The ultimate ODI XI of the 21st century

Glenn McGrath and Sachin Tendulkar easily walk into this side.
Glenn McGrath and Sachin Tendulkar easily walk into this side.

Before the turn of the century, there existed only one white-ball format in international cricket – the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). From 100 overs a day to The Hundred (referred to balls per innings), the past 20 years have seen the shorter formats progress rapidly to suit the pumping of moolahs.

While ODIs as a format have fallen behind in the popularity chart, to its credit, the World Cup in its format remains cricket’s most prized silverware. As a result, the teams have prioritized the 50-over format that has witnessed a plethora of rule changes to suit the demands.

Your sound response to the Ultimate Test XI of the 21st century led us to develop the ODI version for the same. The past 20-and-a-half years have seen five World Cups, six Champions Trophies and almost 2,600 ODIs. So the daunting task meant picking only 11 from the ocean.

Once again, here’s an attempt made, with consistency, adaptability and team balance as the key parameters.

Best ODI XI of 21st Century (Stats since January 1, 2001)

#1 Rohit Sharma (India)

ODIs 227 | Runs 9,205 | HS 264 | Ave 48.96 | SR 88.9 | 100s 29 | 50s 43

Rohit Sharma is the only cricketer to slam five centuries in a single edition of a World Cup.
Rohit Sharma is the only cricketer to slam five centuries in a single edition of a World Cup.

Starting his career as a heavily talented middle-order batter, Rohit Sharma's career wears a peculiar look when he isn’t opening. In the 84 ODIs where he hasn’t opened, he has averaged below 32, striking at 78.

Opening the batting, Bruce Banner converts to the Hulk. No batter has been as prolific as Rohit as an opener in ODI history. Averaging over 57 at the top, he strikes in excess of 92 and has slammed 27 hundreds, including three double tons. Rohit’s 264 remains the highest ODI score and no other batsman has ever breached the 200-mark twice.

He remains the only cricketer to register five centuries in a single edition of a World Cup. Rohit’s continued success over a period of time keeps modern greats like England’s Jonny Bairstow and South Africa’s Hashim Amla out of this side.

#2 Sachin Tendulkar (India)

ODIs 200 | Runs 8,527 | HS 200* | Ave 48.17 | SR 86.4 | 100s 22 | 50s 46

Wickets 56 | BB 5/50 | Ave 40.85 | Econ 5.49

Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his 99th international hundred during the 2011 World Cup.
Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his 99th international hundred during the 2011 World Cup.

Sachin Tendulkar redefined an opener’s role in ODIs during 1990s. While some were excellent as run accumulators, some focused on batting throughout the innings and a few outstanding in pinch-hitting roles. Tendulkar could do all of it.

With the ever-changing demands of the ODI game, Tendulkar adapted and excelled, finding ways to score and dominate at the same time. He was the Player of the Tournament in the 2003 World Cup. Eight years later, nearing 38, he was the second-highest run-getter in the 2011 World Cup that India won. Tendulkar’s strike rate of 92 was higher than the other prolific scorers in the tournament like Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Jonathan Trott.

He averages almost 50 as an opener, and mind you, the 2000s, the era in which he played most of his ODIs, was a more difficult era to score than the 2010s. Some of his finest ODI knocks in the 21st century include the 98 against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup at Centurion, 117 not out in the 2008 CB Series final against Australia,163 retired hurt against New Zealand at Christchurch, 175 against Australia at Hyderabad and 200* against South Africa at Gwalior. Even at the last leg of his career, he blasted ODI’s maiden double ton.

Adding to his batting prowess, he can be trusted to roll his arms with his off-spin/leg-spin/medium pace. He has decent bowling numbers for someone whose role was to be the best batsman in the side. He may have to roll his arm with leg-spin in this team.

With the two Mumbaikars at the top, it's going to be a visual treat for the watchers.

Misses as openers: Jonny Bairstow (England), Jason Roy (England), Virender Sehwag (India), Fakhar Zaman (Pakistan), David Warner (Australia), Shikhar Dhawan (India), Hashim Amla (South Africa)

#3 Virat Kohli (India)

ODIs 254 | Runs 12,169 | HS 183 | Ave 59.07 | SR 93.2 | 100s 43 | 50s 62

Virat Kohli already has 43 ODI hundreds.
Virat Kohli already has 43 ODI hundreds.

Until this point, the team may appear more of an Indian all-time XI, but then Virat Kohli strolls into the no.3 spot in any all-time side. His batting average shoots to over 62 at no.3.

Batting greats like Kumar Sangakkara and Ricky Ponting are his closest in the competition for this spot, but Kohli has taken batting in ODIs to a different level. He has redefined the notions around run chases, absolutely controls the pace of an ODI innings and has exhibited consistency like no other batter in the format ever has.

Bursting into India’s ODI scene after leading the country’s Under-19 team triumph the World Cup in Malaysia in 2008, Kohli made sporadic appearances until the end of 2009 before cementing a place in the middle order through consistency.

Technically solid, but not at the level of a Tendulkar or Sanga, Kohli’s success mantra has been his unmatched run-hunger along with fitness levels that can test the best of the athletes in the world.

#4 AB de Villiers (South Africa and Africa XI)

ODIs 228 | Runs 9,577 | HS 176 | Ave 53.5 | SR 101.1 | 100s 25 | 50s 62

AB de Villiers, the 360 batsman!
AB de Villiers, the 360 batsman!

AB de Villiers is the first name you pen down when selecting an all-time ODI side. Bowl him a yorker at 100 miles; he can still loft you over long-on for a six. If he thinks it’s a risk because you have placed a long-on fielder, he can scoop the same ball over fine-leg for the same result.

The sport hasn’t seen a batter as skilled as De Villiers, someone capable of hitting it in any region of the ground against any bowler. An athlete par excellence, as a batter, the South African possesses the talent, temperament and grit. Knowing how to use the artilleries in his armory, he has emerged as an all-time great.

De Villiers holds the record for the fastest century in ODIs, which also remains the record in List A cricket. If required, he can keep wickets too. But in this illustrious team, he can gleefully show his acrobatics as a fielder.

#5 Andrew Flintoff (England and ICC World XI)

ODIs 121 | Runs 3,088 | HS 123 | Ave 33.56 | SR 89.2 | 100s 3 | 50s 16

Wickets 162 | BB 5/19 | Ave 23.9 | Econ 4.33 | SR 33 | 4w 6 | 5w 2

Andrew Flintoff plays as the primary all-rounder in this side.
Andrew Flintoff plays as the primary all-rounder in this side.

Where are Ben Stokes and Shahid Afridi? What about Jacques Kallis? No place for Shakib Al Hasan, Shane Watson or Shaun Pollock? Before the mind wanders further, let’s see why Andrew Flintoff justifies his selection. Taking a cut-off of 2,000 runs and 50 wickets, the English all-rounder has the best bowling average. To give you perspective, he even averages two points better than Pollock. With that economy rate and bowling average, Flintoff walks in as a regular bowler.

For someone who played his cricket in the early part of the 21st century, his strike rate of 89.2 is exceptional. Now here’s the climax: At no.5 (in 48 innings), Flintoff averages 46 with the bat, striking at more than 94. What else do you need in your no.5?

Flintoff’s average difference of 9.65 is the second-best in the list after Kallis’ 12.87. Kallis and Watson were better top-order batters, but Flintoff being a more useful bowler and handier batter down the order gets the nod.

During the times when England weren’t among the threats in ODIs, Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen kept the side on the white-ball map. No wonder both the players broke the bank in the IPL auction in 2009 when they fetched $1.55 million each, being record buys then.

Trivia: Andrew Flintoff was picked in the ICC World XI squad for the Super Series in Australia in 2005. In 2020, Wisden, through CricViz, named Flintoff the most valuable ODI player of the 21st century.

Misses as all-rounders: Jacques Kallis (South Africa), Shane Watson (Australia), Shaun Pollock (South Africa), Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh), Shahid Afridi (Pakistan)

#6 MS Dhoni (India and Asia XI) – Captain and wicket-keeper

ODIs 350 | Runs 10,773 | HS 183* | Ave 50.57 | SR 87.6 | 100s 10 | 50s 73 | Dismissals 444

MS Dhoni stumps England's Ian Bell in the 2013 Champions Trophy final.
MS Dhoni stumps England's Ian Bell in the 2013 Champions Trophy final.

MS Dhoni leads this illustrious ODI side and is also the primary wicket-keeper. In his nine years of ODI captaincy between 2007 and 2016, Dhoni led India to a World Cup triumph in 2011 and a Champions Trophy win in 2013. Along the way, he was instrumental in nurturing several players who eventually became superstars for Indian cricket.

Arguably the most excellent captain in white-ball cricket, Dhoni’s legacy doesn’t stop with leadership. Debuting in 2004, he emerged as the new batting superstar in cricket – someone who could tonk the ball a fair distance, had a hunger for runs and had the calmness to finish games. Among the many superlatives attached to him, Dhoni is also regarded as the finest finisher, which helps his case to bat at o.6.

Trivia: No cricketer has more runs than Dhoni in ODIs at No.6. Dhoni leads the table with 4,164 runs at 47.31, followed by the legendary Michael Bevan with 3,006 runs at 56.71.

Dhoni’s glovework, especially against spinners, remains top-notch even after international retirement. In terms of ODI dismissals, his tally of 444 is only behind Kumar Sangakkara and Adam Gilchrist.

Misses as wicketkeeper-batsman: Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Adam Gilchrist (Australia), Quinton de Kock (South Africa)

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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