S Rajesh runs the rule over players of yesteryear

The best ODI batsmen

Richards, followed by daylight

A look at the best ODI batsmen from across eras, taking into account the changes in scoring patterns in the format

S Rajesh

October 24, 2011

Comments: 170 | Text size: A | A

Viv Richards lofts Derek Pringle on his way to 189*, England v West Indies, Old Trafford, May 31, 1984
Viv Richards: simply beyond compare © Getty Images
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The one-day international has changed to such an extent that it is almost unrecognisable from the version that was first introduced to cricket audiences on January 5, 1971. In the early years of the format, a run-rate of four an over was considered a challenging one, with the batsmen approaching the game rather conservatively, keeping wickets in hand and going after quick runs only in the last few overs. In the 1975 World Cup, for instance, the average run-rate in the entire tournament was 3.91 runs per over; in the next edition, in 1979, it dropped to 3.54. Compare that with the run-rate in the most recent edition of the World Cup, when the overall tournament scoring rate exceeded five for the first time, and it's obvious that the way the ODI is played has changed hugely over 35 years.

With the scoring patterns undergoing such significant changes, any straight comparisons of numbers across eras becomes almost meaningless, simply because the benchmarks have changed so much: what used to be a par total in the 1980s is well below average today. It's true that batting averages have gone up in Test cricket as well, but compare the average in the 1960s (30.81) with that in the 2000s (32.02), and the difference is only 1.21 runs, which, as a percentage of the 1960s average, is an increase of 4%. In ODIs, on the other hand, the average strike rate in the 1970s was 60.39; in the 2000s, it went up to 75.06, an increase of 24%. (The average went up from 24.52 to 27.85 too. For more big-picture numbers on how the ODI has changed over the years, check out Anantha Narayanan's It Figures blog here.)

These differences are key when comparing batsmen and bowlers across eras. So here's a look at the ODI stats of batsmen across different time periods, but adjusted to account for the par scores and scoring rates during the periods in which they played.

No discussion on great ODI batsmen can begin with any name other than Viv Richards, so let's start with him. His stats are impressive enough as they are, but they become even better when put into perspective by comparing with the par numbers during his playing days. Richards' ODI career spanned 16 years, from 1975 to 1991, and he finished with a career average of 47 at a strike rate of 90.2 runs per 100 balls. But during the period in which he played one-day internationals (from his first game to the last), the batting average in ODIs for the top seven batsmen was 29.38, while the average strike rate was a mere 65.96. Multiplying the two factors (average and runs per ball) for Richards and for the average during his period, it turns out that the batting index for Richards (the product of average and runs per ball, which is 42.39 for him) is 2.19 times the average during his period. That, in a nutshell, was what made him such a great batsman - unarguably greater than anyone else who has played this format. Sample this stat to understand how destructive he was: of the 62 times when he faced 50 or more deliveries in an innings, on 25 occasions his strike rate was more than 90, and 19 times he scored at a run a ball or more.

Richards' numbers clearly stand out, but there were a few other top-notch performers too, in an era when the format was still relatively new. Dean Jones averaged nearly 45, at a strike rate of more than 72; his batting index was 1.64 times the overall batting index during the period when he played. Gordon Greenidge, Allan Lamb and Javed Miandad all have pretty good numbers too, though Greenidge's strike rate might come as a bit of a surprise to those who remember him as a swashbuckling opener with an ultra-powerful square-cut: he managed only 65 runs per 100 balls. Lamb had a higher batting index, but he also played in a slightly later era than Greenidge, when batsmen were beginning to understand better the demands of one-day cricket. Allan Border remains among the great Test batsmen of all time, but his ODI stats pale in comparison to some of the other top players in his era.

Top ODI batsmen in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s
Batsman ODIs Ave/ SR Ave*SR Overall Ave#/ SR Overall Ave*SR Ratio
Viv Richards 187 47.00/ 90.20 42.39 29.38/ 65.96 19.38 2.19
Dean Jones 164 44.61/ 72.56 32.37 29.65/ 66.56 19.74 1.64
Gordon Greenidge 128 45.03/ 64.92 29.33 29.33/ 65.99 19.35 1.51
Allan Lamb 122 39.31/ 75.54 29.69 29.88/ 66.96 20.01 1.48
Javed Miandad 233 41.70/ 67.01 27.94 29.65/ 66.57 19.74 1.42
Desmond Haynes 238 41.37/ 63.09 26.10 29.39/ 66.00 19.40 1.35
Allan Border 273 30.62/ 71.42 21.87 29.44/ 66.00 19.43 1.13
# For top 7 batsmen only

By the time the next generation of cricketers arrived, the tempo of one-day internationals had clearly moved up a notch. A look at the table below confirms that: the par strike rate for players who played in the 1990s and early 2000s moved up from about 65-66 in the earlier era to beyond 70. Thus the batting index for this generation of batsmen moved up from around 19 to around 22, which clearly shows that the benchmark to judge batting performances had moved up.

In terms of stats, the batsman who stood out in that era was Michael Bevan. Admittedly, his average is boosted considerably by his unusually high number of not-outs: out of 196 innings that he played, he was unbeaten 67 times, which is a whopping 34%. Assume a not-out percentage of 15, and his average comes down to around 41.5, which in turn brings his batting index down to around 31, and the ratio to around 1.40. However, since averages have been taken for all players, it's only fair that Bevan gets the same treatment. It's undeniable, though, that his not-outs skew his numbers more than they do for the others.

There were several other top-class ODI performers too during the late 1990s and early 2000s, in a era which was marked by many high-quality left-handers: apart from Bevan, there were Brian Lara, Saeed Anwar, Sourav Ganguly and Gary Kirsten who all finished with exceptional ODI records. The right-handers weren't left behind though, and stood out for their grace and elegance, as much as the sheer number of runs they scored.

One exception has been made in the table below, for the sake of greater accuracy. Ganguly played 311 ODIs in all, but he played his first on January 11, 1992, and his second on May 22, 1996, more than four years after his first. His ODI career was thus made up almost entirely of matches played after May 21, 1996, which is why the overall average and strike rate for him consist of matches played after that date. (Considering the matches between 1992 and 1996 would have given him an unfair advantage, since it would have included a period when the par scores and scoring rates would have been relatively lower.)

Top ODI batsmen who played mainly in the 1990s and early 2000s
Batsman ODIs Ave/ SR Ave*SR Overall ave#/ SR Overall ave*SR Ratio
Michael Bevan 232 53.58/ 74.16 39.73 31.04/ 72.63 22.54 1.76
Saeed Anwar 247 39.21/ 80.67 31.63 30.70/ 70.98 21.79 1.45
Brian Lara 299 40.48/ 79.51 32.19 30.78/ 72.34 22.27 1.45
Mark Waugh 244 39.35/ 76.90 30.26 30.71/ 70.41 21.62 1.40
Sourav Ganguly 310* 41.15/ 73.75 30.35 30.97/ 73.97 22.91 1.32
Aravinda de Silva 308 34.90/ 81.13 28.31 30.50/ 70.32 21.45 1.32
Gary Kirsten 185 40.95/ 72.04 29.50 30.93/ 72.31 22.37 1.32
Inzamam-ul-Haq 378 39.52/ 74.24 29.34 30.80/ 72.41 22.30 1.32
Mohammad Azharuddin 334 36.92/ 74.02 27.33 30.23/ 69.28 20.94 1.30
* Excludes his first match, since there was a four-year gap between his first game and his next one.
# For top 7 batsmen only

And then come the current era of cricketers, who have played their ODIs in an age when the speed of scoring has become even more frenetic. The list below consists of batsmen who have mostly played their ODIs in the 2000s. The overall averages in their era hasn't changed much from the previous table, but the strike rates have increased considerably, from the 70-72 range to the 75-78 range. For example, during the period in which MS Dhoni has played - from December 23, 2004 onwards - the average strike rate for all top-order batsmen is 77.92. During the period when Richards played ODIS, the average strike rate was 65.96, which means the strike rate in the current era is 18% higher.

Dhoni's stats, though, stand out even when compared to batsmen of time. Like Bevan's numbers, his average is also propped up by the number of not-outs (26.58%, compared to Bevan's 34.18%), but Dhoni's strike rate is considerably above average, unlike Bevan's.

And then there's perhaps the most complete batsman of all time. Sachin Tendulkar has played more ODIs than anyone else, over a period straddling 22 years and still counting. The game has changed considerably during this period, as is obvious from all the numbers in this piece, and Tendulkar has handled the changes with aplomb. Unlike a Rahul Dravid, whose game is based on defence, Tendulkar's batting is based on aggression and strokeplay, which suits the tempo of ODIs perfectly. The average run-rate during Tendulkar's span of years is 73.78, which is about four runs fewer than the corresponding number during Dhoni's timespan, which is a good indicator of how the format has evolved.

Like for Sourav Ganguly, the numbers for Matthew Hayden have also been tweaked slightly to account for the fact that there was almost a six-year gap between his first 13 ODIs - in 1993-94 - and his remaining 148. Between May 1994 and January 2000, he didn't play a single ODI, because of which all the stats till the start of the second phase of his career have been excluded in the table below.

Hayden's among five batsmen in the table below with a ratio greater than 1.50 - apart from Dhoni and Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist make the cut more because of their exceptional strike rates than their averages.

Top ODI batsmen who played mainly in the 2000s
Batsman ODIs Ave/ SR Ave*SR Overall ave#/ SR Overall ave*SR Ratio
MS Dhoni 194 50.44/ 88.34 44.56 31.74/ 77.92 24.73 1.80
Sachin Tendulkar 453 45.16/ 86.32 38.98 31.06/ 73.78 22.92 1.70
Matthew Hayden 148* 45.32/ 80.82 36.63 31.30/ 74.98 23.47 1.56
Virender Sehwag 236 35.11/ 104.07 36.54 31.25/ 75.59 23.62 1.55
Adam Gilchrist 287 35.89/ 96.94 34.79 31.03/ 74.09 22.99 1.51
Michael Clarke 204 46.01/ 78.07 35.92 31.39/ 76.87 24.13 1.49
Ricky Ponting 368 42.89/ 80.57 34.56 31.22/ 75.06 23.43 1.47
Jacques Kallis 315 45.45/ 72.77 33.07 31.27/ 75.19 23.51 1.41
Chris Gayle 228 39.06/ 83.95 32.79 31.36/ 75.90 23.80 1.38
Yuvraj Singh 274 37.62/ 87.58 32.95 31.52/ 76.46 24.10 1.37
Mohammad Yousuf 288 41.71/ 75.10 31.32 31.19/ 75.27 23.48 1.33
Graeme Smith 173 39.25/ 81.85 32.13 31.43/ 76.85 24.15 1.33
Sanath Jayasuriya 445 32.36/ 91.21 29.52 31.04/ 73.69 22.87 1.29
* Excludes his first 13 ODIs, since there was almost a six-year gap in his career after that.
# For top 7 batsmen only

And finally, here's the list of batsmen with the top ratios from across eras. Even if Richards' stats are compared with the top-order numbers during Dhoni's era, he still comes up with a ratio of 1.71, which indicates how far ahead of his time he was as an ODI batsman.

Batsmen with the best ratios across eras
Batsman ODIs Ave/ SR Ave*SR Overall ave#/ SR Overall ave*SR Ratio
Viv Richards 187 47.00/ 90.20 42.39 29.38/ 65.96 19.38 2.19
MS Dhoni 194 50.44/ 88.34 44.56 31.74/ 77.92 24.73 1.80
Michael Bevan 232 53.58/ 74.16 39.73 31.04/ 72.63 22.54 1.76
Sachin Tendulkar 453 45.16/ 86.32 38.98 31.06/ 73.78 22.92 1.70
Dean Jones 164 44.61/ 72.56 32.37 29.65/ 66.56 19.74 1.64
Matthew Hayden 148* 45.32/ 80.82 36.63 31.30/ 74.98 23.47 1.56
Virender Sehwag 236 35.11/ 104.07 36.54 31.25/ 75.59 23.62 1.55
Gordon Greenidge 128 45.03/ 64.92 29.33 29.33/ 65.99 19.35 1.51
Adam Gilchrist 287 35.89/ 96.94 34.79 31.03/ 74.09 22.99 1.51

The formula of multiplying average with strike rate is an intuitive one, given that both runs scored and the rate of scoring them are important in ODIs. If, however, the scoring rate is seen as slightly more important, then that can be given a slightly higher weightage. When the value of the strike rate is raised to the power of 1.1 (which gives it a 1.1 times importance compared to the average), Richards' ratio moves up from 2.19 to 2.26, while Bevan's moves up only from 1.76 to 1.77. Sehwag goes past Hayden, while Lamb inches closer to Greenidge. The top ten then looks like this: Richards (2.26), Dhoni (1.82), Bevan (1.77), Tendulkar (1.73), Jones (1.65), Sehwag (1.60), Hayden (1.57), Gilchrist (1.55), Greenidge (1.51) and Lamb (1.50). Ten top-class names, but the leader of the pack is still far away from the rest.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Posted by   on (October 27, 2011, 18:58 GMT)

@ClientNelson, I usually don't feel like replying to generic arguments. however, now since you have insulted the greatest batsman of all time by picking some random series, let me give the test match averages of last few series of Viv, 35 vs Pak in Pak '86, 19 vs NZ in NZ '86, 37 in Eng '88, 27 vs Ind at home '89, 28 vs Eng at home '89, 24 vs Aus '90. Not a series averages worth mentioning here. I can also claim Viv wsa a complete failure against different bowlers in diferent conditions from 1986. what do you say ?

Posted by   on (October 27, 2011, 3:59 GMT)

Could you also please come up with an article evaluating ODI bolwers across eras ? I guess the most likely parameters would be Economy rate & Bowling Average . I suspect Wasim Akram , Joel Garner, Glen McGrath & Muralitharan are gonna be right up there on that list.

Posted by   on (October 26, 2011, 22:20 GMT)

It is a serious insult to the Great Viv Richards to compare him with these lesser mortals. Ask the best of them these days to leave home their helmets and 'fragile-handle-with-care' paddings all over theiir bodies; then face Lilee, Thompson and Pascoe at Perth, they'll just do what Tendulkar correctly did while facing Shoaib at Faisabad in Jan 2006 - that is, 'give themselves out'. Faisabad is a grave yard; and it was just Shoaib alone, yet Tendulkar thought it best to 'literally give himself out'. We also saw how some English 'pace amateurs' disgraced him during the recent India tour to England. Then I usually hear this catch phrase 'most complete batsman of all time' touted about him by some. I don't know what the phrase means; because the said Viv Richards destroyed Lilee, Thompson, et al; and they were second only to the WI four pronged as the best pace attack of all time. And in India he murdered Bedi, Prasana, et al, the spin equivalent of the WI pace attack. Viv was complete.

Posted by SFGoldenGate on (October 26, 2011, 22:10 GMT)

@ mrgupta and @Jeptic, Richards sure did not play Marshal, Holding, Garner, Roberts but neither did Sachin. Sachin played McGrath, Gillespie, Akram, some Waqar. On the other hand Richards also played Lille, Thomson, Imran, Botham, Willis Hadlees at their prime. These bowlers are not worse than McGrath, Wasim, Waqar etc if not better. How can someone play like Rcihards 189* (Wi were 102/7 at one stage). Also, Richards played in fast WI tracks with no power play, no bouncer restriction. On the other hand , Sachin played better spinners thats for sure. But in Richards era the best bowlers were mostly pace bowlers and the teams with good pace bowlers dominated that era. Richards had 31 Man of the match in 187 matches and I am sure his many inning did not get man of the match because his team-mates snatched that award.

Posted by BillyCC on (October 26, 2011, 20:38 GMT)

@Jeptic, your analysis is worse than simplistic. It's not surprising that you avoid mentioning the disadvantages of the other eras because you might find that advantages and disadvantages in different eras often cancel out. The disadvantages in Viv's era were: no powerplays, limited fielding restrictions, full sized grounds, a slow scoring mentality was acceptable, less powerful bats etc. @MrGupta, last I checked, the likes of Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Ian Botham etc. were not bad bowlers; they were actually quite good. It was the strongest bowling era of the time. In contrast, Tendulkar faced far fewer great bowlers across the full 20 years he played. And yes, I recently remember how Tendulkar performed in his 22nd year in international cricket. In the peak form of his career, he completely flopped in England against a good and consistent but not great pace attack.

Posted by   on (October 26, 2011, 20:31 GMT)

no doubt Viv was great..but him, followed by daylight? thats too far stretching isn't it ? btw, I think Anand's earlier article of best ODI batsmen was far accurate than yours. There are so many factors that you are missing

Posted by Mittaraghava on (October 26, 2011, 18:30 GMT)

The statistics in the article show Viv richards is the greatest odi batsman,which i endorse, as i have seen him play.As a keen observer of cricket and keeping aside all statistics,there are few batsmen who showed how they can terrorize the best bowlers ,even if they had not been succesful in all the innings which they batted.They showed how odi is differnt from test cricket.In my opinion they are Viv Richards,A. Gilchrist,V.Sehwag,Jayasurya,Tendulker (initial phase of his career) all the other great odi batsmen mentioned did not create this aura.The moment they arrived at the crease spectators get excited like the begining of a action scenes in Bond movies.

Posted by i_witnessed_2011 on (October 26, 2011, 18:13 GMT)

Surprised to see M.Hussey Name missing. and also curious about to know where Yuvraj stands!. I never saw Sir.Viv batting.He may be the best attacker but its also true that he did not face best bowling attack of his era. Very happy to see sachin among top 5 across all formats and across all type of calculations :-)

Posted by farazzubair on (October 26, 2011, 17:59 GMT)

Some strange omissions here.Its a valiant effort but lacks substance because of a basic element;The value of a player to his team.Players like Miandad and Lara would never make the cut, despite being one of the greatest players because a lot depended on them due to a poor batting line up where the others enjoyed the liberty of a strong batting line up and could play naturall.Miandad,the ultimate batsman when the chips were down scored 5 half centuries in the 92 WC,never a century because he knew he was the only one to hold the fort while others around him scored,but his were some of the champion innings.Omitting batsmen like Zaheer,Miandad,Lara,Ponting is great injustice at the expense of someone like Sehwag or Dhoni.Dhoni is somewhat acceptable though most of his wonderful finishes have come in the subcontinent backed by a powerful batting line up and the present day weak bowling attacks.I suggest you should include an element of a batsmen's worth to his team when analysing across era

Posted by Marsh_aussie on (October 26, 2011, 15:18 GMT)

I think some people misunderstood my comments regarding SRT & Bevan. I agree that as an opener SRT cannot be a finisher. But having come close to finishing a game, if he cannot do it, it shows a little weakness in the undisputable master's game. Having watched Sir VIV's matches only on videos and not live i get a feeling that he had an air of invincibility when he batted which i have not seen in any other batsman. Even Gilly, Viru or Gayle for that matter. So Sir Viv has to be the King of ODI's and SRT is the master.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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