Top, from left: Graeme Smith, Mahela Jayawardene, Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni Bottom, from left: Shahid Afridi, Daniel Vettori, Shaun Pollock, Mashrafe Mortaza, Heath Streak © Getty Images
Top, from left: Graeme Smith, Mahela Jayawardene, Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni
Bottom, from left: Shahid Afridi, Daniel Vettori, Shaun Pollock, Mashrafe Mortaza, Heath Streak © Getty Images

At 33 for 4, my good friend joined me at the crease. We were chasing a daunting total in 40 overs. Our understanding helped us run well between the wicket. I faced the bowler who troubled him, and he did the same for me. It came down to the last over with both batting on hundreds. I was on strike to hit the winning runs. The alarm interrupted…

It was 6 AM. I got ready for the big moment in my short cricketing career. I was the stand-in captain of my school team in a must-win encounter. I was eager to turn the dream into reality. I vividly remember my first line in the team huddle: “Treat this as another game. A team has one captain, and I am the one appointed for the day. Everyone can chip in with ideas, but I will take the final call.”

It’s nice to put your hand up and do the big things the team requires of you

Isn’t this the ideal way? A skipper is responsible for all the decisions. Of course, they should take suggestions when the team in a spot of bother. He or she should allow an experienced bowler to set the field according to their plans. But if they keep asking for suggestions, it will lead to chaos. After all, there is only one player in charge.

But what if we have an XI full of captains? Let us walk through an ODI team comprising of experienced and successful captains since 2000.

Graeme Smith

At 22 Smith became South Africa‘s youngest captain. He was given the task to instil faith after the fixing fiasco. Smith had to fill Hansie Cronje’s void.

Smith was upfront: he did things his own way. He led the team to the No. 1 spot in Test rankings. He was calculative in ODIs, with a win percentage of 64.23; but his only regret was not adding an ICC trophy to his cabinet.

Smith averaged 38.96, including 8 hundreds and 37 fifties as captain. He kept himself busy at the crease, especially with those fluent flicks and elegant cuts.

Mahela Jayawardene

Jayawardene possessed one of the shrewdest cricket brains. He appeared defensive in technique, but could change gears swiftly. He taught his teammates to adapt to the situation. While calling the shots, however, Jayawardene always looked to attack with his field settings. He took Sri Lanka to 2007 World Cup final.

Jayawardene led from 2003 to 2012, including Asia XI, in 129 matches. He finished with a win percentage of 60.

When you die, you die. You don’t think which is the better way to die

Ricky Ponting

Ponting led one of the best teams to have played the game. He captained from 2002 to 2012. Ponting holds the record to captain in most number of ODIs. Winning 165 of 230 encounters, he has a scintillating win per cent of 76.14.

Ponting led Australia to two World Cup titles, in 2003 and 2007. He also holds the record for most consecutive wins (26) in World Cup for a captain. He was an astute leader who brought the best out of his men. As a leader, Ponting averaged 42.91, having blasted 22 tons and 51 half-centuries.

Sourav Ganguly

Indian cricket was in turmoil in early 2000s. Mohammad Azharuddin was involved in match-fixing scandal. The onus fell on the ever-improving Ganguly.

In Ganguly’s first interview as captain, he made it clear that Team India will be fair and aggressive. He walked the talk emphatically. Not only did he build the team from the scratch (30 players debuted in ODIs during his tenure), many of them owe a lot to him. India started winning abroad, challenged top sides such as Australia and South Africa with aggressive brand of cricket. Ganguly’s sharp leadership skills bore the brunt of India’s major overseas wins.

There are low moments in everyone’s career but that shoudn’t mean I would lock myself in and brood

Ganguly’s team combinations were criticised at first, but he challenged the norms to emerge on top. In 147 ODIs Ganguly won 76 and lost 66. He led the side to the final of 2003 World Cup, losing to Australia. In World Cup, Ganguly won 9 of 11 encounters.

Ganguly shuffled places in the batting order for the team’s cause. As captain Ganguly averaged 38.66, with 11 tons and 30 fifties. He formed the greatest opening partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar.

Kumar Sangakkara

The classy Sanga was the best thing that happened to Sri Lanka cricket. He averaged 47.45 while leading. He, however, failed to convert them into hundreds, and has a solitary ton. Nonetheless, he carried three roles — wicketkeeper, batsman and captain — with aplomb. Under Sangakkara, Sri Lanka lost the 2011 World Cup final to India.

MS Dhoni

After Tendulkar, Dhoni became the next superstar of Indian cricket. He was the most successful in shorter formats — ODIs in particular. He led the side from 2007 to 2016. In the 50-over format Dhoni won 110 of 199 matches. He led the team to 2011 World Cup, 2013 Champions Trophy, 2008-09 CB Series, and 2010 and 2016 Asia Cup titles.

Dhoni is second to Ponting in terms of the most matches led in the format. With a win percentage of 55.28, Dhoni took the maximum responsibility with his finishing skills, and unorthodox bowling and fielding changes. He did not bog down with the bat, averaging over 50 with 6 tons and 44 fifties.

Shahid Afridi

Afridi’s wasn’t the most consistent performer but had the knack to bring out the best in big matches, both as skipper and all-rounder. No one predicted Pakistan to make it to the semi-finals of 2011 World Cup, but Afridi’s inspirational leadership changed everything. Overall, he led in 38 matches winning 19. His constant interactions with bowlers were heavily criticised, but he kept them involved in the game.

Cricket is a funny game. We have had legends and living legends but the game doesn’t stop for anyone

Afridi also played significant roles in tilting the match towards Pakistan at crucial junctures. He controlled the runs flow with the ball, and used the long handle when the run rate slowed down. He averaged 26.63 and 29.88 with bat and ball respectively as captain.

Daniel Vettori

Vettori led New Zealand in 82 ODIs. His memorable moment as captain came in the semi-final of 2011 World Cup. New Zealand are known to punch above their weight, and they did the same under Vettori. His approach remained undeterred. He chipped in with valuable cameos down the order. He scalped 95 wickets at 26.93 and an impressive economy rate of 3.81.

Shaun Pollock

Pollock captained in 97 ODIs. His side stormed out of 2003 World Cup in group stages, but he handled both success and failure with maturity. He managed the lower order with his dependable batting, and opened the bowling attack. He averaged 23.52, with an economy rate of 3.76 as captain. His death-bowling restricted opponents, decreasing batsmen’s workload.

Heath Streak

Streak’s record —18 triumphs in 68 ODIs — isn’t impressive, but he took responsibility of a relatively weaker side as compared to others in the list. Nonetheless, there were some competitive performances versus England, India, New Zealand and Pakistan. Streak took the responsibility of an erratic bowling attack, and churned out runs when needed.

As a leader Streak averaged 39.75, with 10 fifties. His record with the ball stands at an average of 29.22 — contrary to 30.18 as player — with best of 4 for 8. He was known to outfox the batsmen with his variations in death overs.

Mashrafe Mortaza

The speedster is hailed as Bangladesh’s hero. The current ODI skipper has carried the team in what is touted as their golden period. Under Mortaza, Bangladesh started believing in themselves to defeat any side. He even led them to the knockouts of 2015 World Cup and 2017 Champions Trophy. At home they have outplayed top sides such as Pakistan, South Africa and India.

Bangladesh are yet to dominate overseas but have surely found a niche in home conditions. Their knack of blowing hot and cold makes them unpredictable in marquee events. Much of their success belongs to an aggressive and animated leader in Mortaza. He strikes at 98.50 with the bat, and has best bowling figures of 4 for 29.

P M W L %
Ricky Ponting (AUS/ICC) 230 165 51 76.14
Kumar Sangakkara 45 27 18 65.85
Graeme Smith (SA/Africa) 150 92 51 64.25
Shaun Pollock (SA/ICC/Africa) 97 60 33 64.06
MS Dhoni 199 110 74 59.57
Mahela Jayawardene (SL/Asia) 129 71 49 59.09
Mashrafe Mortaza   50* 27 21 56.25
Daniel Vettori 82 41 33 55.33
Sourav Ganguly (IND/Asia) 147 76 66 53.52
Shahid Afridi 38 19 18 51.35
Heath Streak 68 18 47 27.69

*Mortaza is currently leading Bangladesh in ODIs.

Note: Brendon McCullum is a highly reputed and successful captain. However, he is not included due to Sangakkara’s consistency. McCullum’s win percentage of 61.86 is less than Sangakkara’s.

In Dhoni-versus-McCullum battle, the Indian wins as he has captained thrice as much as McCullum, donning all three duties — wicketkeeper, captain and batsman.

Imagine a situation. If this lineup is involved in a tensed encounter, who will call the shots? Maybe Dhoni will like Pollock to bowl the last over. Ponting may have different view. Ganguly would want Streak a have a go. Mortaza might eventually do the needful. What if Smith prefers Vettori? Or, Vettori himself might opt for Afridi? The chaos is unimaginable. Phew, think about the team management. The head coach would scratch his head somewhere in the dugout.

You perhaps are wondering who will captain this XI of captains. Well, leave your choice in the comments section.