The 50 Greatest ODI Players of All Time: Part 9
The Final Five are here! Who do you think tops our expert’s list of greatest ODI players of all time?
On to the final part, counting down the Top 5.
#5 Muttiah Muralitharan
The highest wicket-taker of all time comes in at #5.
You can see the numbers in the table but I just have to state them again - 534 wickets, an economy rate of 3.93 and an average of 23.1. To maintain that kind of consistency across 18 years of cricket is simply stunning. Murali is without a doubt the greatest spinner in the history of ODI cricket and one of the best bowlers overall (I have ranked him second amongst all-time ODI bowlers, behind someone who’s coming up in the Top 4). After starting his career slowly (Murali’s bowling average exceeded 35 in his first two years of ODI cricket), Murali really started to make a mark in 1996, the year he won a World Cup. He kept improving at his craft and the years from 2000 to 2004 were truly special. In 2000, he averaged 20 at an economy rate of 3.4. The next year, 18.2 at 3.3. In 2002, 12 and 2.8 which is ridiculously good. In 2003 and 2004, he averaged 15.9 and 19.8 respectively while going at 3.3 and 3.6 runs per over.
He ended his career with 10 fifers, second only to Waqar all-time. Two of those came in finals. The first was 5/34 against England at Lords in 1998, as he helped restrict the hosts to 256 after they were coasting at 132/0. Sri Lanka won by 5 wickets and Murali was man-of-the-match. The second came against South Africa at the Premadasa in 2000, as he picked up 5/44 including wickets of a set Kirsten and Hall after their 91-run opening partnership, and then came back to get Klusener and Pollock to give the Lankans a 30-run victory. There are plenty of other memorable performances; his best figures came against India in Sharjah - 7/30 as India fell apart in their chase of 295.
Murali was a hard worker who never gave up, overcoming all the early career challenges and controversies to earn the respect of fans and opponents alike. He was always loved by his colleagues for being a complete team player. When he eventually retired from ODIs, he had done enough to distance himself by a long way from any other spinner in the history of ODI cricket. And for all of that, Muttiah Muralitharan is ranked #5.
#4 Adam Gilchrist
Was Adam Gilchrist the most fun cricketer to watch? He has to be right up there, always entertaining, attacking, competitive, and to top it all off had a great sense of sportsmanship. Here are his career stats:
That average is good but not amongst the greatest. His strike-rate though is phenomenal. For batsmen with at least 2000 runs, he’s third all-time in terms of SR. His average and strike-rate alone put him close to Sehwag (who was #26 on the list). Throw in the fact that he was a wicketkeeper who revolutionized the role of keeper-batsmen and there’s no doubt that Gilchrist is one of the greatest players of all time. There has never been anyone quite like him. He was a genuine match-winner who typically rose to the occasion when it mattered:
- The best example of this: his 149(104) in the 2007 World Cup final against Sri Lanka at Bridgetown. Is it a coincidence that Australia never lost a World Cup in which Gilchrist played? I think not. Sure they had a great team, but Gilchrist was truly irreplaceable. Warne and McGrath were around in 1996; Ponting and Clarke stuck around in 2011; but without Gilchrist, those Aussie sides were missing their X factor.
- Gilchrist also had 54(49) in the 1999 World Cup final. The bowlers did the hard work to restrict Pakistan to 132, but Gilchrist made sure there were no hiccups with the bat. In the 2003 final, he gave them a fast start with 57(48) - rightly overshadowed by Ponting’s 140* but let’s not forget Gilly set the tempo early.
- He delivered in other finals too. In the 1998 series Down Under, he scored 100(104) against South Africa in Sydney to help level the best of three series at 1-1. Australia went on to win the final 2-1.
- In the third and deciding final of the VB series in 2006, Gilchrist scored 122(91) against Sri Lanka thanks to which Australia comfortably chased 267 for victory.
Between 2003 and 2007, Gilchrist ended each year with a strike-rate exceeding 100 while his average ranged between 35 and 44. Those were his best years, but even when he was out of form, Gilchrist could come through and play a cracker. And his wicketkeeping was pretty good too - he has the second most dismissals of all keepers in the history of ODIs, behind only Boucher (Gilly’s 417 catches and 55 stumpings is very impressive). As a truly revolutionary cricketer who redefined the role of a keeper batsman, Gilchrist comes in at #4.
#3 Glenn McGrath
In at #3 is the greatest bowler in the history of ODI cricket.
He may not have as many wickets as Murali, but he has the better average and economy rate. And he delivered stellar performances when in the most critical games. Like World Cups where he averaged 18.2 with the ball, or tournament finals where he averaged 16.4. Some of his important performances:
- 5/14 against the West Indies in what was effectively a must-win game for the Aussies to qualify to the Super Sixes stage of the 1999 World Cup, after they had lost to Pakistan and New Zealand.
- McGrath has 71 wickets in World Cups, the most of all time. He also has the best figures in a World Cup, his 7/15 against minnows Namibia in 2003.
- McGrath finished with the most wickets in the 2007 World Cup with 26 and he was also named man-of-the-series.
- He’s also had strong performances in tournament finals, like his 3/28 at the MCG against Sri Lanka in 1996 as Australia defended a relatively low score of 201 and won by 18 runs (this was when the Jayasuriya-Kaluwitharana partnership was starting to blossom).
- 4/45 against England at Sydney as Australia hung on to a close 10-run victory. McGrath grabbed the last 3 wickets to give the Aussies a 1-0 lead in the final series. He went on to win the man-of-the-series award.
- 5/27 against Pakistan in Sydney to give Australia the series win.
In the 11 calendar years McGrath played 10 or more matches, he averaged less than 20 six times. Couple that with his economy rate that hovered around the 3.5-4 mark for most years and you see why McGrath is ranked so highly. Very hard to get away, a regular wicket-taker who you could count on to pick up high quality wickets - he’s got Kirsten, Jayasuriya and Tendulkar seven times each in ODIs. Truly, a legend and the greatest bowler in ODI history.
Which means we have two batsmen coming up!
#2 Viv Richards
#1 Sachin Tendulkar
It really had to come down to these two at the top. Here are their stats:
|#1- Sachin Tendulkar||463||18426||44.83||86.23||40.77||140|
|#2- Viv Richards||187||6721||47.00||90.20||40.25||100|
Richards has the better average and strike rate, which is very impressive considering the era he played in. Tendulkar has the better RPI and an unrivalled quantum of achievement. Nearly three times the numbers of runs as Richards, 49 centuries to Richards’ 11, 96 fifties to Richards’ 45 (which also highlights Sachin’s better 50-100 conversion rate), he became the first man in ODI history to score a double century. Richards’ ODI career lasted 16 years; Sachin is on 23 and counting. And after the 2011 World Cup triumph, Tendulkar has the one thing that was missing on his ODI resume. That was enough for me to put him ahead of Richards as the greatest player in the history of ODI cricket.
Let’s start with Richards. He was a powerful batsman who could decimate bowling attacks, with scores like this:
- His at-the-time ODI record score of 189* (170) against England at Old Trafford. The West Indies were 102/7 and 166/9 but Richards propelled them to a match-winning score of 272, scoring nearly 70% of the team’s total runs in the process.
- His 181(125) against Sri Lanka at Karachi in the 1987 World Cup. This was an at-the-time record for highest individual score in a World Cup and the West Indies team score of 360 was the record for highest score in ODIs.
- 153*(130) at the MCG against an Aussie attack that included Lillee and Thomson. West Indies won the World Series that year and Richards was man-of-the-series.
- 149(99) against India at Jamshedpur, as the West Indies piled up 333. The Windies won the series 5-0 and extracted some revenge for their World Cup final loss earlier in that year.
- His famous 138* against England at Lords in the World Cup final. He helped the side recover from 99/4 to post 286 and won their second straight World Cup.
Richards of course was named man-on-the-match for that final. He ended up winning 31 ODI man-of-the-match awards in 187 matches, meaning he won an award about 1 in 6 matches (~17% of the time), which is more often than any other player who has won at least 10 man-of-the-match awards. This is a sign that he was a world-class match-winner in a West Indies side that was quite stacked with match-winners!
The only knock against Richards would be his ODI form in the latter part of his career. He averaged 27 in 1988 and 33 in 1989. He played on till 1991 without a lot of success, but still ended his career as the best ODI player of his generation.
On to the greatest ODI player of all time then - Sachin Tendulkar. Some people question Tendulkar’s ability to deliver in important games, but the stats reveal he’s done pretty well. In World Cups, Tendulkar averages 57 at a SR of 89, and he was named man-of-the-series in the 2003 edition. In tournament finals, Tendulkar averages 54.4 at a SR of 88. He clearly upped his game in big matches. I am not really sure where to start with Sachin. Heck, there are books written about him and there’s not much I can say in a few lines. So let me just recap some of my most memorable Sachin moments:
- The year 1998, where Sachin was in the form of his life. He averaged 65.3 at a strike-rate of 102 with 9 centuries. He set the record for most runs in a calendar year with 1894 runs, which is yet to be broken. And that year saw some fine performances:
The ‘Desert Storm’ innings’ at Sharjah; first the 143(131) to ensure India made the final and then his 134(131) to give India a famous victory over the Aussies.
That knock of 134 was the start of Sachin scoring four consecutive centuries in tournament finals - 100* against Kenya in Colombo, 128 against Sri Lanka in Colombo and 124* against Zimbabwe in Sharjah (in a tri-series that involved Sri Lanka). India won all those tournaments.
He also scored 141 against Australia in Dhaka in the knockout format ‘mini World Cup’ that year, to give India a 44-run victory
- His scores of 117* and 91 against Australia in the 2008 tri-series Down Under, which India managed to win after a long time, taking the final 2-0
- Then there are his big scores: the record 200*(147) against South Africa in Gwalior, the 186*(150) against New Zealand in Hyderabad and his 175(141) against Australia also in Hyderabad where India almost chased 351 for victory.
Then there are all the off-field aspects of his game that pushed the popularity of cricket to new levels. The numbers, the milestones, the personality all add up to make Sachin Tendulkar the greatest ODI player of all time.