The 50 Greatest ODI Players of All Time: Part 3
Ever created your list of top 50 cricketers in ODI history? Match your list with our expert’s in the third of a multi-part series.
We’ll be a third of the way through the list by the end of this article, with the players from 39-35 covered this time round. So let’s get started.
#39: Shane Warne
He’s arguably one of the greatest bowlers in the history of Test cricket. In ODIs, he’s been less consistent which is why he’s ranked at #39 and not higher. Here are his career stats:
That average of 25.7 is the worst of any pure bowler on this list of 50. The economy rate is good, but not outrageous for a top class bowler. And yet there’s no denying that Warne is the greatest leg spinner to play in any form of cricket. There are only a handful of bowlers I would go out of my way to watch live in action. It happens with batsmen quite a bit- people will want to watch class batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, game-changers like Virender Sehwag or elegance like Mark Waugh. But with bowlers, it’s hard to find players who evoke the same kind of sentiment from a viewer. Shane Warne was one such bowler. The Wizard of Oz was a true magician with the ball. Immense talent, flamboyance, guile - these were the qualities that made him a pleasure to watch. And he’s been brilliant at the most critical of times. Take World Cups for instance, where Warne average 19.5 at an economy rate of 3.8 and has had a number of standout performances:
- 4/36 in the 1996 World Cup semi-final against the West Indies: The Windies were cruising at 165/2 in their chase of 208. But then Shivnarine Chanderpaul fell to Glenn McGrath and the wickets started to tumble with Warne the chief instigator. He kept things tight, built up the pressure while polishing off the lower middle order to lead Australia to a 5-run victory.
- 4/29 in the 1999 World Cup semi-final against South Africa: The epic tied game, the one in which Warne was ridiculously good. He bowled Herschelle Gibbs with a ball that pitched outside leg and ended up hitting off, then got Gary Kirsten bowled in his next over and Hansie Cronje caught at slip two balls later. Then he came back to pick up the crucial Kallis wicket in the 45th over. Klusener’s heroics almost pulled off a miracle, but Australia came through to set the stage for another Warne wonder.
- 4/33 in the 1999 World Cup final against Pakistan: This was Warne’s only World Cup triumph, having missed out in 2003 and 2007, but he sure made it count. Four wickets to bundle Pakistan out for 132 and lead Australia to a comfortable victory.
Warne was named man-of-the-match in all those games. He ended his career with 13 hauls of four or more wickets and 12 man-of-the-match awards.
However, Warne’s ODI form lacked consistency. There were years like 1996, where he averaged 16, and 1999 where he picked 62 wickets, the third most wickets taken in any calendar year. Then there were years like 1995 and 1998 where he averaged about 40 with the ball. That lack of consistency is what kept him down to #39 on the list, behind this former teammate…
#38: Craig McDermott
Another Aussie World-Cup winning bowler, who in my view is one of the more under-rated ODI pace bowlers of all time. Take a look at his numbers, you’ll see a better average and economy rate than Warne which is one of the main reasons he’s ranked ahead.
One of my earliest cricket memories is watching Craig McDermott bowl - largely because I was fascinated by the zinc cream. He was wearing it well before Allan Donald made it famous in the 1992 World Cup. But I did not quite understand how good a bowler he was at the time. For that, I had to watch a recording of the 1987 World Cup semi-final between Australia and Pakistan (this was one of those old VCR recordings, we kept tapes of all the World Cup semis/finals and that was a big source of my cricket consumption as a kid). McDermott bowled extremely well - getting one of the Pakistan openers early (side note: you get 1 million imaginary points if you can guess the name of this opener), bowling Wasim Akram later on and then wrapping up the tail. He finished with 5/44, a well-deserved man-of-the-match award and four days later was part of the World Cup winning XI. By the way, the Pakistani opener he dismissed was Mansoor Akhtar.
Through the late 80s and early 90s, McDermott was the heart of the Aussie bowling attack - the transition man between Lillee and McGrath. He doesn’t get as much fanfare as those other two, but he was pretty darn good. He was a workhorse who bowled wonderful outswingers that helped him scalp 203 wickets. In an era where his country lacked real bowling depth, he was responsible for spearheading the attack and helped the Aussies become one of the top sides in the world.
#37 and #36
So, it turns out this article is filled with a disproportionate number of Australians with the next two also coming from Down Under - prolific top-order batsmen from different eras with comparable averages and strike-rates (if you adjust for the difference in scoring rates across time).
#37 is Michael Clarke while #36 is Dean Jones. Clarke has the better average, though that’s inflated by a number of not outs; Jones has a better RPI by about 2 runs per innings. Jones’ strike-rate is also very respectable for the era he played in and definitely better than a lot of his peers, more so than Clarke. And after Viv Richards in the 70s and 80s, it was Dean Jones who defined the role of a No. 3 batsman in the late 80s and early 90s with his attacking stroke-play and aggressive running between wickets. And for all of that, Jones ranks ahead of Clarke in the battle of these two premier ODI top order batsman. For now anyway, Clarke still has time to climb higher on this list.
Let’s start with Australia’s current skipper. Clarke has been very consistent in ODIs ever since he started. He’s averaged over 40 in eight of the ten years he’s been playing, with the only real rough patch coming in 2008. He averages over 40 against every Test playing nation except South Africa, with averages of over 60 against both Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He’s also been handy with the ball, picking up 55 wickets at an average of 37 - not bad for a part-timer. Despite the stellar aggregate numbers, Clarke does not rank higher because he’s never really put together a string of great performances or played a truly memorable innings. It’s hard to remember any of his 7 ODI centuries - 130 against India in Bangalore in a washed out game of a bilateral series, 117 in a loss against Sri Lanka in a final (overshadowed by Dilshan’s 106), 111* in a loss against India in a bilateral (outdone by Kohli’s 118), a match-winning 101 in a comfortable win against Bangladesh and three hundreds in comfortable chases where the Aussie bowlers restricted Pakistan (twice) and Zimbabwe to scores under 200. Only two of those efforts resulted in man-of-the-match awards and I’m still waiting for the definitive Michael Clarke innings that will establish him amongst the upper echelon of ODI batsmen.
Dean Jones, on the other hand, has had that patch where he’s been the best batsman in the world. His year in 1990 is one the greatest years a batsman has enjoyed in ODIs. You know the kind of year John McEnroe had in 1984 when he went 82-3 or Novak Djokovic in 2011 when he won three slams - the years when these guys looked unstoppable. Well, Jones had a cricket equivalent of that in 1990. He scored 1174 runs at an average of 69 and a strike rate close to 80. The next highest scorer that year was Martin Crowe with 810 runs. That average of 69 was the highest for any batsman scoring at least 1000 runs in a calendar year, until Ponting broke it in 2007. Let’s talk about the details that year: he was player of the finals and player of the series in Australia’s World Series triumph over Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He was the best player in a tri-series that followed against New Zealand and India, where he scored two tons including 102* in a man-of-the-match winning finals performance. He scored a 100 in Sharjah against Sri Lanka in the semis but the Aussies lost to Pakistan in the final - the only tournament they missed out on that year and one of only 4 losses Jones experienced in 22 ODIs that year. He then helped Australia defend their World Series crown at the end of the year with his best ever ODI performance, 145 against England at the Gabba in the group stage.
1987 was another strong year for Jones - he started the year with three centuries in his first four games and finished the year helping Australia capture the World Cup with some consistent performances: three fifties at a healthy average of 45. Overall, Jones was the prototype for the attacking No. 3 batsmen that followed (Ponting and Lara for instance) - aggressive, brash, confident and downright talented. He was unbelievably good, but not quite as good as this next guy.
#35: Gordon Greenidge
With a better average and a significantly better RPI than Jones, Gordon Greenidge comes in at #35.
Only three men on this list have an RPI better than Greenidge. Only six in this list even come close to an RPI of 40. That shows you how prolific a run-scorer Greenidge was. And despite the low strike-rate, Greenidge was actually considered a devastating hitter in his time.
He was part of the West Indies XI that won both the 1975 and 1979 World Cups. His most significant contribution in World Cups was a match-winning 73 against Pakistan in the 1979 semi-final, where he put on 132 for the first wicket with his partner Desmond Haynes. He also scored an unbeaten 106 against India in a group game that year. With Haynes, he formed what may be the greatest opening combination across both formats of the game. Together, they scored 5206 runs at an average of 52.6 in ODIs, an average higher than any other pair in any position that has scored at least 3000 runs.
Greenidge could really decimate a bowling attack if he got going, possessing a Sehwag-esque ability in that regard for the era he played in. Case(s) in point:
- 133 at a strike rate of 95 against a good Kiwi side that had Chatfield, Hadlee and Snedden
- 117 at a strike rate of 95 against India in Antigua
- 115 at a strike rate of 86 against India again, this time in Jamshedpur
- 104 in 100 balls against New Zealand in Auckland
- 110* at a strike rate of 86 against Sri Lanka in a World Series game in Australia
Greenidge incidentally was man-of-the-series and the finals in his first World Series outing in 1979-80 as the West Indies won the title. All of that means Greenidge is #35 on the list.
Here’s a quick recap of the list so far:
#50 to #45: Aravinda de Silva, Yuvraj Singh, Javed Miandad, Shane Bond, Gary Kirsten, Desmond Haynes
#44 to #40: Andy Roberts, Dennis Lillee, Michael Holding, Steve Waugh, Kumar Sangakkara
#39 to #35: Shane Warne, Craig McDermott, Michael Clarke, Dean Jones, Gordon Greenidge
Next time, we look at players from #34-#29 (I know 29 is not a nice round number, but it leads to an easier comparison with two players in similar positions). There’s far more sub-continental representation in the next piece with a couple of all-rounders and a couple of southpaw openers. There are also two lethal pace bowlers that will round out our six from #29-#34.