Other than the World Cups, which draw sizeable audiences, most ODI series or tournaments have seen a clear dip in following. Test cricket continues to draw the traditionalists and purists who like their cricket pristine and unbeholden to modern commercialism. T20 dominates world cricket in terms of viewer interest. Today, in countries where cricket is not a lucrative pursuit, established players have opted to give even national test and ODI series a miss in order to make themselves available for T20 tournaments around the world - like the IPL or the Big Bash, and lately, even the Afghanistan Premier League. Others say T20 cricket is just ODI cricket without the boring middle overs. Whatever your opinion, it certainly does seem that ODI cricket might not be around far into the future.
That said, one day cricket does churn out some spectacular performances. For instance, the greatest ODI ever played. In March 2006, Ricky Ponting and co took apart South Africa’s bowling at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, scoring an unbelievable 435/4 in 50 overs. This was one year before the 2007 T20 World Cup. South Africa replied in kind, scoring 438/9 with one ball to spare. Or India, riding on Virat Kohli’s heroics, chasing down Sri Lanka’s total of 320 in just 36.4 overs in Hobart. Or India’s win in the Natwest Trophy final against England at Lord’s in 2002 - that’s the one with Saurav Ganguly’s bare-chested antics. Or the tied 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa after Allan Donald was run out off the last ball.
Such glory was achieved due to the skills and determination of some extraordinary ODI batsmen. Today, we look at the greatest ODI batsmen who scored big since the start of the new century.
1) Sachin Tendulkar
He probably shouldn’t be on this list because he started his cricket in the late 1980s. Tendulkar made his ODI debut in 1989 against Pakistan. He scored a duck in that match. His last ODI was against Pakistan, 23 years later, in March 2012. He made 52 in that Asia Cup match which was dominated by Virat Kohli’s stunning 183.
Fitting end, that. Passing the baton.
Allan Donald, the fearsome South African fast bowler, wrote about Sachin, “Sachin Tendulkar has often reminded me of a veteran army colonel who has many medals on his chest to show how he has conquered bowlers all over the world.”
The man considered the greatest to ever hold a bat in ODI cricket, Viv Richards, said about Tendulkar, “I think he is marvellous...He can play in any era and at any level. I would say he’s 99.5% perfect.” Then there is the high praise, John Woodcock, an English journalist, was quoted as saying, “Gentlemen, he is the best batsman I have seen in my life. And unlike most of you, I have seen Bradman bat.”
Ok, time to dial down the hyperbole and look at the stats. Well, truth be told, that only serves to heighten the hyperbole. Tendulkar has 100 international centuries, and 49 of those came in ODIs. He has 96 half-centuries. Sachin has played a staggering 463 ODIs and scored 18,426 runs. He has a highest score of 200 not out, and an ODI batting average of 44.83. Importantly, he has an ODI strike rate of 86.23. He made the first double century in ODI’s in 2010 against South Africa.
Tendulkar’s defining ODI innings were what we now remember as the Desert Storm - the two innings against Australia in Sharjah in 1998. Back when tri-nation ODi series were a regular feature, India, Australia and New Zealand were competing in the Coca Cola Cup. India had taken a crubbing or two and were faced with a daunting total of 285 if they hoped to qualify for the final. A sandstorm struck the Sharjah stadium and interrupted the match. India’s target was then revised to 276 from 46 overs. But the more important target was to reach 237 in order to qualify for the final. As the storm subsided, Tendulkar walked out to script an innings that would make him immortal. Playing with a team more renowned for unceremonious collapses than gritty fightbacks. Sachin cut, drove, and walloped the Australian bowlers all over the park. India lost the match, reaching only 250 in 46 overs, but Tendulkar had ensured that India, who never could handle pressure, crossed 237 to make it to the final. Tendulkar made 143 from 131 balls.
Two days later, in the final, Australia made 272 in their 50 overs. Sachin made 143 from 131 balls as India won by 6 wickets and 9 balls to spare. That’s Sachin in a nutshell. Skill, determination and courage.
Will Davies wrote in a blog for the Wall Street Journal, “No other batsman in history has come close to achieving what Tendulkar has...The figures don’t lie: Tendulkar is the most successful cricketer in history. “
2) Ricky Ponting
Circa 2010, Ricky Ponting was the best in the business. Ponting, at his peak, was the most formidable batsman in a team of invincibles. If Ricky Ponting scored well in an ODI match, Australia would most likely win. In 2010, Ponting was chosen as the "ESPN Cricinfo Player of the Decade for the 2000s" by a panel of experts that included former players as well as his contemporaries.
Ponting is known for his aggression - as a batsman, as a player, and as a captain. Rameez Raja once said about him, “Ricky Ponting takes the attack to the Opposition and bosses the game from the word go and then carries this aggressive mindset to the field as a captain. His cricket philosophy is attack and win, which makes Australia still the team to beat.”
I’ve said this before, but what may Indian cricket fans remember about Ricky Ponting is the 2003 World Cup final when he single handedly won the final for his team. A brutal knock of 140 from 121 balls. It was a captain’s knock if ever there was one in a World Cup final. He remained unbeaten, hit 8 sixes, and destroyed every Indian bowler. India used eight bowlers, none of whom escaped Ponting’s wrath.
Then there was the ‘greatest ODI ever played’. And of course it involved Ricky Ponting. Only he could have set it up that way. Three years after winning the World Cup, Ponting returned to the stage of his triumph for an ODI against South Africa. That match is now known as the 434 ODI, and has gone down in history as the highest successful run chase in an ODI. Punter, as Ponting is called by his Aussie teammates, scored 164 including 9 sixes. South Africa's successful chase and Herschelle Gibbs' 175 in the same game took the gloss of Ponting's innings, but what an incredible knock that was. Ponting's onslaught was brutal, with more than a dozen boundaries flowing from his flashing blade.
He also led Australia to a third World Cup title in 2007. That was the thing about Ricky Ponting. He was a consummate batsman, an aggressive player and an inspiring captain. He finished his ODI career with 13,704 runs from 375 matches, 30 centuries and 82 fiftys and two World Cup wins. Arguably the greatest of ODI batsmen until his retirement. What surprising is the low profile he has maintained when coaching teams in the IPL.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan heaped fulsome praise ono Ponting. He said, “The best batsman I had the privilege to play against ... Australia cricket will not be the same without him. Ricky was a very underestimated bowler as well... Quicker than he looks!”
When he was done with his career, Punter was one of the most successful cricketers of all time, if not the most successful. He was a part of 108 Test victories and 262 wins in one-day internationals.
3) Adam Gilchrist
Okay, we’ll have to admit here that this list will be heavy on Australian and Indian names. Because they’ve produced some devastating batsmen. But none more so than the affable Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist.
Gilchrist was the most exciting batsman of his time. Bar none. You could watch with joy as he plundered runs against the team you were supporting. Sourav Ganguly said Gilchrist’s whirlwind century in the first test in Mumbai in 2001 was the best he had seen anyone ever play spin bowling. Point being, Gilly played exciting cricket no matter the geography, match situation or format.
Ayaz Memon wrote about him in ESPNCricinfo, “What makes him an all-time great is the plain and simple way he plays his cricket. The logic of his batsmanship is uncomplicated, unfussy: the ball is meant to be hit, the bat is a wonderful instrument with which to do so. Very, very few players in the history of the game have done this as easily or exhilaratingly.”
It’s no surprise then that he was one of the great ODI batsmen of the 21st century. Gilchrist was to Australia what Sehwag was to India. If he got going, you were done and dusted in the match. Case in point: his 149 from 104 balls in the 2007 World Cup final remains the highest individual score in a tournament decider, and one of the greatest ever innings in ODI cricket.
On a less than sunny day in Bridgetown, Barbados, when rain had truncated the match, the Australian opener seized the match from the get go. Against a Sri Lankan attack featuring the most prolific bowler in cricket - Muthiah Muralitharan - and the redoubtable master of the yorker Lasith Malinga, Gilchrist spanked the ball to all parts of the Kensington Oval. With only 38 over per side, Australia finished with an imposing 281/4. Sri Lanka managed only 215 in 36 overs before rain stalled the match. But Gilchrist’s status as the greatest wicket-keeper batsman in cricket was sealed. Also, as a member of a team that was regularly called cheats and bullies, kudos to Gilchrist for being a walker. Even on a stage as big as a World Cup semi-final. That act alone won him a legion of fans.
Wasim Akram said about Gilchrist, “He can hit the first ball he faces, or the best ball you bowl, for a four.”
As Memon said at the end of his piece, “Find me a More Valuable Player.”
Adam Gilchrist finished his ODI career in 2008 with 9,619 runs from 287 matches. He has 15 centuries and a highest score of 172, and he took a total of 454 dismissals behind the stumps. Forget the 21st century, you’d be hard pressed to leave Gilly out of any all time ODI XI.
4) AB de Villiers
It’s a toss-up between AB and Hashim Amla for this spot, but AB wins because, when he had a good day, this man was an unstoppable force of nature. As one article on the ICC’s official website described him, Abraham Benjamin de Villiers was a true cricketing genius - an incredibly gifted batsman and an unbelievable fielder. There has never been anyone else who has the ability to score this quickly, and at will, while still looking elegant and athletic.
De Villiers debuted in ODIs in 2005 but it wasn’t until 2009 that he really started making a serious impact. Between 2009 and 2014, he racked up eye-popping numbers in Tests as well as ODIs. In limited overs cricket, his average went from 36.40 to 62.51. So did the strike rate. According to ESPNCricinfo, in that 5 year period, he scored 4001 runs from 4002 balls.
The ever-smiling exterior hides a hard-as-nails batsman who was capable of crazy things. In 2015, AB smashed the West Indian bowlers to all corners of Johannesburg, and sent a few out of the park as well, en route to an incredible 31-ball 100. He beat the previous fastest 100 in ODIs by five deliveries. He eventually finished with 149 from 44 balls, with 9 fours and 16 sixes.
Then there was the 162 not out from 66 balls against his bunnies, the West Indies, at the 2015 World Cup in Australia.
AB De Villiers did with a cricket bat what you and me do in cricket video games. He always punished bad balls and thumped the good balls. With his ability to score rapidly all around the wicket, he is also sometimes referred to as Mr 360. He holds the record for the fastest 50, 100 and 150 runs in ODIs.
Australia’s Trent Woodhill, who worked with ABD as part of the coaching staff of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, said, “AB and Federer share a similar DNA I think...he finds a way as Federer does, in conditions where others struggle.”
De Villiers retired in May of this year, citing fatigue due to an unforgiving international schedule. He said, “...to be honest, I am tired.”
AB’s IPL teammate Virat Kohli said about him, “We understand situations, understand each other’s games well. But AB just keeps taking the game away and that’s why there’s no doubt why he’s the best player in the world….You’ve changed the way batting was seen in the time you’ve played international cricket. ”
And Kohli’s not exaggerating. De Villiers spent 507 days as the top-ranked Test batsman and 1,356 days as the top-ranked ODI batsman.
Michael Vaughn tweeted about AB, “...he has been an unbelievable advert to how I would have loved to have played all 3 formats .. GREAT GREAT Player ... Top 3 that I have ever seen.”
And teammate Dale Steyn puts it like this: “You get guys who are good, then you get guys who are excellent, then you get AB de Villiers.”
AB De Villiers played 228 ODIs and scored 9,577 runs, including 25 centuries and 53 half-centuries, at a stunning average of 53.50. His career strike rate: 101.9.
5) Virat Kohli
It had to be him, isn’t it? Virat Kohli already has 10,000 ODI runs from just 205 innings, the fastest ever to that milestone. He has also scored 38 ODI centuries, second only to Tendulkar, and averages 59.90. Ridiculous numbers. Kohli is well on course to break some of Tendulkar’s records, if not all.
It would be understated to label him prolific. He just goes out there and keeps churning out century after century. And more importantly, India keeps winning. If it's an ODI, with Kohli in the team, India are always favourites. That’s almost a fait accompli.
There are many who already proclaim him the greatest ODI batsman. The man himself, Sir Viv, says Kohli reminds him of himself. That’s high praise from a batsman who sauntered onto a cricket field without a helmet to smack bowlers like Lillee and Thompson around the park at a strike rate of 90. Viv said, “He is an individual who doesn't back off from confrontation; someone who can stand his ground under pressure. I love that as you can't teach these instinctive aspects.”
Virat Kohli’s defining innings came against Sri Lanka in Hobart, Tasmania. In yet another tri-nation tournament, away from home, India were chasing 320 in 40 overs to stay alive in the competition. Virat scored 133 from 86 balls turned as India achieved the target in the 37th over.
He decimated Lasith Malinga, the best death bowler in the world at the time, He took 24 runs from one Malinga over as the bemused bowler ended up conceding 96 runs from 7.4 overs.
India didn’t make it to the finals of that tournament, but we saw the birth of a new phenomenon. Virat scores at a blistering pace - he has a strike rate of over 92!
Since that knock in 2012, Kohli has had an amazing run of form. He scored 1,268 runs in 2013; 1054 runs in 2014; 1,460 runs in 2017 and 1153 runs this year. He took just 11 innings to go from 9000 ODI runs to 10,000 runs!
Kevin Pietersen said about Virat in 2016, “He plays so aggressively - sometimes it's like - are you serious? The way he makes big runs for his team so often is just remarkable. His ODI record is a joke. Such an old head on young-ish shoulders.”
That probably comes from having seen tough times early in life. At age 18, Kohli was playing a Ranji Trophy match against Karnataka. He was batting on 40 overnight. His father succumbed to a heart attack later that night. To everyone’s surprise, Kohli returned and scored 90 to save Delhi from a follow-on. He recalled that morning, saying, “...it was the hardest time in my life. But the call to play the morning after my father's death came instinctively to me.”
Former cricketer Aakash Chopra analysed Kohli’s approach to batting, and wrote in Cricinfo, “His self-control at the beginning of every innings is the primary reason for his consistency. Exercising this self-control would be a lot easier for someone who doesn't have as many shots as Kohli does, which makes his self-denial more creditable. His ability to plan meticulously and then diligently follow the plan is the common thread in most of his innings.”
While the lists of greatest batsmen are always subjective, and naturally given to debate, these gentlemen proved to be the five premier names in ODI batting since the year 2000. We’ve missed out on many impressive players - Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Tilakaratne Dilshan, Shahid Afridi, Mohammed Yousuf, Hashim Amla, Kallis, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Chris Gayle, Herschelle Gibbs, David Warner, Steve Smith and many more. However, for sheer impact and the ability to turn a game consistently over their careers, these five batsmen are the best of those that played ODIs since the year 2000.
First Published: November 15, 2018, 6:04 PM IST