The greatest match-winners in One Day Internationals: Part 1
It was a bright and sunny morning in May of 1984 at Manchester. The stands of Old Trafford were packed for the first One Day match between West Indies and hosts England. The West Indies was still nursing the wounds of the World Cup defeat, determined to reestablish dominance in world cricket. England, although a balanced squad with Botham and Gower at the heights of their careers, had a tough job at hand. The first match promised a good battle, but hardly anyone had suspected the storm they were about to witness, one of the great match-winning innings from a living legend that would be talked about by fans and players for decades to come.
West Indies won the toss and decided to bat first. England drew blood quickly when Ian Botham ran out Desmond Haynes in the second over. Gordon Greenidge was the next to fall, trying to poke at a good length delivery out of off stump by Botham. The English crowd erupted. Vivian Richards walked in with a score of 11 on the board.
Richards looked in good touch, elegant and aggressive, but the Caribbean collapse started soon enough. Richie Richardson, Larry Gomes and Clive Lloyd, all fell without entering double digits. Richard reached his half century in fine style, but when Malcolm Marshall, the No.8, was run out, a West Indies collapse seemed all but certain. The score: 102 for 7.
Eldine Baptiste put up a good fight against the English assault with a brave knock of 26, carrying the Windies to a respectable 161 with Richards poised for a 100. But an edge off a Botham leg-cutter did Baptiste in. Joel Garner added 3 more runs to the scorecard before falling. When Michael Holding, the last man, walked in, Richards was at 86.
West Indies was at 171 for 9 when Richards reached his 100 in 112 deliveries. Had they been bundled up for a 180, it would still have been one a great knock in One Day cricket and a respectable score to defend.
But that’s when the holy spirit took possession of Vivian Richards.
What followed was one of the most majestic display of aggressive, disdainful and sublime batsmanship ever seen in ODIs until then. Richards toyed with the English bowlers as Old Trafford stood mesmerized for the next quarter of an hour. Boundaries and sixes splintered all corners of the field. West Indies added another ninety odd runs to the board, concluding their innings with a score of 272 with Richards remaining unbeaten at 189. It was one of the most luminous performances ever seen, leaving the English side too battered to recover, especially against the deadline West Indian pace attack. West Indies won the game by 104 runs.
It was a match-winner etched forever in history as one of the greatest ODI innings ever played.
Cricket is a team sport, and a team’s performance depends on the entire squad playing as a cohesive unit. Some of the great teams in history consisted of players who complemented each other’s strengths and covered for each other’s weaknesses. Sometimes players are expected to take the lead and attack. And sometimes they play second fiddle, stealing singles, rotating strikes, sacrificing their own wickets in run outs to let a fellow comrade better placed to finish the job.
But teams need match-winners too — players who can rise up to the occasion of adversity and despair, single-handedly rescuing the side from the throes of disaster, like Sir Viv at Old Trafford. The game has been blessed with many such players and numerous such performance.
There’s a difference, though, between match-winners and great players, and although the overlap is large, they’re not the same. Great players earn their reputations by scoring runs and bagging wickets over the course of their long careers. But many of the greats have often ended up on the losing side, standing solitary as the lone star in tragic debacles. Great players aren’t necessarily great match-winners.
Conversely, some of the game’s great match-winners hardly mentioned in the same breath as the greats, even though their silent and consistent contributions have delivered victory in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
In 2002, Sir Vivian Richards was selected by Wisden as the greatest ODI batsman of all time. Does that also make him as one of the greatest match-winners of all time? Or is Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli, both of whom have surpassed Sir Viv in runs scored and matches played, greater than Richards? Or is it, perhaps, someone entirely unsuspected, whose quiet career has escaped the eyes of critics who confer the titles and laurels, but whose numbers stand out as key contribution to more matches won for their teams than other players? Michael Bevan and Andrew Symonds come to mind immediately.
The question I wanted to answer in this blog post is “who are the greatest match-winners in ODI history?” I wanted to answer it as objectively as I could, not with passion but with numbers.
For this post, I looked at every ODI match ever played to identify the greatest match-winners who stand out in the limited overs format. I considered batsmen and bowlers separately, and although I would like to have considered fielders too, the data on fielding was harder to obtain. Fielder contribute by saving boundaries, taking catches and restricting opposition scores, but they aren’t always featured in the scorecard and fielding-related data has been historically ignored.
I looked at bowlers and batsmen separately. This blog post lists the greatest ODI match-winning batsmen. The list for the bowlers will follow soon.
My criteria for ranking the greatest match-winning batsmen was simple. First, I identified the various contributing factors by each player that resulted in a victory. These categories are runs and centuries scored, batting average and strike rate, matches played and the number of man-of-the-match awards received.
Next, I considered the 15 highest ranked player in each category and ranked them according to their statistics in winning matches. These were:
- Runs scored in winning matches
- Centuries scored in winning matches
- Batting average in winning matches
- Strike rate in winning matches
- Number of winning matches played
- Number of man-of-the-match awards in winning matches
Finally, I ranked each player in every category and tallied them up the individual category rank to calculate the average ranking for each batsmen to arrive at the winners (better players have a lower rank!).
To keep the comparisons fair between players who have had longer careers, I also normalized the categories such as matches played and runs scored, in which veteran players with long careers outshine current players or great match-winners with short-lived careers. Players who have played more matches are also likely to have enjoyed more wins. This gives them an undue advantage over players who have played fewer games. Therefore, I looked at percentages of the total for matches won, runs scored and centuries made to put everyone on an equal footing.
For example, percentage of winning runs scored was calculated using the following formula:
percentage winning runs =
100*(runs scored in winning matches)/(total runs scored)
The percentage was also calculated for centuries scored, matches played and player-of-the-match awards won.
percentage matches won =
100*(matches won)/(total matches played)percentage winning centuries =
100*(winning centuries scored)/(total centuries scored)percentage winning man of the match=
100*(winning man of the match)/(total matches won)
Statistics such as average, strike rate and highest individual scores were left alone because they are immune to the length of a player’s career by the very nature of how they are calculated.
I only considered batsmen who have scored at least 10 ODI centuries or 5000 ODI runs. Then, considering each category such as total runs scored, centuries, average and strike rate, I selected the 15 highest ranked players in each of the categories. This criteria narrowed my search to a list of 43 players:
Saeed Anwar, Mahela Jayawardene, Kane Williamson, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Virender Sehwag, AB de Villiers, Gary Kirsten, Joe Root, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Ricky Ponting, Rohit Sharma, Shahid Afridi, Rahul Dravid, Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson, MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Mike Hussey, Jacque Kallis, Sanath Jayasuriya, Martin Guptill, Quinton de Kock, Saurav Ganguly, Adam Gilchrist, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, Brian Lara, Virat Kohli, T Dilshan, M Yousuf, Vivian Richards, Suresh Raina, Michael Bevan, Aravinda de Silva, Kumara Sangakkara, Marvan Atapattu, Herschelle Gibbs, Eoin Morgan and Inzamam-ul-haq
Below are the top 10 ranks in each of the categories with only winning matches considered. Once again, these categories are:
1. Centuries scored in winning matches, 2. Batting average in winning matches, 3. Strike rate in winning matches, 4. Number of winning matches played, 5. Number of man-of-the-match awards in winning matches.
In addition, I also considered the winning matches played, winning runs scored, and winning centuries as fractions (percentage) of the total to bring players with different career spans on an equal footing.
The rankings are as follows:
Matches Won: Ricky Ponting leads the list of most number of matches won (252), but stands second to Adam Gilchrist who won 68% of all matches played, more than any other player.
Runs Scored in Winning Matches: Sachin Tendulkar is the leading number of run scorer in winning matches (11219 runs), but Andrew Symonds scored 83% of his career runs for the winning side.
Centuries Scored in Winning Matches: Virat Kohli has scored the most number of winning centuries (35) while Andrew Symonds, Vivian Richards and Adam Gilchrist have had all their centuries (100%) for the winning side.
Highest Winning Average: Virat Kohli has the highest batting average in winning matches (58.8) with Hashim Amla a close second (58.79).
Highest Winning Strike Rate: Shahid Afridi leads the list of strike rate in winning matches with a wopping 121.5 runs per 100 balls, and Virender Sehwag comes second with 109.5.
Man of the match awards won in winning matches: Sachin Tendulkar has won the most number of Man of the matches for a winning side (56 winning Man of the Match awards), while Viv Richards tops the list for winning more Man of the Match awards per games won (28%).
Highest Individual Winning Score: Rohit Sharma topped the list of highest individual winning scores (264).
The Final Ranking
The average ranking across all the factors was calculated by adding up the ranking in each factor and dividing by the total number of categories. The winner is the player with the lowest aggregate ranks.
To keep the playing field level between retired players and current players, I considered both absolute numbers for matches won, runs scored and centuries scored as well as the relative values calculated as percentages.
The final rankings are as follows. The greatest match-winners in ODI history are:
10. Adam Gilchrist: Nearly 8000 winning runs scored at SR of 99
9. David Warner: 72% of his centuries resulted in wins at SR of 101
8. Quinton de Kock: 70% of runs scored ended in a win at a SR of 100
7. Saeed Anwar: Nearly 7000 runs and 80% of runs scored ended in a win
6. Hashim Amla: 77.5% of all runs scored resulted in a win at a SR of 91
5. Virender Sehwag: 5748 winning runs scored at a SR of 109
4. Martin Guptill: 4641 winning runs scored at a winning SR of 92
3. Virat Kohli: Nearly 8600 winning runs with 35 winning 100s
2. Sir Vivian Richards: 4830 winning runs at a strike rate of 94
And the greatest ODI match winner is…
1. AB de Villiers: 6810 winning runs comprising of 71% of total runs
The absolute match-winning figures for the top 10 playersare:
And the relative figures (percentages of total) are:
Next up, the match-winning bowlers in ODI.
The data and code for this blog has been posted on GitHub.