Best Cricket Captains of All Time
"An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep." This African proverb is true on the cricket pitch.
Great cricket teams are made by a great captain. A great captain maximizes his resources and brings the best out of players. Change in the batting order. Field placement. Bowling. All of these things can decide the fate of a game. A successful captain makes these changes at the right moment and reaps the rewards.
A captain can alone win a match by his tactical moves, but not all leaders are created equal. These are the best captains in cricket history.
Related: Greatest Cricket Bowlers I Greatest Cricket Batsmen
25. Waqar Younis
Career stats in Tests: 17 matches, 10 wins, 7 losses, 0 draws, 58.82 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 62 matches, 37 wins, 23 losses, 2 ties, 61.66 win percentage
Bottom line: Waqar Younis is regarded as one of the best bowlers of all time, and his bowling overshadowed his credentials as a captain. He holds the record as the youngest Pakistan captain and third-youngest captain in the history of Test cricket.
Waqar's winning percentage 61.7 as an ODI captain is the best by a Pakistan captain, who has captained 50 or more matches. He holds the record for the best bowling figures as a captain in an ODI (7-36) and also was the first captain to take a 7-wicket-haul in an ODI.
After captaining Pakistan against Zimbabwe in the 1993-94 season for a solitary Test, the "Burewala Express" next captained Pakistan in 2001. He went onto win 10 of the 17 matches he captained in Tests but retired after the away series loss against South Africa.
24. Michael Vaughan
Career stats in Tests: 51 matches, 26 wins, 11 losses, 14 draws, 50.98 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 60 matches, 32 wins, 22 losses, 2 ties, 58.92 win percentage
Bottom line: Michael Vaughan always will be remembered as the captain who won the 2005 Ashes. Australia was nearly unbeatable in those days, and he led England to an unlikely 2-1 win and regained the Ashes after 16 years.
Vaughan didn’t have a great career in ODIs as a player, averaging only 27.15 with the bat. But as a captain, he is one of the England's most successful skippers, winning 58.92 percent of matches*.
Only current English skipper Eoin Morgan (65.71) has a better win percentage.
*For English players with 50-plus matches as a captain.
23. Mike Brearley
Career stats in Tests: 31 matches, 18 wins, 4 losses, 9 draws, 58.06 win percentage
Bottom line: Mike Brearley is known as one of the best captains in cricket history. According to ESPN Cricinfo, he possessed all the "qualities of an outstanding captain — intuitive, resourceful, sympathetic and a clear-thinker."
He led England to three Ashes wins against Australia in the four series he captained, including an away series win in the 1978-79 season. His loss percentage of 12.90 shows how good he was as a captain.
The former Middlesex captain published a book on captaincy, "The Art of Captaincy" in 1985, and it became a classic, explaining the crucial role of a captain in cricket.
22. Kapil Dev
Career stats in Tests: 34 matches, 4 wins, 7 losses, 22 draws, 11.76 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 74 matches, 39 wins, 33 losses, 2 ties, 54.16 win percentage
Bottom line: West Indies was nearly unbeatable at the World Cups in the 1970s and early 1980s. The team won back-to-back titles in 1975 and 1979, and as expected, it reached the finals of the 1983 World Cup but finished as the runner-up when Kapil Dev’s India won the final out of nowhere.
Kapil was 24 at the time, yet he inspired his team to win the World Cup. His team members later admitted that they never expected it to happen after they got on the plane for the tournament. However, Kapil had other ideas and believed that India could win the trophy and kept on inspiring other team members.
His numbers as a Test captain don’t paint as beautiful a picture with a meager 11.76 win percentage in the longest format. However, his loss percentage is not bad at 20.58, due to the 22 draws in the 34 matches that he captained.
21. Wasim Akram
Career stats in Tests: 25 matches, 12 wins, 8 losses, 5 draws, 48.00 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 109 matches, 66 wins, 41 losses, 2 ties, 61.42 win percentage
Bottom line: Wasim Akram is the second Pakistan player to lead the team for 100-plus ODIs. He led Pakistan in 109 ODIs while Imran Khan led them in 139 ODIs. Though Akram's captaincy never got as much acclaim as Imran’s, he has a better win percentage — 61.42 compared to Imran’s 55.58.
The left-arm pace bowler guided Pakistan to the 1999 World Cup final. He was the leader of Pakistan’s pace battery and accounted for 15 wickets in the tournament at an excellent average of 22.80.
In Tests, he captained only in 25 matches and tasted moderate success with a win percentage of 48.
20. Misbah Ul Haq
Career stats in Tests: 56 matches, 26 wins, 19 losses, 11 draws, 46.42 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 87 matches, 45 wins, 39 losses, 2 ties, 53.42 win percentage
Bottom line: Misbah Ul Haq was appointed as Test skipper after the 2010 spot-fixing scandal involving Pakistan players Salman Butt, Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif. This raised some eyebrows since Misbah was picked to be captain ahead of senior members Younous Khan and Mohammed Yousuf.
However, Misbah proved his naysayers wrong by becoming the most successful Pak captain in Tests, winning 26 matches. Under him, Pakistan became the No.1-ranked team in Tests in 2016 after a gap of 28 years.
In ODIs, he beat South Africa in South Africa in a bilateral series and became the first captain from Asia to do so.
19. Shaun Pollock
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 26 matches, 14 wins, 5 losses, 7 draws, 53.84 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 97 matches, 60 wins, 33 losses, 3 ties, 64.06 win percentage
Bottom line: Shaun Pollock is the third-most successful ODI captain of South Africa with a win percentage of 64.06, behind Hansie Cronje (73.7) and Graeme Smith (64.23). In Tests, Pollock captained Proteas in 26 matches, and his win percentage of 53.84 is the highest among South African skippers who captained at least 25 matches.
Although his ODI numbers as skipper are impressive, like all other South African skippers, he experienced a World Cup exit in 2003, due to a miscalculation of the target using the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method in a group stage game against Sri Lanka.
South Africa scored 229-6 in 45 overs, and then the match couldn’t resume because of rain. South Africa, according to its team management, would have won the match by DLS method. However, its calculation went wrong, and the match finished as tie, ending South Africa's World Cup campaign.
18. Mahela Jayawardene
Country: Sri Lanka
Career stats in Tests: 38 matches, 18 wins, 12 losses, 8 draws, 47.36 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 129 matches, 71 wins, 49 losses, 1 ties, 59.07 win percentage
Bottom line: Mahela Jayawardene is Sri Lanka’s second-most successful captain in ODIs with 71 wins, behind only Arjuna Ranatunga, who won 89 matches. However, Jayawardene has a better win percentage, 59.05 compared to 48.37 of Ranatunga.
The former Sri Lankan skipper guided the team to a World Cup final in 2007. He led from the front the bat in that tournament and was the second-highest run-getter with 548 runs at an average of 60.88.
In Tests, he is Sri Lanka’s most successful skipper with 18 wins in 38 matches along with Sanath Jayasuriya, who also captained the team and won the same number of matches.
17. Mohammed Azharuddin
Career stats in Tests: 47 matches, 14 wins, 14 losses, 19 draws, 29.78 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 174 matches, 90 wins, 76 losses, 2 ties, 54.16 win percentage
Bottom line: Mohammed Azharuddin captained India in ODIs for 174 matches, the sixth-best number of matches as captain in the world. His 90 wins are second only to MS Dhoni as an Indian captain.
Under Azharuddin's captaincy, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar became world-class players, and India went to the semifinal of 1996 World Cup before losing to the tournament winners Sri Lanka.
When Azharuddin was forced to retire due to a match-fixing scandal, he held the Indian record of most wins in Tests and ODIs.
16. Arjuna Ranatunga
Country: Sri Lanka
Career stats in Tests: 56 matches, 12 wins, 19 losses, 25 draws, 21.42 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 193 matches, 89 wins, 95 losses, 1 ties, 48.37 win percentage
Bottom line: When Arjuna Ranatunga hung up his gloves, he held the record of leading a team in ODI matches. Now, he is at the fourth spot behind Ricky Ponting, Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni.
Ranatunga led Sri Lanka to a World Cup win against favorites Australia in 1996. The team had no stars at that time apart from Aravinda de Silva, yet they emerged the victor. The move to ask Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana to attack from the start paid rich dividends and received praise from all over the world.
That victory set a landmark in Sri Lankan cricket, and it has been seen as a force to be reckoned with ever since.
15. Brendon McCullum
Country: New Zealand
Career stats in Tests: 31 matches, 11 wins, 11 losses, 9 draws, 35.48 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 62 matches, 36 wins, 22 losses, 1 ties, 61.86 win percentage
New Zealand never reached the World Cup final before 2015, making it to the semifinalists four times before. Brendon McCullum led them to a World Cup final for the first time in 2015 with his attacking captaincy.
Eoin Morgan, the current World Cup-winning captain, who is also known for his attacking captaincy, hailed McCullum, saying the England captain took a page out of the Kiwi's book.
Captaincy brought the best out of him. He became the first New Zealander to smash a triple hundred against India in 2014. In his final Test, he smashed a 54-ball hundred in 2016, the fastest hundred in Tests of all time.
14. Eoin Morgan
Career stats in Tests: NIL
Career stats in ODIs: 111 matches, 68 wins, 35 losses, 2 ties, 65.71 win percentage
Bottom line: England's focus was Tests, and it showed a similar defensive approach in the limited-overs formats, too. As a result, England exited in the first round of the 2015 World Cup.
After the debacle, Eoin Morgan changed the complexion of England's outfit. Being an attacking batsman himself, he roped in new players such as Jason Roy and asked the team to attack.
The new move worked, and England became the best ODI team in the world and won the World Cup in 2019.
13. Viv Richards
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 50 matches, 27 wins, 8 losses, 15 draws, 54.00 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 105 matches, 67 wins, 36 losses, 0 ties, 65.04 win percentage
Bottom line: Clive Lloyd is regarded as the most successful West Indies skipper — for good reason. But while Lloyd was ahead in ODIs, Viv Richards had a better win percentage in Tests, 54.00 compared to Lloyd’s 48.34.
Richards' ODI numbers are right up there with the best as well. He had a win percentage of 65.04 in the 105 ODIs he captained, fifth-best among captains who led 100-plus matches.
West Indies won the 1975 and 1979 World Cups and finished as the runner-up in the 1983 World Cup. However, West Indies couldn’t reach the semifinals in the 1987 World Cup when Richards was its captain — a first for the strong team.
12. Imran Khan
Career stats in Tests: 48 matches, 14 wins, 8 losses, 26 draws, 29.16 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 139 matches, 75 wins, 59 losses, 1 ties, 55.92 win percentage
Bottom line: Imran Khan inspired Pakistan to a World Cup title triumph in 1992. Although Pakistan suffered losses in the initial phase of the tournament, it came back well and won from an unlikely position, thanks to its captain.
He is the most successful Pakistan captain in ODIs and second-most successful Pakistan captain in Tests. Imran only won 29.16 percentage of Tests, but his loss percentage was only 16.66.
His leadership qualities took another turn in 2018 when he was elected president of Pakistan.
11. Stephen Fleming
Country: New Zealand
Career stats in Tests: 80 matches, 28 wins, 27 losses, 25 draws, 35.00 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 218 matches, 98 wins, 106 losses, 1 ties, 48.04 win percentage
Bottom line: Stephen Fleming led New Zealand 218 times in ODIs, the second-most by a captain only behind Ricky Ponting (230). He also led the Kiwis 80 times in Tests, the third-most by a captain.
Fleming took charge of the team as a 23-year-old and marshalled his troops successfully. He never had great talent on his team yet competed well against the top sides.
Shane Warne once said he was the best captain in world cricket. He also is the only New Zealand captain to win an ICC trophy — the ICC Knockout trophy in 2000.
10. Allan Border
Career stats in Tests: 93 matches, 33 wins, 22 losses, 38 draws, 34.40 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 178 matches, 107 wins, 67 losses, 1 ties, 61.42 win percentage
Bottom line: Australia was a dominant force under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, but it was Allan Border who laid the platform during the late 1980s and early 1990s. At times, he had to battle it alone as Australia didn’t have many match-winners then.
Under his leadership, Australia won its first World Cup win in 1987. His ODI record as skipper, 107 wins in 178 matches at a win percentage of 61.42, is incredible.
He captained in 93 Tests, the second-most by any captain. However, his win percentage of 34.40 doesn’t look great.
9. Sourav Ganguly
Career stats in Tests: 49 matches, 21 wins, 13 losses, 15 draws, 42.85 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 147 matches, 76 wins, 66 losses, 0 ties, 53.52 win percentage
Bottom line: Sourav Ganguly led India as captain in a period when the match-fixing scandal that shocked the world happened. He had two jobs do: 1) make fans believe in cricket again and 2) make India a reliable team. He successfully did both.
Ganguly, an aggressive leader by nature, helped India believe that it can defeat the best teams in the world. He led India to the final of the 2003 World Cup. He also led India to the ICC Champions Trophy title in 2002.
In Tests, his team ended Steve Waugh’s 16 wins in a row by an epic come-from-behind win in Eden Gardens in 2001. Also, India won the next Test and humbled world-beaters Australia.
8. Michael Clarke
Career stats in Tests: 47 matches, 24 wins, 16 losses, 7 draws, 51.06 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 74 matches, 50 wins, 21 losses, 0 ties, 70.42 win percentage
Bottom line: Michael Clarke never got the attention like his predecessors Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. It could be because his numbers in Tests as a captain weren't as great as theirs.
However, his ODI numbers (70.42 win percentage) are better than Waugh (65.23). And like Waugh, he won a World Cup for Australia in 2015. Clarke also was the top scorer (74 off 72 balls) for the Aussies in the 2015 World Cup final.
When the right-hander was at the helm, he led from the front and averaged 51.92 in Tests and 45.75 in ODIs.
7. Virat Kohli
Career stats in Tests: 51 matches, 31 wins, 10 losses, 10 draws, 60.78 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 80 matches, 58 wins, 19 losses, 1 ties, 75.00 win percentage
Bottom line: Virat Kohli had to take charge as Test captain when MS Dhoni announced his retirement midway through the 2014 away Australian series. Kohli has had an impressive record as skipper so far with 30 wins in his first 50 Tests as captain, only behind Steve Waugh (37) and Ricky Ponting (35).
One of the best batsmen of his generation, Kohli has scored 4956 runs at an excellent average of 64.36, including 19 hundreds. His 7 double centuries as captain are a world record.
The current Indian captain’s ODI record is scintillating as well, 58 wins in 80 games at a win percentage of 75. He averages a Bradmanesque 80 as captain in ODIs.
6. Hansie Cronje
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 53 matches, 27 wins, 11 losses, 15 draws, 50.94 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 138 matches, 99 wins, 35 losses, 1 ties, 73.70 win percentage
Bottom line: Hansie Cronje was South Africa’s most successful ODI captain. His winning percentage of 73.70 is second-best among players who captained at least 100 ODIs.
Beating India in India in Tests was always a tough task. However, Cronje did it in 2000 — something Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting never did.
Although Cronje's involvement with match-fixing scandal overshadowed his achievements, his stature as a captain will forever be remembered.
5. MS Dhoni
Career stats in Tests: 60 matches, 27 wins, 18 losses, 15 draws, 45.00 win Percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 200 matches, 110 wins, 74 losses, 5 ties, 59.52 win percentage
Bottom line: MS Dhoni is the only captain to win an ODI World Cup, World T20, and ICC Champions Trophy. These wins underscore the fact that he is one of the best limited-overs captains of all time.
That he won theses trophies with a relatively weaker bowling unit makes the victories all the more impressive. He was a great tactician and a good communicator with his teammates, while fielding or batting.
He couldn't replicate his limited-overs' success to Tests overseas conditions, though.
4. Greame Smith
Country: South Africa
Career stats in Tests: 109 matches, 53 wins, 29 losses, 27 draws, 48.62 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 150 matches, 92 wins, 51 losses, 1 ties, 64.23 win percentage
Bottom line: Graeme Smith started captaining South Africa at the tender age of 22 and only played 8 Tests then. The former Proteas skipper holds the record of most Tests as skipper, 109. He also won more Tests than anyone in the World, 53.
Smith, an opening batsman, led from the front and notched up 8,659 runs, the most runs by a captain in Tests. He averaged an impressive 47.84, including 25 hundreds, the most hundreds by a captain.
3. Ricky Ponting
Career stats in Tests: 77 matches, 48 wins, 16 losses, 13 draws, 62.33 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 230 matches, 165 wins, 51 losses, 2 ties, 76.14 win percentage
Bottom line: Ricky Ponting captained Australia a world-record 230 times in ODIs and won 165 of them, with an astonishing winning percentage of 76.14. His highest point in ODIs is his back-to-back World Cup wins in 2003 and 2007.
In Tests, he won 48 matches, the second-most behind Graeme Smith (53), although he led 32 fewer times. Between Dec. 26, 2005, and Jan. 2, 2008, Australia won 16 matches in a row under his leadership.
As captain, he always led from the front with the bat. In ODIs, he scored a world-record 8,497 runs at an average of 42.91. In the longest format, he is third on the list with 6,542 runs at an average of 51.51.
2. Clive Lloyd
Experience: 1974 -85
Country: West Indies
Career stats in Tests: 74 matches, 36 wins, 12 losses, 26 draws, 48.64 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 84 matches, 64 wins, 18 losses, 1 ties, 77.71 win percentage
Bottom line: In the late 1970s and 1980s, West Indies ruled cricket around the globe, and Clive Lloyd was the captain of that vintage team.
He led West Indies to World Cup wins in 1975 and 1979. In the final of the 1975 edition, he led from the front and smashed an 85-ball 102. He also led them to the 1983 World Cup final but ended up as the second-best after losing to India.
He had a staggering winning percentage of 77.71, the best in ODIs (with a minimum of 30 ODIs). Although he doesn’t boast the same in Tests, he only lost 16.21 percent of Tests, the third-best behind Steve Waugh (minimum of 30 Tests).
1. Steve Waugh
Career stats in Tests: 57 matches, 41 wins, 9 losses, 7 draws, 71.92 win percentage
Career stats in ODIs: 106 matches, 67 wins, 35 losses, 3 ties, 65.23 win percentage
Bottom line: Steve Waugh is arguably the greatest captain of the modern era. He won 41 Tests in 57 matches he captained Australia, with a world-record winning percentage of 71.92. He led the Kangaroos to consecutive 16 wins from Oct. 14, 1999, to Feb. 27, 2001.
Waugh’s Aussies lifted the World Cup in 1999 and his 120 against South Africa in Super Sixes stage is termed as one of the best World Cup knocks of all time.
His win percentage in ODIs, 65.23, is super impressive as teams were really competitive back then, and the margin for error was smaller.
Related: Greatest Cricket Bowlers I Greatest Cricket Batsmen