The 50 Greatest ODI Players of All Time: Part 1
Ever created your list of top 50 cricketers in ODI history? Match your list with our expert’s in the first of a multi-part series.
Here’s a piece I have been working on for some time now and it’s finally coming together - ranking the 50 greatest ODI players in the history of the game. What makes this challenging is comparison across player roles: openers, middle-order batsmen, batting all-rounders, bowling all-rounders, wicketkeepers, pacers, spinners; and comparison across eras: the 70s/80s when scoring at 4 runs per over was the norm and cricketers played fewer matches versus the 90/2000s when scoring rates dramatically increased and cricketers played a lot more games. Throw in a number of qualitative aspects like captaincy, performance in big matches, and you can end up going back and forth on your rankings forever.
In the end, after a lot of research, personal memories, conversations with self-professed cricket experts, conversations with self-professed cricket non-experts and some number crunching, a list of 50 was finalized and the ordering complete. The criteria for selection is driven by ODI performances, so you obviously won’t see some Test greats like Gary Sobers on the list given they played before the advent of limited overs cricket (Sobers played 1 ODI, but you get the point!)
A number of factors have gone into ranking the players. Core stats like batting average, strike rate, runs per innings, bowling average, economy rate obviously played a big part. Longevity and quantum of achievement (no. of runs, no. of wickets) is another major component. Finally, other factors like performances in major tournaments (World Cups in particular) and captaincy have been considered. Suffice to say, this is not purely a quantitative exercise, but an overall assessment of performance.
I would typically start with the “honourable mentions” - cricketers who just missed out on the top 50 - but I’ll save that for later so as to not give too much away early in the countdown. Without further ado, here’s counting down the players from 50 to 45 (I’ll be ranking 5-6 players per article):
#50 and #49
We start the list with two batsmen who, despite not having the greatest core stats such as runs per innings (RPI) versus others under consideration, made the cut because of their spectacular performances on the biggest stage of them all. Here are the stats of the two players who made it at #49 and #50 respectively (the stat geeks reading this might want to try and figure out who the players are by looking at the numbers before scrolling down!):
Both are primarily batsmen who were handy with the ball. And both played starring roles in leading their country to World Cup triumphs.
In at #50 is Aravinda de Silva, with over 9000 runs at a strike-rate of 80+ which is very impressive for someone who played most of his career in the slower-paced 80s and 90s. What’s most impressive is his role in taking Sri Lanka from the newbies of cricket (he debuted in 1984 during Sri Lanka’s 29th match in ODI history) to becoming World Champions in 1996. Aravinda was man-of-the-match in both the semi and the final – first, he was at his counter-attacking best with 66 of just 47 balls against India after the openers were out cheaply and then he took Sri Lanka to victory in the final against Australia with an unbeaten 107. He went to play till the 2003 World Cup, where he continued to be aggressive with a defiant 92 against eventual champions Australia in a Super Sixes game. He ended his career with 11 centuries and 64 fifties, a conversion rate he would have like to have improved on. Overall, he will be remembered as one of pioneers of Sri Lankan cricket who revelled on the big stage and he starts our list at #50.
At #49 is Yuvraj Singh who, like Aravinda, led his country to a World Cup win with a series of memorable performances. Yuvraj Singh’s failures in Test cricket sometimes make people forget how good an ODI player he is. Initially, I found myself questioning putting Yuvraj ahead of Aravinda, but the numbers tell you Yuvi has been more consistent with a better average and RPI. He’s also one of the best finishers in the game - averaging 57 in wins while chasing. And his peak during the 2011 World Cup is what really solidified his standing in ODI history - not many have enjoyed a purple patch like that with 362 runs at an average of 90.5 and strike rate of 86, 15 wickets at an average of 25, 4 man-of-the-match awards and being named man-of-the-series. Off the field, he’s had his share of criticism in the past but he’s now developing into a role model after his personal battle with cancer. His greater consistency and better peak performance gets him a spot ahead of Aravinda in the battle of the World Cup winners.
#48: Javed Miandad. This was a tough one with a number of top batsmen with similar stats. Miandad edged the rest because he arguably defined the role of the modern game finisher - playing cautiously through the middle overs, running hard between the wickets when batsmen were used to cantering, and then going all out in the slog overs.
If you really dig into the stats, they back up his ability as a finisher with Miandad averaging 66 in successful chases. He also stepped it up in big games, averaging 55 in tournament finals. That included his famous 116* against India in the finals of the Austral-Asia Cup that ended with a last ball six over mid-wicket (India and Pakistan fans will remember that shot for a long, long time!). And he played a major role in Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup triumph, with an unbeaten 57 to take his side home in the semis (after a match-turning 87-run stand with Inzamam) followed by a solid 58 against England in the final. He finished as Pakistan’s highest scorer and second only to Martin Crowe in the event with 437 runs at an average of 62.
Miandad would never go away and thus had the ability to get under opposing players’ skin. That sometimes happened with teammates as well, with his unsuccessful stint as captain that was characterized by a player revolt. Love him or hate him, everyone respected his immense talent that made him one of the all-time great batsmen.
#47: Shane Bond. Shane Bond’s story is one of “what could have been”, given all the injuries he suffered. Despite that, he still makes it to the list because of his ridiculous wicket-taking ability. His strike rate of a wicket every 29 balls is much better than anyone in the history of the game with at least 100 wickets.
When Bond was in full force, he could really wreck batting line-ups. He had 11 hauls of four or more wickets in 82 matches - that’s about 1 every 7.5 matches. No one else is close on that metric, the very best wicket-takers get a 4-fer or more about 1 in 10 matches. One of his most memorable performances was 6/19 against India in Bulawayo - he got Sourav Ganguly with a short delivery, Venugopal Rao with a first-ball yorker and then Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Kaif and Virender Sehwag in quick succession to leave India tottering at 39/6 while chasing 216. He fittingly came back to end a fighting ninth wicket partnership to claim his career best figures. Another 6-fer came against Australia in the 2003 World Cup where he got Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist early and was named man-of-the-match in a losing effort. Then there was his 21-wicket man-of-the series performance in the VB series in 2002 involving Australia and South Africa - the series that led to Aussie ODI restructuring with Steve Waugh being axed from the team.
If Bond had stayed injury free, he could have gone on to become a top fifteen player of all time, but for now he’ll have to settle for #47.
#46 and #45
Two similar openers from different eras, both anchored innings for their team while forging many successful opening stands with their more prolific partners.
The second row in the table is #46 Gary Kirsten, South Africa’s hallmark of consistency through the 90s. His best patch came in 1996, when the Proteas were dominant in ODI competitions (except for their choke act in the 1996 World Cup quarters). That year, Kirsten hit fine centuries in two tournament finals - 115* versus India during the Sharjah triangular and 118* versus Pakistan in a quadrangular in Nairobi - and won the man-of-the-match award in both games. He also set an all-time World Cup record for the highest individual score in the same year with his 188* against the UAE in Rawalpindi. Kirsten was a fighter, a thinker (which helped translate into coaching success) and all-round team player that made him one of my personal favourites in the 90s.
It was a close call, but Kirsten came in behind #45 Desmond Haynes. Despite the lower strike rate and RPI, Haynes came out on top because his quantum of achievement stood out against the batsmen of his time. Haynes held a number of ODI batting records for a very long time - trivia buffs will remember his aggregate of 8648 runs with 17 tons since they were the top mark for many years. Haynes’ best years came in 1984-85. In 1984, he had stellar performances in the West Indies’ World Series triumph Down Under and then hit three centuries in four games at home against Australia later that year. In 1985, he set a record at the time for most runs in a calendar year with 1232 runs, beating Gower’s 1983 record of 1086 runs and also edging Viv Richards by the smallest possible margin (Richards ended with 1231 runs in 1985). In 1989, Haynes had another solid year and became the first man to have scored 1000 runs in a calendar year on two separate occasions. That’s what I mean by quantum of achievement. His ODI career fittingly ended with a man-of-the-match winning century against England at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad. He would stay at the top of the ODI record books for a long time until some guy named Tendulkar decided to change that!
So that’s it for the first part of this series of articles. Here’s a quick recap of the players ranked 45-50.
#50 Aravinda de Silva
#49 Yuvraj Singh
#48 Javed Miandad
#47 Shane Bond
#46 Gary Kirsten
#45 Desmond Haynes
Next time, we’ll have the players ranked from 40-44 which includes some legendary pace bowlers, a great captain and a prolific keeper-batsman.