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The all-time ODI world XI, as based on the ICC rankings

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

That there is no one set way to pick an all-time world XI is what makes the whole endeavour so deeply fascinating and endlessly worthy of discussion.

For some, the team should be dominated by modern players, especially in ODI cricket, where the game has evolved to such an extent that what previously seemed impossible now seems routine, particularly with bat in hand. Others argue that any such exercise is futile, with comparisons across eras so vexed and confusing as to be practically arbitrary. And that’s before you get into details like batting orders and bowling attack make-ups – can you pick Adam Gilchrist as your keeper at No.7, even though he was primarily an opener?

One option is to brute-force it, using the one method that does exist to rate all the players to have played, and simply picking the five top batsmen, the four top bowlers, and the top wicketkeeper and all-rounder before trying to squeeze them all into the same XI. While the ICC’s rankings are much-maligned and hard to understand, there isn’t yet much else to replace them, and that’s what we’ve done here.

Here’s what an all-time ODI world XI would look like, based on the above criteria. It’s undoubtedly a very good team, with a bowling attack to die for. The batting line-up is formidable too, but skews towards the early days of ODI cricket, with the volatility of the nascent years perhaps allowing those who ‘got it’ to stand out. Funnily enough, there’s five players who would ideally bat at No.3 as well.

Viv Richards (West Indies)

ICC all-time batting ranking: 1 (935 points v Pakistan, 02/12/1985)

187 ODIs, 6,721 runs @ 47.00, SR: 90.20, 11 100s, HS: 189*

Here’s where this method runs into its first issue; the top five batsmen in the ICC rankings all preferred batting at first-drop. While our No.6 is the player who opened most often in this XI, we’ve plumped for the Master Blaster to open the batting, reasoning his explosive style could be perfectly suited to taking advantage of the fielding restrictions. Given he’s the top-ranked batsmen in the ICC all-time ODI batting rankings, with an average and strike-rate both streets ahead of his contemporaries, you’d fancy he can make a decent fist of seeing off and cashing in on the new nut.

Dean Jones (Australia)

ICC all-time batting ranking: 5 (918 points v West Indies, 09/03/1991)

164 ODIs, 6,068 runs @ 44.61, SR: 72.56, 7 100s, HS: 145

Again, we know Deano didn’t open often, only facing up twice in ODIs, but we fancy his brand of hard running and sparkling strokeplay will marry quite well with Viv at the top. Perhaps his crowning glory in ODIs came in the 1987 World Cup, only once dismissed for under 30 as Australia lifted the trophy for the first time. “Sometimes I die by the sword,” he once said, “but, by gee, I had a few kills along the way.”

Zaheer Abbas

ICC all-time batting ranking: 2 (931 points v New Zealand, 20/06/1983)

62 ODIs, 2,572 runs @ 47.62, SR: 84.80, 7 100s, HS: 123

Known as ‘the Asian Bradman’, Zaheer Abbas’ ODI numbers would be impressive even by modern standards. Given he retired in 1985, they are extraordinary, even if the sample size is limited.

Greg Chappell

ICC all-time batting ranking: 3 (921 points v New Zealand, 03/02/1981)

74 ODIs, 2,331 runs @ 40.18, SR: 75.70, 3 100s, HS: 138*; 72 wickets @ 29.12, ER: 4.04, 2 five-fors, BBI: 5-15

The younger Chappell brother is generally rated as the more dashing batsmen of the two, so it makes sense that it’s him who found a place in the upper echelons of the ICC’s all-time ODI rankings. A useful enough bowler to also end up at No.2 in the all-time all-rounder rankings, he balances this XI well.

David Gower

ICC all-time batting ranking: 4 (919 points v New Zealand, 15/06/1983)

114 ODIs, 3,170 runs @ 30.77, SR: 75.15, 7 100s, HS: 158

Given his penchant for elegant strokeplay and that the ODI format allows for the odd loose dismissal, it’s perhaps no surprise that David Gower thrived in 50-over cricket. His best knock was a 118-ball 158 against a New Zealand attack featuring Richard Hadlee in 1983.

AB de Villiers (South Africa) – WK

ICC all-time batting ranking: 9 (902 points v New Zealand, 24/03/2015)

228 ODIs, 9,577 runs @ 53.50, SR: 101.09, 25 100s, HS: 176

It’s hard to think of anyone you’d want coming in with a platform having been laid than AB de Villiers, the man who holds the record for the fastest half-century, hundred, and 150 in ODIs. He actually mostly batted at No.5, but with the batting talent above him, we’ve had to squeeze Mr. 360 in at No.6.

Kapil Dev (India) – C

ICC all-time all-rounder ranking: 1 (631 points v Pakistan, 22/03/1985)

225 ODIs, 3,783 runs @ 23.79, SR: 95.07, 1 100, HS: 175*; 253 wickets @ 27.45, ER: 3.71, 1 five-for, BBI: 5-43

Surprisingly, one of India’s most famous sons doesn’t even make it into the top 20 of the ICC’s Test all-rounder rankings, but he sits top of the tree in ODIs. His exploits at the 1983 World Cup are the stuff of legend. A knock 175* against Zimbabwe to rescue India from 17-5, the most runs by an Indian, the second most wickets, and then that catch in the final. Since he’s the man who can do everything, he’s our captain too.

Shaun Pollock (South Africa)

ICC all-time bowling ranking: 3 (917 points v Pakistan, 14/02/2007)

303 ODIs, 393 wickets @ 24.50, ER: 3.67, 5 five-fors, BBI: 6-35; 3,519 runs @ 26.45, 1 100, HS: 130 

The metronomical South African maintained an incredible economy rate through his career, the lowest by far of any bowler to debut after 1990. And he was pretty incisive too, with only three seamers taking more wickets in their careers.

Richard Hadlee (New Zealand)

ICC all-time bowling ranking: 2 (923 points v Sri Lanka, 18/06/1983)

115 ODIs, 158 wickets @ 21.56, ER: 3.30, 5 five-fors, BBI: 5-25; 1,751 runs @ 21.61, SR: 75.50, HS: 79

Coming in at No.9 in a team stocked with batting depth, Richard Hadlee’s economy rate is the second best of any bowler with more than 100 ODI wickets.

Joel Garner (West Indies)

ICC all-time bowling ranking: 1 (940 points v New Zealand, 17/04/1985)

98 ODIs, 146 wickets @ 18.84, ER: 3.09, 3 five-fors, BBI: 5-31

The best ODI bowler of all time, as per the ICC ODI rankings, and on this occasion few would have any reason to disagree. ‘Big Bird’ was a bowler seemingly laboratory crafted for limited-overs cricket, with his gargantuan frame making his pinpoint yorkers unplayable. He holds the best economy rate of all bowlers with more than 100 wickets, and only Rashid Khan has a better average.

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)

ICC all-time bowing ranking: 4 (913 points v New Zealand, 09/04/2002)

350 ODIs, 534 wickets @ 23.08, ER: 3.93, 10 five-fors, BBI: 7-30

Thankfully there’s a spinner in the top four of the ICC’s bowling rankings, so this team shouldn’t have over-rate issues. The all-time leading ODI wicket-taker, as he is in Tests, Murali could turn it sharply in both directions with his unique action. It’s no surprise he achieved such success.


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