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The Captaincy Debate

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Did you watch Asia Cup? Yeah, I did.

It was such a waste of time. These guys should kick everyone out…. and … and they should start with that pathetic captain Sarfaraz. What? Why him? Didn’t the whole team fail? Didn’t those performers of Champions Trophy also fail in Asia Cup?

Yeah, but what was captain’s own performance in the tournament? Well, no argument there, he failed miserably as a player. But how does it make him a bad captain? Did you see his captaincy in Asia Cup? No doubts there either. He led the most unsuited squads, playing lineups and batting and bowling orders in the tournament among the last 4.

Doesn’t that make Sarfaraz incapable of captaincy then? Well, he has just drawn a Test series in England which even the Asia Cup winners couldn’t. And Pakistan is #1 T20 side in the world that happened for the first time in hi captaincy. But what about his ODI captaincy? What about it? He doesn’t look suitable for ODI captaincy? What makes you say that? His ODI captaincy record. What’s wrong with his ODI record?

He won mostly against weaker opponents, rarely against stronger opponents. How could you say that? I think so. But you can’t pass judgments on the basis of your feeling, can you? But I still feel so, how can we verify it? Hmm. Ever heard of ICC Team Rankings?

Oh, that complex nerdy system that ICC is managing for years about the Teams? Yeah, that system that award points to teams according to strength of opponent. How would it help with our question here? It can help us in quantifying performance of Sarfaraz as ODI captain and maybe help us compare it with other Pakistan captains too, what you think?

Sounds like a plan. Let’s do it. From where should we start? Let’s start from a simple win loss percentage against higher and lower ranked teams. Here, you go

That’s quite a picture. Some pretty interesting highlights there, such as:
 38.89% - win percentage against higher ranked teams
Since 2007 World Cup, only Misbah had higher win percentage against higher ranked teams than Sarfaraz
-  33.33% - win percentage of Sarfaraz against higher ranked teams is the same as Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Azhar Ali and Younis Khan.
-  87.5% - win percentage of Sarfaraz against lower ranked teams is the best among all captains (appointed or stand-in) since 2007 World Cup
Yeah, I can share even more interesting ones, such as these:
- 17 times – Pakistan faced off with the #1 rank team of the time since 2007 World Cup
-  0 times – Misbah led Pakistan side defeated #1 rank team
4 times – Pakistan managed to beat #1 ranked side of the time
-  Led by Younis Khan against India during 2009 Champions Trophy
-  Led by Shahid Afridi against Australia during 2011 World Cup
-  Led by Muhammad Hafeez during tour to Australia in 2016/17
-  Led by Sarfaraz Ahmed against South Africa during 2017 Champions Trophy

-  BIGGEST Wins in terms of ranking difference
-  #8 beats #1 Led by Sarfaraz Ahmed against South Africa during 2017 Champions Trophy
-  #8 beats #1 Led by Muhammad Hafeez during tour to Australia in 2016/17

-  BIGGEST Defeats
-  Beaten by 4 ranks lower Led by Misbah #10 ranked Zimbabwe defeated #6 ranked Pakistan in 2013
-  Beaten by #11 Led by Azhar Ali #11 ranked Zimbabwe defeated #9 ranked Pakistan in 2015

-  Tied with #11 Led by Misbah #6 ranked Pakistan tied a match with #11 ranked Ireland in 2013
-  0 times – Pakistan got beaten by an UNRANKED Team (6 matches)
But isn’t Team ranking a relative thing? Absolutely Correct.

That means ICC Team Rankings can’t solve our puzzle, right? Oh, it still can.

How? We can compare these captains on the basis of rating points instead.

Ok, how would it help us here? We can review what Pakistan’s Rating was at the beginning and end of captaincy tenure of Pakistan ODI captains since the inception of ICC Rankings. Something like this:

Since inception of ICC Rankings, 10 players got appointed as Pakistan ODI captain.

-  2 captains left the team with rating higher in their last match of captaincy than the rating of the team when they were first appointed (excluding current reign of Sarfaraz)
-  89.37 –Pakistan’s Rating when Sarfaraz took over was the lowest rating when any captain took charge of the team
-  101.09 – the current Rating of Pakistan, that is, 11.79 rating points better than when he took over the team
Wow, Sarfaraz tally is head and shoulders above others but it never looked like this without having this Rating Points comparison. Why is it so? Part of the reason is that when he took over, the rating of the team was the lowest it had ever been at the time of appointment of any other Pakistan captain. Mathematically, even a par performance of 100 rating points would have improved Pakistan’s rating from that point.

Means other captains may have performed better than Sarfaraz but the variance in before their first and after their last match as captain is not so big because they took over on higher rating. Right? True. For instance, when the first ICC ODI Team Rankings were released in October 2002, Pakistan had a rating of 115 points with Waqar Younis as the captain. When he played his last ODI as captain, Pakistan’s rating was 110 – still pretty reasonable – but it was 5 points lower than the rating before the first ODI of his tenure.  

That means, this view does not solve our query either. Isn’t it? But it did answer part of our query.

What is that? Under which captain the rating of Pakistan improved the most.

Ok, what about the unanswered part, then? We can compare the captains by another dimension. How about keeping both a) opponents ranking and b) team’s current ranking aside and just see how much Rating Points Pakistan Team earned per match on the average under different captains?
How do you mean? Have a look at this:

Just to make it a simpler comparison, it also includes matches where a player led the side as stand-in captain. Therefore, it also includes Mohammad Hafeez who led Pakistan side against Australia in 2016/17 where he won one and lost one.

Got it. Even in this view, Sarfaraz stands as 3rd best captain of Pakistan since 2007 World Cup. While we are at it, I can share a couple more of interesting facts, such as:

-  181 Rating Points – Largest Rating points earned in a match
Shahid Afridi led #6 ranked Pakistan defeated #1 ranked Australia in 2011 WC
- 12 Rating Points – Lowest Rating points earned in a match
Misbah led #6 ranked Pakistan Beaten by #10 ranked Zimbabwe in 2013
Interesting, very interesting.

So what you think now? Well, from these angles and dimensions, ODI captaincy of Sarfaraz doesn’t seem to be worse than other captains in the past. In fact, in some dimensions he has produced much better results than other captains – who were considered far better than him.

Yeah, but isn’t it too early to even place him in all-time greats bracket? Definitely. But it goes both ways. Isn’t it also too early to write him off as ODI captain?

Agreed. So what’s your conclusion then? As the numbers speak, Sarfaraz may not be the best of the lot but he is not the worst of the lot either. And numbers seldom lie.


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Discussion about ICC Rankings Update