Selecting an all-time best XI is always an uncertain and arduous task, but then the enjoyment is in accepting the challenge.
I will only be picking players that I have seen play and I will do my best to avoid any bias. Let’s divide the nominees into openers, middle order batsmen, all-rounders, spinners, and pacemen.
For the openers, I’ve narrowed it down to Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara, Mark Waugh, Matthew Hayden, Chris Gayle, and Hashim Amla.
Sachin automatically selects himself.
The remaining slot is a little more difficult. There’s no doubt about Sehwag’s talent, but I believe he was best suited to Test cricket. But it’s worth remembering that Sehwag is the only opener in the history of the game to score over 7500 runs in both Tests and ODIs. Sadly, he isn’t in my squad.
Ganguly, despite amassing 22 ODI tons and 11,000 runs also can’t squirm his way in. That said, I am sure there will be a consensus that Sachin-Ganguly and Sachin-Sehwag are two of the best opening partnerships in ODI cricket.
As nonchalantly as Hashim Amla has struck his 23 tons and thirty 50s in his 139 ODIs I will have to dismiss him too. You can also strike a line through two brilliant Aussies, Hayden and Waugh.
Controversially I won’t be selecting Sangakarra, who after an exhaustive 40-day process involving millions of votes from across the globe was crowned the ODI’s Greatest of All Time (GOAT).
Gayle is a joy to watch, but his skillset is best suited to T20 cricket. That leaves us with one man standing, the great Adam Gilchrist.
An explosive batsman, he amassed almost 10,000 runs in ODIs at a strike rate of 97. While rival keeper-batsman Sangakkara has 25 tons (nine more than Gilchrist’s 16) and 14,000 runs, the impact Gilly brings to the top of the order is unrivalled.
There is a plethora of talent in the middle order to follow up from the strong starts of Sachin and Gilly, assuming they could even be dismissed!
Sir Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Virat Kohli, Jacques Kallis (who will also be in all-rounder category), AB De Villiers, MS Dhoni, Javed Miandad, Dean Jones, Michael Bevan, Michael Clark, Steve Waugh, Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
The key advantage of selecting wicketkeeper Gilchrist as an opener is that I have the ability to select a deep four-man middle order.
Sir Viv is an automatic selection at No.3 for me. His impact, legacy, and reliability are too much to overlook. Add to that his 100 wickets and brilliant fielding, and you have a ready-made team lynchpin.
Statistically, Sir Viv compares unfavourably to some of the modern cricketers. He has 17 ODI tons and 6,700 runs at an average of 47 in 187 matches. Those are great figures by anyone’s measure, but compare that to Virat Kohli.
Kohli is one of the strongest players mentioned. His career is still young, but he has so far already surpassed all three of Viv’s marks, with 25 tons and 7200 runs at an average of 51.5 in 171 matches. Despite his achievements, Kohli won’t be featuring in my team just yet, but if he continues performing as he has in all forms of the game he would be considered a great in every team you can think of.
Deano, Miandad, Inzy and Pup and even The Wall would all add incredible value to any team, but they all feature weaker records than Kohli, and so, with due respect, none of them make my final team.
At four, I will have Ponting who has almost 14,000 runs and has been involved in 163 wickets primarily through his brilliant fielding. He has also collected 30 tons and his tactics as a captain were second to none.
De Villiers, who has a Sir Viv-like ability to transform a match, is a must at number five. With a heavy heart, Lara (299 matches, 10,405 runs at 40 with 19 tons) just loses out to the South African for his incredible consistency (200 matches, 8621 runs at an average of 54.56 with 24 tons).
The number six is a crucial position. It’s the last line of defence before the opposition gets a free crack at the bowlers. Dhoni and Bevan are two of the best finishers the game has seen, but they won’t finish with a place in my squad. Dhoni’s chances are hampered by the depth of wicketkeepers already in the squad.
Steve Waugh comes in for serious consideration due to his ability to handle pressure and his quality captaining. But one has to 1st choose the 11 best players, and captain among them, so Steve misses out as he is not in the list of 11.
For the number six position, I thought of killing two birds with one stone by selecting Jacques Kallis who is both a genuine batsman and bowler. However that would mean excellent all-rounders Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Ian Botham would all just fall short of Kallis.
After thought, i would keep Kallis in the Test squad and go in for one of the 4 classic allrounders, or Dhoni or Bevan who are the 2 best ODI cricketers the game of cricket has seen. After deep thought i would go in for Dhoni. His feat of 9000 runs in just 242 innings with the leader Sourav at 224 (only 18 less) is unparallelled. Only Sourav, Lara, Ponting, Sachin and Kallis have scored 9000 runs in lesser than 242 innings and all batted in the top 3. Dhoni is also the only player to cross 9000 runs with an average of above 50. He has almost 200 6’s , 2nd only to Chris Gayle and hence in my team he edges out Bevan.
In the top six, we now have half a dozen brilliant batsmen, two wicketkeepers, and the useful bowling contributions of Sachin and Sir Viv as reasonable spinners. You can even chuck Punter in for a spell if things get dire.
There are only two names to consider for the spinner’s spot: Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. While Murali has 534 wickets from his 350 matches, Warne is a true genius who collected 293 wickets in just 194 matches. Normally I would not be able to separate them, and that means they would both get a place in my squad. However with Sachin and Sir Viv able to spin a few overs if required, I would with a heavy heart leave out Murali and go in for Warne, even though statistics puts Murali ahead.
Now for Number 7 therefore, a slot opens up, and the natural cricket player Kapil Dev gets in. By virtue of his terrific swing bowling, ebullient batting and athletic fielding. For ODI he is ahead of the more consistent but slower Jacques Kallis. Shane will bat at 8.
With three spots to fill the nominations are Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald, Dale Steyn and Joel Garner.
The two easy choices are Akram and McGrath for their variation and incredible accuracy.
The third quick is Curtly Ambrose who with his meanness and disconcerting lift and bounce, coupled with economy edges out Waqar Younus even though he has frightening pace and yorkers and may go for runs occasionally in the quest for wickets. Curtly gets my nod.
My all-time best XI
Sachin Tendulkar, Adam Gilchrist, Sir Vivian Richards, Ricky Ponting (c), AB de Villiers, MS Dhoni, Kapil Dev, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Curtly Ambrose, Glenn McGrath.
Let me know your best ODI side in the comments below.