regained the captaincy, and took a further 15 wickets costing 18.00 runs apiece. Next was a home rubber versus the West Indies where Imran continued to display his bowling class by snaring 18 victims in 3 Tests at just 11.06 runs per wicket.

On their tour of England in 1987 Pakistan won their first Test series on English soil. Imran led from the front with over 20 wickets in the rubber, including a match winning performance in the 2nd Test at Headingley, Leeds when he captured 10 wickets for just 77 runs in the match to steer Pakistan to an innings win. When Pakistan toured the West Indies in 1988, Imran again gave a virtuoso performance with 20 wickets in the first two Tests alone, including 11 wickets for 121 runs in the opening Test at Georgetown, Guyana. Dubious umpiring in the final Test at Barbados robbed Pakistan of the honour of becoming the first visiting team to defeat the West Indies at home in over a decade.

By the time Imran concluded his Test career in 1991, he had taken 187 wickets while captaining the team, at an average of only 20.26 runs per wicket. His strike rate was a very impressive 49.2 balls per wicket and his economy rate was just 2.46 runs per over. These are splendid figures but would have been even better had he not lost over two and a half years due to his stress fracture when he was at his almost unplayable bowling best.

Wasim Akram is the only other Pakistani to take over 100 Test wickets while leading the side. Wasim assumed the mantle of captaincy in his 46th Test on Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies in 1993. His tally at the time was 177 wickets at 23.79 runs apiece.

In a frequently interrupted tenure as captain, Wasim led the national team in 25 Tests between 1993 and 1999. His best series as a bowler while captaining the side was in the 3 Test rubber against the West Indies in Pakistan in the winter of 1997, when he took 17 wickets at a miserly cost of 17.29 runs per wicket. As a leader his best bowling performance in an individual Test was against Zimbabwe at Faisalabad in October 1996 when he took 10 wickets in the match for 106 runs and led Pakistan to a 10 wicket win. Incidentally, in just the previous Test at Sheikhupura, he had flayed the Zimbabwean attack for an unbeaten 257 which contained a record 12 sixes. This series showcased Wasim at the zenith of his brilliant all-round abilities.

Wasim’s final tally as captain was 107 wickets at an average of 22.35 runs each. His strike rate was a wicket every 50.8 deliveries and an economy rate of 2.75 runs per over.

Waqar Younis is third in this short list with 67 wickets in 17 Tests as captain of Pakistan. He started his captaincy with a huge bang. Deputising for the injured Wasim Akram, he was entrusted with the leadership of the national team against Zimbabwe at Karachi in December 1993. He was just 22 years and 15 days old. This made him the youngest ever Test captain of Pakistan, beating Javed Miandad by 245 days. This was his 24th Test and he had already gathered 121 wickets at 19.61 runs each. Waqar single handedly decimated the Zimbabwean batting with an awesome display of speed and reverse swing, taking 7 wickets for 91 in the first innings and 6 wickets for 44 runs in the second. Interestingly, 12 out of Waqar’s 13 dismissals in this Test were either bowled or leg before wicket.

Waqar also had an outstanding series as a bowler while captaining the national side against Bangladesh in 2002, taking 12 wickets in the 2 Test series at an average of just 11.42 runs per wicket.

Waqar’s 67 wickets as Test captain were procured at an average of 23.47 runs per wicket. Waqar was an attacking fast bowler which is reflected in a strike rate of 40.3 balls per wicket. Containment was never his priority and this accounts for the relatively weak economy rate of 3.48 runs per over.

Intikhab Alam had started his Test career in 1959 with a flourish, capturing a wicket off his very first delivery. By the time he ascended to the captaincy of Pakistan’s Test team almost 10 years later in October 1969, for the home rubber against New Zealand, he had starred in 23 Tests which had produced just Test 39 wickets at a very expensive rate of 49.31 runs apiece.

In only his 3rd Test as captain Intikhab returned his best Test figures till then with five New Zealand wickets in each innings in the drawn Test at Dhaka. He was again in fine fettle when captaining the side on its tour of New Zealand in 1973. The Kiwis were totally at sea against Pakistan’s three pronged leg-spin attack of Intikhab Alam, Mushtaq Mohammad and Wasim Raja. Intikhab took 18 wickets in the rubber at an average of 17.94, in the most successful bowling series of his Test career.

As Pakistan’s captain in 17 Tests Intikhab took 54 wickets, averaging 31.74 runs per dismissal. Persistence rather than penetration was the key to his bowling success as evidenced by a strike rate of 69.6 balls per wicket and an economy rate of 2.73 runs per over.

Fazal Mahmood was Pakistan’s premier bowler in its initial years of Test cricket. He had just turned thirty two and was playing his 22nd Test when he was appointed as the captain of Pakistan’s Test side for the home series against the West Indies in February 1959. He had 93 wickets to his credit by then at an average of 23.86 runs per wicket.

Fazal got off to a flying start, capturing 21 wickets in the 3 Test series at merely 15.86 runs each. This tally included a 12 wicket haul in the second Test at Dhaka when he returned figures of 6 for 34 and 6 for 66 in the two West Indian innings. Fazal’s match aggregate of 12 wickets for 100 runs was the fourth time that he’d taken 12 wickets or more in a Test.

Another successful home series in 1959, this time against the Australians, netted Fazal a further 11 wickets at 19.36 runs apiece. He took a total of 41 wickets at a cost of 19.14 runs each while captaining Pakistan in 10 Tests. Fazal had a strike rate of 58.5 balls per wicket and is by far the most economical bowler in the list, conceding only 1.96 runs per over.

The final name on this list is that of Mushtaq Mohammad, Arguably Pakistan’s most astute Test captain, Mushtaq first led the national side in his 39th Test. He had, by that time, taken 41 Test wickets at an average of 28.88 runs each, in a long career that had already spanned over seventeen years.

One of his most distinguished bowling performances while captaining Pakistan was versus the West Indies at Port of Spain in Trinidad in 1977, when he took 5 for 28 and 3 for 69 in the two West Indian innings to lead Pakistan to a 266 run victory. In 19 Tests as Pakistan’s captain, Mushtaq took 38 wickets at an average cost of 29.60 runs per victim. His strike rate of 67.2 balls per wicket and an economy rate of 2.63 runs per over are similar to those of Intikhab, perhaps reinforcing the belief that spinners tend to buy their wickets.

An interesting aspect of this list is that with the exception of Mushtaq Mohammad, the other five Pakistani Test captains featured here all bettered their bowling performances after attaining the team’s captaincy. This is manifested by a superior bowling average while leading the team. The improvement is marginal in the case of Wasim and Waqar but significantly pronounced as far as Imran, Fazal and Intikhab are concerned.

Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.

Best Test bowling performance as Pakistan’s captain