The 50 Greatest ODI Players of All Time: Part 7
Here’s the seventh part of our expert’s countdown to his 50 all-time ODI greats. How many of your favourites have made it to this list so far?
On to part 7, and we begin with three high quality bowlers.
#16 Saqlain Mushtaq
#15 Allan Donald
#14 Richard Hadlee
The three we have here are amongst the truly elite ODI bowlers. Donald and Saqlain have the best ODI averages for bowlers with at least 200 ODI wickets (for those who care, Donald is marginally ahead by one-thousandth of a point!) They have the perfect mix - the wicket-taking ability close to the likes of a Waqar or a Lee (who had SRs of 30.5 and 29.4 respectively) while being much more economical. Saqlain is a premier ODI spinner and often bowled at the death for Pakistan (Rameez Raja as captain tried employing the strategy of bringing Saqlain on for the first time in 30th/31st over and bowling him straight through). Donald captured the imagination of fans in the 1992 World Cup with his raw pace, his green outfit with green zinc cream, the look of a warrior out to destroy the opposition. He pips Saqlain on the list because of the better economy rate. Richard Hadlee is an interesting comparison with Donald and Saqlain - he played in a different time which partly resulted in that significantly better economy rate. He didn’t take wickets as regularly with a worse strike rate, but the overall mix led to a better average. From a pure bowling point of view, I would probably put him behind Donald and Saqlain. But his batting gives him the nod ahead, with an average of 21.6 (RPI of 18) at a strike-rate of 75. He wasn’t a ‘great’ batsman by any means, but an effective bowling all-rounder which puts him at #14.
Let’s start with the master of the ‘doosra’, Saqlain Mushtaq. You know who holds the record for most wickets in a calendar year? Saqlain in 1997, when he picked up 69 wickets at an average of 18.7 and an economy rate of 4.1. You know who’s second on the list? Saqlain again! 65 wickets in 1996 at an average of 19.5 and an economy rate of 4.4. In that two-year span, Saqlain picked up 5 four-wicket hauls and 4 fifers. Perhaps one of his finest performances was a 5/29 against a top-class Australian side in Adelaide which gave Pakistan a 12-run victory. He played an important part in that series, helping Pakistan win the event Down Under against the West Indies and Australia in 96-97. Saqlain continued to perform at a high level in 1998 when he averaged 16.4 with the ball. People started to pick him better later in this career, with the average going up to the high 20s in the 2000s and eventually he was out of the side. Still, for a span in the mid-late 90s, Saqlain was arguably the best bowler in the ODI game, and overall had a stellar ODI career.
Allan Donald, even as a pace bowler faced with multiple injuries, had a longer career in terms of number of years than Saqlain. He really put South African cricket on the map starting with his 5/29 at the Eden Gardens on debut, in the Proteas’ first ODI game after exile. His best year was 1996, where he picked up 51 wickets at an average of 15.4. He picked up a lot of wickets in a bilateral against England at the start of the year, which the Proteas won 6-1. He was devastating in patches but plagued by injury in that year’s World Cup; his most famous (and scary) incident was the lethal bouncer that hit UAE skipper Sultan Zarawani on the head. He went on to win man-of-the-series in a quadrangular in Kenya that included the hosts, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He picked up 14 wickets in four matches at an average of 8.5 in that series. He followed that up by winning man-of-the-series in the Titan Cup in India later that year - a triangular series I am sure a lot of Indian fans will remember well. South Africa were the most dominant side in the group stages while India and Australia scrapped it out for the final spot (the most famous game was the Bangalore boys Kumble-Srinath taking India to a tense 2-wicket win at the Chinnaswamy with a unbroken 52-run partnership). India ended up beating the South Africans in the final. Donald though was man-of-the-series with 17 wickets at an average of 17.3.
Even through the injuries, Donald continued to perform at a high level late in his career. In his final full year of ODI cricket in 2002, he averaged 21.3 with the ball with 45 wickets for the year at a strike-rate of 28.6. His career ended after South Africa’s unceremonious exit from the 2003 World Cup.
On to Hadlee then, who is the second most economical bowler on this list going at just 3.3 runs per over for his career. Batsmen tried to play out his overs without getting out. That’s because he could really rip into an opposition, which is why he has 5 fifers. Case(s) in point:
- 5/26 against Australia in the first game of the World Series final, as the Kiwis won the game. They couldn’t quite pull of the series, losing the finals 3-1
- 5/32 against India in the same series at Perth, with high quality wickets of Gavaskar, Viswanath, Patil and Kapil
- 5/25 in the 1983 World Cup against Sri Lanka, his career-best figures
With the bat, he had four hard-hitting fifties, including a man-of-the-match winning 79(64) to help the Kiwis chase down a mammoth 297 against England in a World Series game. Another knock that came towards the end of his career was a defiant 79 against Australia in a tri-series final where the Kiwis were struggling and Hadlee scored almost half the team’s runs to help them put some runs on the board. Hadlee is arguably the greatest cricketer New Zealand has ever produced across all formats of the game, and in ODIs he helped them stay competitive through the 70s and 80s.
#13, #12, #11
Three elite ODI finishers, their stats indicated below. The names are very figure-out-able if you take a look at their numbers.
All three have staggering averages. That is inflated by a few not outs, but also recognize that they bat lower down the order and don’t always have a chance to play a long innings. All have good strike-rates, the guy in the middle played a decade before the other two which partially accounts for the lower number. All three of them play a role that’s extremely hard to fill - the finisher. The man who stays till the end to get the job done, who can play calculated cricket in the middle overs by knocking the ball around in case wickets fall early, the man who can push the tempo towards the end, and above all else, pace his innings to perfection and when the pressure is at its highest, back himself to come out on top. In case you haven’t figured it out, #11 is MS Dhoni, #12 is Michael Bevan, and #13 is Michael Hussey, Australia’s modern day version of Bevan.
In terms of ranking the three, Dhoni has the best RPI, SR and is a wicketkeeper who brings a lot more value to his team. Then there’s his captaincy - wasn’t hard to put him above the others. Hussey is the better ‘overall’ player across all formats, but Bevan gets the nod as the better ODI player. Bevan’s better average and RPI may be somewhat equalized by his lower SR. But Bevan was a pioneer with his aggressive running, his ability to stay till the end, his amazing ability to bat with the lower order and that’s why he’s at #12.
Let’s start with Hussey. He’s third on the all-time batting average list for players with at least 5000 runs (Dhoni and Bevan are the two in front of him). He is the ultimate fighter across all formats of the game. He’s played well across the world, averaging 44 in England, 46 in South Africa, 47 in Australia, 65 in India and 81 in New Zealand! And while he only has 3 ODI centuries, he’s played some crucial knocks under pressure to take his side to victory:
- 75* against New Zealand in a must-win game with the Aussies down 2-1 in a five-match series. From 101/3, Hussey partnered with his brother to take the Aussies to a win with ten balls to spare
- 65* against the Kiwis in the CB series, as Australia won a close game by two wickets with eight balls to spare. Chasing 219, Hussey came in at 77/4 and held the tail together as regular wickets fell. He fittingly finished things off with a six
- 64 against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy, on a tough pitch at Centurion as Australia won on the last ball of the 50th over. Hussey didn’t stay till the end but won man-of-the-match as the only batsman who managed a half-century in the game
There are many other knocks where Hussey scored about 40* (like against Pakistan at Perth, or in chases against England) and took Australia to a close victory, usually in the penultimate or last over of a close game. He is a great finisher in today’s game, but not quite as good as this next guy.
Michael Bevan, the man who defined the word ‘finisher’ in ODIs. His average is inflated by 67 not outs in 196 innings, but it’s actually pretty impressive that it was so difficult to get him out. It makes you wonder how different his career could have been if he batted higher up the order - maybe he would have amassed more runs, maybe not. For the record, in the 53 times he did bat at number 4, he scored 3 of his 6 career centuries and averaged 59.6. But Bevan thrived in his role down the order where he led Australia to victory in close games, especially when the stakes were high. The best way to describe Bevan’s career is to talk about some of his most memorable innings:
- Deciding game of a bilateral in India. Australia chasing 266 for victory, lose three quick wickets and are 202/6 with 10.5 overs to go. Game in the balance. High pressure. No problem. Bevan 87*(113), Australia win the game with two overs to spare and take the series 3-2.
- Tri series in Australia. Group game against a Pakistan side that has Akram, Waqar, Saqlain and Mushtaq Ahmed. Pakistan, defending a low 181, bowl well to get the top order out cheaply and then run through the lower order. Regular wickets being lost, runs being squeezed. Except Michael Bevan is playing. He scores 79* to take Australia to a 3-wicket win with 3 balls to spare. That includes an unbroken 34-run stand with No. 9 Andy Bichel.
- Game 6 of a 7-match series in South Africa. Australia are up 3-2, going for the series win but South Africa score an imposing 284. Australia are struggling at 58/3. Enter Michael Bevan, 103 (95) a match-winning partnership with Steve Waugh to give Australia the series.
- 2001-02 tri series in Australia. New Zealand are defending 245 and have Australia down at 82/6. Shane Bond looks unplayable. Bevan, 102*(95), shepherds the tail and takes Australia to a 2-wicket win with three balls to spare.
- The famous Sydney game played on New Year’s Day in 1996. Game reduced to 43 overs, West Indies score 172 (Hooper scores 93*) but Australia are struggling at 38/6. Except Michael Bevan is still around. And he stays around till the end, and with four required off the last ball, hits Roger Harper for a boundary to give Australia a famous 1-wicket win off the last ball. He finished 78*(88).
- Not a chase this time, 1996 World Cup semi-final against the West Indies. Australia is 15/4 and looking lost. Enter Bevan, with a resilient 69 and a partnership with Law to take the Aussies to a respectable 207. Australia won by 5 runs.
- 2003 World Cup group game against England. Chasing 205 for victory, the undefeated Aussies slump to 48/4 to bring Bevan to the crease. They further slump to 135/8. Bevan and his good old partner Bichel have an unbroken 73-run partnership to take the Aussies to a victory with 2 balls to spare. Bevan finishes the game with a boundary off Flintoff, and finishes on 74*.
I am not even done yet- there’s a fifty in the final of a tri-series against India, a hundred against New Zealand in a successful chase, and more big scores in successful Australia chases. But that will do for now. No other player had that kind of ability to hold his nerve and back himself at the very end. If there’s one current player who shows shades of it, it has to be MS Dhoni.
Enough and more has been written about Dhoni. Captain Cool has thrived in a leadership role, consistently shoulders the responsibilities of wicketkeeper and through it all maintains an unparalleled level of calm. That’s reflected in his batting as well. He did start of as the hard-hitting bludgeoner but has evolved into the role of finisher and is now a premier ODI batsman. He’s been consistent over time, averaging over 40 in every full calendar year of cricket with a strike-rate that’s typically in the 85-90 range (only once did he finish a year with a strike-rate of less than 80, when he finished at 78.9 in 2010). There’s always a sense of drama to his batting, leaving things till the very end or finishing off in style, like he did in the CB Series in Australia earlier this year. And there have been a number of gems along the way:
- From the bludgeoning days, his record 183*(145) against Sri Lanka in Jaipur as India chased 299 with ease
- His 148(125) which also came when he batted at #3, against Pakistan
- 72*(46) against Pakistan at the Gaddafi, as he blasted India to 292 in their chase for victory, with the Men in Blue winning with 14 balls to spare
- His man-of-the-match winning 2011 World Cup Final knock of 91*(79) including that famous six to win the game (a shot which I, like a lot of Indian fans, remember vividly plus the fact that I called the shot before the ball was bowled.)
Overall, Dhoni had 46 fifties and 7 centuries in just 188 innings, a very impressive conversion of a fifty-plus score in less than 4 innings. Quite the ODI batsman, and a terrific captain which is why he comes in at #11.
That’s it for this series. Only two parts to go and we are down to the top 10. Some expected names and potentially a couple of surprises that we will dive into next time!