Greatest Teams December 1, 2011

One-day giants

George Dobell
Five one-day international sides that have left a lasting mark on the game

Australia 1999-2007
No side has dominated the ODI format for as long or as completely as Australia. On several occasions they strung together lengthy winnings runs - including a record 21 consecutive victories in 2003 - and their World Cup record is simply staggering: between 1999 and 2007 they lifted three consecutive World Cup trophies; between 1999-2011 they won 25 consecutive World Cup games and went 34 consecutive games without a defeat.

It was a team blessed with several outstanding individuals: Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting played in all three World Cup finals in those years, with Gilchrist and Ponting both claiming Man-of-the-Match awards in the 2007 and 2003 finals respectively and McGrath claiming the Man-of-the-Tournament award in 2007.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of this team was the way in which they kept reinventing themselves. Even after losing a player as valuable as Shane Warne, who won the match award in the 1999 World Cup final, Australia found a replacement in the form of Brad Hogg who slipped into the winning culture and found a way to sustain the unprecedented record of dominance.

West Indies 1975-1984
The ODI game has changed enormously since its early years. In those days the game was played in whites, with a red ball, sometimes over 60 overs and without the fielding restrictions and power-plays with which we are now familiar. In some ways, the World Cup finals played at Lord's in 1975 and in Mumbai in 2011 are different sports.

Yet few would dispute the abundant talent in the Caribbean in the late seventies; or the ability of such great players to have adapted and flourished in the current environment. Any side blessed with the likes of Viv Richards (who may well have been the best ODI batsman in the history of the format), Clive Lloyd and Andy Roberts (all three of whom played in the first three World Cup finals), as well as, at various times, Gordon Greenidge, Rohan Kanhai, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall Desmond Haynes and Collis King - who memorably out shone Richards at his best for a glorious hour in the World Cup final of 1979 - could never be described as anything less than magnificent. They defeated a formidable Australia side in a pulsating 1975 World Cup final, before repeating their success in 1979.

There were reverses. New Zealand and Australia both inflicted series defeats, while India upset the odds memorably by seizing the 1983 World Cup. Few, however, would dispute that the West Indian team of the period produced the first great ODI side.

Sri Lanka 1996
Was this the moment Sri Lankan cricket came of age? Instilled with belief by their pugnacious captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka played a brand of thrilling, skilful cricket that confirmed their position among the world's elite. Muttiah Muralitharan, a key member of the side and the leading wicket-taker in ODI history, referred to the win as "the most important cricketing thing" in his life and expressed his belief that it "brought us everything."

It was a side bursting with talent. Chaminda Vaas - who went on to become the fourth highest wicket-taker in ODI history - provided control and incision with the new ball, while Aravinda de Silva batted masterfully throughout the World Cup success and took the man of the match awards in both the semi and the final.

It's not quite true that this side invented pinch-hitting, but they certainly took the tactic to new heights. At a time when sides routinely accumulated 60 or so from their first 15 overs, openers Sanath Jayasuriya, the man if the tournament, and Romesh Kaluwitharana thrashed 117, 123 and 121 in those overs against India, Kenya and England respectively. Their total of 398 against Kenya remained the record ODI score for more than a decade. Some (particularly England supporters who recall the 5-0 annihilation of 2006 with shivers and Netherlands supporters who saw their team concede the record ODI score, 443, in Amstelveen) might argue that the team of 2006-07 was even stronger - blessed, as it was by then, with the likes of Lasith Malinga and Kumar Sangakkara - but, bearing in mind the wider significance of the World Cup triumph, it's hard to deny the claims of the class of '96.

Pakistan 1989-1992
A controversial selection, perhaps. Pakistan, for all their success, have never hinted at consistency and, even during their 1992 World Cup triumph, they flirted with failure. Had rain not intervened after they were dismissed for just 74 by England in Adelaide, Pakistan would have been heading home. As it was, Imran Khan's 'cornered tigers' - infuriating and captivating in equal measure - produced some superb cricket to snatch the trophy. Who can forget Wasim Akram's remarkable spell to seal the final?

At their best, this was an irrepressibly wonderful side. Blessed with two of the great fast bowlers, Waqar Younis and Wasim, a fine legspinner in Mushtaq Ahmed and a coterie of devastating batsmen such as Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Salim Malik, Pakistan possessed all the ingredients to dominate world cricket. The key, however, was the strong leadership of Imran who succeeded where many before and since have failed, in harnessing the undoubted talent and channelling it into meaningful success.

The World Cup was not their only triumph. Between 1989 and 1991 they also won the Nehru Cup (defeating India, Australia, England, Sri Lanka and West Indies) in India, The Champions Trophy (defeating India and West Indies) in UAE, The Austral-Asia Cup (defeating India, Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka) in UAE and The Wills Trophy (defeating West Indies and India) in UAE.

It is telling that results paled after Imran's retirement following the World Cup success, but few would deny that his team had played some of the some memorable and high-quality ODI cricket imaginable.

India 2011
A daunting batting line-up - Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag MS Dhoni et al. - a vastly improved fielding unit and an attack boasting variation and control provided the basis of India's second World Cup success. They became the first host nation to lift the trophy and, after several years of planning and building, developed what their influential coach, Gary Kirsten, referred to as "a sense of destiny" about their triumph.

If Yuvraj Singh, for all excellent all-round contributions, fully deserved the Man-of-the-Tournament award, it was surely fitting that Dhoni, with a masterful, unbeaten innings of 91, should take the man of the match award in the final. Calm and authoritative, in success or failure, Dhoni united his talented side and, when it counted, ensured they kept their heads under pressure.

There are caveats. South Africa beat them in a series before the World Cup and in the group stages during it. An injury-weakened India lost away to England and some doubts persist about the comfort of some Indian batsmen on quicker surfaces. But the way they bounced back to thrash England in India provided a powerful reminder that, at least in Asian conditions, the side of 2011 is formidable.

The India side of the mid-80s has a decent case for inclusion, too. Not only did they win a World Cup in 1983 (and anyone who think that fortunate should bear in mind India also beat West Indies in the group stages), but they won every game in the 1984-85 Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket (defeating England, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand in the process) in Australia and the Rothmans Four Nations Cup (in the UAE) a few months later.

ESPN's series on the greatest teams in sport is in partnership with Samsung Mobile Project Team Work.