The 50 Greatest ODI Players of All Time: Part 4
Check what our expert has to say as he counts down to his list of 50 all-time ODI greats. Here’s Part 4 of a continuing series.
So, on to Part 4 of the list! And what better way to start than with a couple of tearaway quicks.
#34: Brett Lee
#33: Waqar Younis
Those economy rates might not be the best in the world, but both those strike-rates are. Of all the pace bowlers with at least 100 wickets in the history of ODIs, only Shane Bond has a strike-rate better than these two. Throw in the fact that Waqar and Lee have 416 and 380 wickets each, ranking 3rd and 7th respectively amongst all-time wicket leaders, and you realize how unbelievably good these two were as wicket takers. Both their numbers are pretty similar, but Waqar gets the nod to be ahead on the list. The reason: Waqar was a pioneer, the man who defined reverse swing and who at his best, was unplayable with his toe-crushing yorkers. That’s why Waqar has 27 hauls of four or more wickets, of which 13 were fifers or better. That’s more than anyone in the history of the game. Lee isn’t too bad with 23 hauls of four or more wickets (tied for 3rd all-time) which included 9 fifers, but a tad below Waqar.
Let’s start with the Brett Lee story. A lot has been written about him in recent weeks after he announced his retirement from all forms of international cricket. Lee started off as the wicket-taking, first change bowler to complement Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. He was at his wicket-taking best in the 2003 World Cup, where he finished with 22 wickets (second highest in the tournament after Chaminda Vaas) at an average of 17.9. In the event, he ripped through New Zealand’s tail to finish with figures of 5/42 while Australia was defending a low score of 208. He played an important role in the semis as he got three of the first four Sri Lankan wickets (Atapattu, Tillakaratne and Gunawardene) to leave the Lankans floundering at 43/4 in their chase of 213.
Over time, Lee became Australia’s bowling leader across all formats of the game, to the point where he was the only man Ponting could count on for a wicket. He continued to be consistent in ODIs, with strike-rates ranging from 28.3 to 30.1 between 2008 and 2011. He had a bit of a drop-off in 2012 before he finally retired and finished second amongst Australia’s all-time leading ODI wicket takers (1 wicket behind McGrath!) and as the only bowler to capture 150+ wickets at a strike-rate of under 30. He was a top notch ambassador for the game on and off the field.
On to Waqar Younis then, arguably the most lethal ODI wicket-taker the world has ever seen. I recall an old cricket ad where fans were talking about the best cricketer in the world and there was one person who said Waqar was the best, with the phrase “Fulltoo bouncer dalta hain yaar, jhakaas.” It was a nice ad, not really factually accurate, since Waqar’s real claim to fame was his inswinging yorker. That’s why 151 of his 416 wickets were batsmen out clean bowled (which is a really high percentage for this dismissal type).
Waqar made his ODI debut on 14th October, 1989 (random trivia: Gautam Gambhir was celebrating his 8th birthday on this day) against the West Indies in Sharjah. 1990 though was the year he made his mark with a historic run - he picked up 47 wickets in 19 matches at an average of 12.63, a strike rate of 20.1. At the time, that was a record for most wickets in a calendar year. For the longest time, it was the best average in a calendar year for a bowler with at least 40 wickets - now only Ajantha Mendis ranks ahead after his phenomenal run in 2008. Let’s look at Waqar’s historic 1990 in more detail. He started with some average performances Down Under in the World Series, his best performance 4/39 against Sri Lanka in a group game. Then he went to Sharjah where he was unplayable:
- 4/42 against India, 6/26 against Sri Lanka (four batsmen bowled, two LBW) and 5/20 against New Zealand in the semis where the Kiwis were bowled out for 74. These were consecutive games! Waqar ended up winning man-of-the-series as Pakistan won the tournament.
- Waqar travelled back home after that for bilaterals against New Zealand and the West Indies. Pakistan won both series 3-0 and the games were punctuated by 3 consecutive fifers for Waqar, the only bowler in ODI history to achieve this feat. His figures - 5/11 at Peshawar, 5/16 at Sialkot and 5/52 at Karachi.
Add that up and you’ll realize he finished the year with 5 fifers. I repeat- 5 fifers! That’s more fifers in a single year than any of these guys managed throughout their ODI careers- Ambrose, Donald, Garner, Warne and Lillee.
Unfortunately for Waqar, he was not always at his devastating best which is expected with his bowling style. In 1991, he averaged 30.7 with the ball at an economy rate of over 5. He was fairly consistent for the rest of the early mid-90s with an average between 22 and 25 for most years, but started to struggle in the late 90s. He had another burst in 2001 as captain of the side, when he averaged 20 at a strike-rate of 24.3. That included his career best figures of 7/36 against England at Leeds, which he followed up with an expensive but match-winning 6/59 against Australia in the very next game. He finished with man-of-the-series honours as Pakistan finished runners-up in the series.
In World Cups, Waqar’s stats were fine but he never had the best of exits - he missed out on the 1992 victory, was subject to an Ajay Jadeja massacre in the 1996 quarter-finals and played only one game in the 1999 World Cup which was an infamous loss to Bangladesh. Aptly, his ODI career ended after the 2003 World Cup after he failed to lead Pakistan to much success in the tournament as they were bounced out in the early stages.
These next two guys will have much fonder World Cup memories. Both are match-winning all-rounders who played critical roles in leading their countries to first-time World Cup triumphs.
#32 and #31
Here are their numbers; you may want to figure out who the players are if you are in to this kind of (rather pointless!) cricket trivia:
#31 is clearly the batter batsmen who had a very, very long career. #32 is the better bowler who was a hard-hitting lower order batsman with a strike-rate that was amongst the best in the world for the era that he played in.
So here goes, #32 is Kapil Dev and #31 is Sanath Jayasuriya. Close call between the two of them, both all-rounders with one dominant skill but more than competent with the other. Jayasuriya has an RPI that is about 12 runs better than Kapil, while Kapil’s bowling average is about 9 runs better than the Lankan. Both won World Cups for their countries, Kapil as the inspirational captain and match-winning all-rounder in 1983 and Jayasuriya as the destructive opener, cunning bowler and man-of-the-series winner in 1996. In the end, Jayasuriya won out because of his longevity, his sheer quantum of achievement (13430 runs and 323 wickets is nothing to be scoffed at) and the way he redefined the ODI game with his belligerent batting in the first 15 overs. Sure Mark Greatbatch and Krisnamachari Srikkanth may have started doing it before, but Jayasuriya took it to a whole other level.
But let’s start with Kapil Dev, arguably one of India’s greatest cricketers (an honour he was bestowed with by Wisden in 2002, as India’s ‘Cricketer of the Century’). He was a workhorse in Tests as he eclipsed Richard Hadlee’s all-time wicket record at the time. In ODIs, he was a powerful batsman and a disciplined swing bowler. The 1983 World Cup has to be his crowning glory in ODIs as India beat the mighty West Indies to win the title. Kapil finished with 303 runs at an average of 60.6 and strike-rate of 109 in the tournament, with a lion’s share of those runs coming in his famous back-against-the-wall 175* against Zimbabwe. He also picked up 12 wickets at an average of 20.4 and an economy rate of 2.9. If they were handing out “man-of-the-series” awards back then, Kapil would have been a front runner for the award. Kapil may have just the one century to his name in ODIs, but he’s made a number of memorable 50s including:
- 87(64) against the West Indies in Nagpur to almost pull out a come-from-behind win when India were struggling at 31/5 while chasing 204 for victory. India ended up losing by 10 runs.
- 75(51) against the Kiwis during a World Series match in Brisbane (trivia note: Yuvraj Singh’s father, Yograj Singh made his debut in the same game and finished with 2/44. India still lost a close game).
- 72(38) in Guyana. Yes, a strike rate of 190 back in the 80s! That too against a strong West Indies side that had Holding, Roberts and Marshall. India won the match by 27 runs.
- 72*(58) in Bangalore in a 1987 World Cup game against New Zealand, which India won by 16 runs.
With the ball, Kapil was more accurate than devastating. He had one meaningless fifer, when Australia piled on 320 in the 1983 World Cup, but Kapil showed heart. He had 3 four-wicket hauls, two of which were important in the circumstances. In late 1991 during the World Series, Kapil picked up 4/54 including the last two wickets to help India hang on for a 10-run win. Earlier in the same year, Kapil picked up 4/31 in the Asia Cup Final as India restricted Sri Lanka to 204, a score that was comfortably chased down thanks to half-centuries from Manjrekar, Tendulkar and Azhar. Kapil’s victims included two tail-enders, Roshan Mahanama and a man playing his 12th ODI for Sri Lanka - Sanath Jayasuriya. Kapil may have won the battle then, but he finished behind the Matara Mauler on this list (I couldn’t have asked for a better transition to the next paragraph!)
Like Kapil, Sanath led his country to a first-ever World Cup triumph and his man-of-the-series performance included 221 runs from 6 matches at an average of 37 and a strike-rate of 132 (you read right!). He also picked up 7 wickets at a handy average of 33 and an economy rate of 4.5. Throughout his career, Jayasuriya has been a match-winner. He’s won 48 man-of-the-match awards in ODIs, that’s second all-time behind Tendulkar. The guys in third are a good way behind with 32 awards. It’s hard to know where to even begin with Jayasuriya’s fine knocks - he has 28 centuries and 68 fifties. I’ll just pick a few highlights:
- The year following the World Cup triumph, Jayasuriya was at his best with an average of 51 and strike rate of 114 in 1997. The best knock that year was 151*(120) against India at Wankhede.
- In 2006, when some people thought it was time for Jayasuriya to leave, he came back to average 48 at a strike rate of 107. That included back-to-back 150s - the first one was 152 of 99 against England at Leeds where Sri Lanka finished at 324/2(37.3 overs) in a comfortable chase. I repeat- 324 in 37 overs! That’s just outright crazy - all kinds of records would have been broken that day if Sri Lanka had been allowed to go on, but the match was over and Sri Lanka won the away series 5-0.
- There was his stand-out 189 in the final of a tournament in Sharjah, where India suffered an ignominious 245-run defeat after being bowled out for 54 in their chase of 300.
- His 125 in the Asia Cup Final in 2008, when the Lankans were struggling at 66/4. India then couldn’t unravel the Mendis mystery and lost by 100 runs. (Yes, there’s a theme across bullets 1, 3 and 4: Jayasuriya enjoyed inflicting punishment on Indian bowlers.)
- One of my favourite Jayasuriya knocks was his 96(67) against Pakistan in a quadrangular final - this was the “Independence Cup” that also included India and New Zealand. I remember the tournament well - Azhar was dropped from the team for a whole host of reasons, Tendulkar was captain, Saeed Anwar set a record with his 194 in Chennai. And Jayasuriya was man-of-the-series, and his blitzkrieg 96 in the final was incredible.
So Jayasuriya comes in at #31. On to next two, a pair of left handed openers, one of whom has been mentioned in this article already.
#30 and #29
The man on top averages over 40 with a higher RPI. The man at the bottom has the higher strike rate. Almost a dead heat when you look at their pure batting performances, but #29 wins out because he also contributed in other ways. He has 100 catches and 100 wickets to go with the 11,000+ runs. He has a couple of 5-wicket hauls, which is no mean feat for any bowler, leave alone a part-timer. And he was an uncompromising, fearless, sometime polarizing leader who captured the imagination of the country in the 2000s. In at #29 is Sourav Ganguly, who pips #30 Saeed Anwar.
Anwar was a terrific stroke player, and like Ganguly, was particularly strong on the offside. His biggest claim to fame is the at-the-time world record 194 he scored in Chennai. The previous year, Anwar had a prolific stretch where he scored 1595 runs - only four batsmen have amassed more than that in a calendar year (Ganguly being one of them). That year, he averaged 51.5 at a strike-rate of 91.5 with 3 tons and 10 fifties. Two of those centuries in 1996 came at one of Anwar’s favourite hunting grounds, Sharjah. Those were back to back unbeaten centuries for which he won man-of-the-match awards. This was reminiscent of his run in 1993, where he scored three consecutive centuries at Sharjah - 107, 131 and 111 - the biggest score of the lot coming against the West Indies while the other two were against Sri Lanka. Overall, Anwar averaged 45.4 in 51 matches at Sharjah, a venue that accounted for over a third of his career centuries. Anwar also had a good record in the sub-continent, but did not fare as well in Australia or South Africa where his average was in the early to mid-20s. However, he proved he wasn’t just a flat track bully with solid performances in England. You have to be pretty darn good to be one of only seven batsmen to score 20 or more ODI centuries, that too at a strike-rate in the 80s.
However, Sourav Ganguly had the better overall ODI career when compared to Anwar. In terms of career centuries, he finished with 22 - two more than Anwar. In his best calendar year, 1999, he had 1767 runs which is second on the all-time list. And he did all this well shouldering the responsibility of captaincy for about half his ODI career. His international career may have come to life with his Test century on debut at Lords in 1996, but his golden run in ODIs came in Toronto a year later in a bilateral series against Pakistan. Indian fans will remember these performances:
- Match 1: 17 and 2/27 in a close 2-run win.
- Match 2: 32 and 2/16 in a low-scoring game where India chased 117 for victory.
- Match 3: 2 and 5/16, a brilliant performance with the ball to help India defend a low score of 182
- Match 4: 75* and 2/29 to give India a 4-0 series lead
- Match 5: 96 and 2/33, India lost but Ganguly won his fourth consecutive man-of-the-match award and the man-of-the-series award.
After that, Ganguly went from strength to strength as an ODI batsman, averaging about 42 in 1997 and 1998, upping that to 46.5 in 1999 and then 56.4 in 2000. 1998 saw his match-winning performance of 124 in the final against Pakistan in Dhaka as India chased down 316 to win - Kanitkar the man finishing it off with one ball to spare. The 1999-2000 stretch was great for Ganguly. In 1999, there was the record 183 against Sri Lanka at Taunton in the World Cup; 153* at Gwalior against New Zealand in a game where the Indian batting struggled and Dada held firm to take India to a competitive 261 and an eventual 14-run victory. In 2000, there were 7 centuries in all, across Melbourne, Adelaide, Jamshedpur, Dhaka, Nairobi (twice) and Ahmedabad. The Nairobi centuries were in the semi and final of the Champions Trophy, 141* as India beat the Proteas and then 117 in a losing effort in the final against New Zealand. This was the side that had a young Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan making their mark, players that Ganguly believed in. As a leader of the new age Indian squad post the match-fixing saga, Ganguly wore his heart on his sleeve and ushered in an era of fearlessness and belief, which culminated in India’s epic run in the 2003 World Cup where India won eight straight games. They may have been the best side not to win a World Cup, and it’s a shame because they played in the era of one of the all-time great ODI squads in Australia that year. (Side note: other contenders for best sides not to win a World Cup: West Indies in 1983, India/Pakistan in 1987 and South Africa in 1999.)
While Ganguly’s personal ODI form dipped in the 2000s (he still averaged over 35 in most years barring a poor stretch in 2004-05), he was still a premier batsman in the Indian XI. He sits at number six amongst the all-time ODI run getters. And now they are making a movie about him! Well, there are conflicting reports of whether this is a movie or an ad, but either way it’s worth checking out this video. I’m not quite sure what to expect from this. I’m a little afraid I might have to drop Ganguly a few places down the list if they actually release this movie and I go and watch it. But how can you not watch the movie (if it happens) after that video?
That’s it for this edition. Here’s 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
#34 to #29: Brett Lee, Waqar Younis, Kapil Dev, Sanath Jayasuriya, Saeed Anwar, Sourav Ganguly
Next time we’ll go from #28 to #23. That’s a batsmen dominated list with power hitters and a couple of world-class all-rounders. Till next time!