It’s always a controversial task to pick the best ever national team because it involves comparing and selecting players from different eras. And it is surely no easy mission when one is asked to pick India’s greatest ODI XI. Cricket is a religion in India and the shorter format has many worshippers. The day Kapil Dev’s men won the third ICC World Cup in 1983 marked the beginning of ODI cricket’s overwhelming popularity in India. Coloured clothing and playing under lights have added extra glamour to the 50 over game in the recent years and many stars have been born. While some names earn their place by default, others make it to team because they help to build the perfect composition. So, here is our attempt to pick the best XI (in batting order):
1. Sachin Tendulkar
The name Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is enough and it needs no further explanation as to who would open the innings for India. Sachin would open even for the Best Ever ODI side in the world. With 18,426 runs at an average of 44.83 and 49 tons he is surely the best ODI batsman of all time. Having scored heavily against the best attacks in the world (ask the Aussies) he would be expected to score fast without taking too many risks given the range of shots the ‘Master Blaster’ can produce. In addition, 154 ODI wickets would make even a specialist bowler proud and when asked to roll his arm over, Sachin could bowl seam up, leg break and off break at will! How’s that for talent?
2. Virender Sehwag
You don’t have to think twice who would open the innings along with Sachin Tendulkar. It isn’t his 8,273 runs that make the ‘Nawab of Najafgarh’ special but the fact that he had a phenomenal strike rate of 104.33 which is the highest among the top 25 run scorers in ODIs; better than Gayle, Gilchrist and Jayasuriya! Sehwag’s 15 ODI tons and fearless approach also makes him one of the most dangerous players to have ever played the game. Irrespective of the pitch conditions and the opposition attack Viru would start with fireworks from the very first over. His part-time off-break bowling would also offer more options to the captain.
3. Virat Kohli
Some believed Indian team would find it hard to replace Sachin Tendulkar but before the legend hung his boots a stylish and aggressive Kohli raised his hand to fill the big shoes. At No. 3 there is no person who can match Kohli’s credentials. For the record he has 9,030 runs from 194 innings at an astounding average of 55.74 – with 32 tons, which makes it approximately one century in every six games! A destructive batsman with a wide range of shots, he can take on any bowling attack and score heavily but it is his mastery while chasing that puts him in a league of his own. Seventeen of his tons have come while batting second making him the most dangerous ODI batsmen when it comes to chasing a big score. He approaches targets with computer-like calculating precision and would be expected to steer the team to an easy win while chasing.
4. Sourav Ganguly
At No. 4, the ‘Price of Calcutta’ would take guard. While he opened the innings with Sachin for most of his career (and the two set numerous records), he would make way for Sehwag and Kohli before him. If India lose wickets early, Ganguly can very well tame the new ball, and in the middle of the innings he would knock the spinners out of the park with his trademark shot of stepping out and heaving them on both sides of the wicket. His 11,363 runs put him behind only Sachin among Indians and these came at a healthy average of 41.02. He can also bowl on seaming tracks and 100 wickets in a long career is the perfect tribute to his ability of knocking off the best batsmen when asked to bowl.
5. Yuvraj Singh
This is often considered to be one of the most important positions in any ODI lineup and at No. 5 India would have the swanky Yuvraj Singh. With more than 8,500 runs batting at No.5 and 6 for most of his career, there is no better man to take on the opposition at this position other than Yuvi. The fact that he is at equal ease against fast and spin bowling is what makes him an ideal candidate in the middle order. He can steady the ship after a collapse or blast his way when the top order lays the perfect platform. And not to forget his slow left armers which also make him a genuine all-rounder who can bowl the 10 overs when asked.
6. MS Dhoni (c)
No prizes for guessing who would wear the big gloves for the Best Ever Indian ODI XI. With a World Cup win, T20 World Cup win and Champions Trophy win as a leader the man with ‘Midas Touch’ would also lead the star studded lineup. It’s no mean achievement considering two other inspirational leaders are part of this side. Let us keep aside his captaincy for a while and focus on his primary role. Before Dhoni, the Indian team never had a wicketkeeper who would scare the opposition lower down the order with his hitting abilities and Dhoni’s 9,275 runs put him behind only Gilchrist and Sangakara in terms of most runs by a wicketkeeper in ODIs. A perfect finisher he would control the situation playing with the lower order batsmen.
7. Kapil Dev
Kapil Dev would open the new ball attack for the team and trouble batsmen with his teasing line and swing. The ‘Haryana Hurricane’ registered himself in the record books as India’s first ODI superstar. And it wasn’t his lifting the World Cup at the Lord’s balcony on a gloomy evening in June 1983. In the group stage game against Zimbabwe, Kapil came to bat with the team struggling at 17 for 5. In the next two hours he left everyone spell bound scoring 175 of 138 balls, the first ODI ton by an Indian and the then-highest score in ODIs. His achievements with the ball needs no introduction as 253 wickets at a strike rate of 27.45 speak volumes about his ability to outthink the best batsmen in the world. His 3,783 runs would make him the perfect No. 7 who would bat according to the situation.
8. Ajit Agarkar
You may find it tough to digest that Ajit Agarkar is third on the list of most successful bowlers for the Indian team. For a man who was in and out of the team for much his career, his 288 wickets at 27.85 apiece is a pretty extraordinary record and makes him a logical choice as the third seamer for the team. Often blamed for leaking runs and showing inconsistency, Agarkar had the habit of picking up important wickets and could generate decent pace and bounce for a man who was lean and short. His strike rate of 32.9 is the best in this team and might prove important for this team when a breakthrough is needed. Though stats may not quite do justice to his batting talent, with three 50s to his name he can definitely add to the score lower down the order.
9. Harbhajan Singh
There are few Indian players who have shown as much passion on the field as Harbhajan Singh. He always makes his presence felt on the ground be it with his bowling, batting or fielding. Harbhajan would attack the opposition and wouldn’t mind getting involved in a duel with the very best in business. With 269 wickets under his belt, he is the second most successful Indian spinner after Anil Kumble and would complement ‘Jumbo’ in troubling the left handers as well as the right handers with equal ease. Singh is also a handy tail ender who can hammer the opposition over the park in the last few overs.
10. Anil Kumble
Anil Kumble’s 334 wickets make him the most successful ODI bowler of all time for Team India and he would trouble the opposition with his persistent line and length. He is completely different from Harbhajan and always on the money which makes them a lethal combination to deal with in the middle overs. Kumble would not give any easy runs and constantly test the batsmen, often inducing false shots from them. If the fast bowlers leak too many runs with the new ball, Dhoni could ask Kumble to bowl within the mandatory power play with field restrictions and contain the batsman. And, of course, Kumble is also a great man to have given his extensive knowledge of the game.
11. Zaheer Khan
Zaheer Khan finished his career with 282 wickets and has been the best left arm speedster that the country has ever produced. He would open the attack for the team along with Kapil and would also come and bowl at the death of the innings where his deceptive yorkers and reverse swing would help contain the opposition. ‘Zak’ always had the knack of picking up the top batsmen from the opposition ranks and this is what made him one of the best bowlers of his generation. With all the experience behind him, he would be expected to bowl at the most difficult times and pick up wickets for the team; something he had made a habit of by the end of his career.
Yes, we have named the Best Ever ODI XI for India but there are players who have narrowly missed out – not owing to lack of skills but because a great team demands players who complement each other. These three exceptional players would complete our squad and may make it to the team in case anyone above is injured or going through a lean patch.
Rahul Dravid was the most difficult player to leave out from this lineup as 10,889 runs at an average of 39.16 is no mean achievement. While he played many inspiring knocks for the country his strike rate of 71.24 is the lowest among batsmen in the 10K club. And given the top 6 in the batting order it is hard to imagine Dravid replacing any of them.
Nobody scores two double tons by fluke in ODIs and a score of 264 not out in an ODI game sounds like a fantasy. But Rohit Sharma has always been a character who hasn’t quite lived up to his true potential. He misses out in the Best Ever Indian ODI XI due to his inconsistency and the consistency of others who have made it to the team.
Though he is second on the list in terms of most wickets among Indians, Javagal Srinath doesn’t figure in the starting XI. Taking nothing away from his skills and talent he doesn’t quite fit into the bill in terms of adding variety to the attack and Agarkar earns his place thanks to a better strike rate and also being better in terms of batting skills.
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