Despite the absolute obvious, COVID-19 can be accused of being a vehicle to all sorts of hypotheticals and fantasy scenarios.
Scroll your Facebook timeline. You’ll see what I mean. Greatest ever cartoon character? Most influential album in your life? Inspirational travel snaps? Favourite dance move? Best mash-up team from your favourite team in whatever code you support?
And on that final point, that’s where the argument is flawed. The licence to play selector opens the door to emotion. It lets the heart rule over the head.
I’ve chosen not to participate in this isolation pastime. Yet.
But after watching re-runs of the Australians go undefeated through the 2003 cricket World Cup this evening, it dawned upon me. I think this may actually be the greatest One-Day International team ever assembled.
I’ve tried to find a legitimate alternative to the argument and I’m not sure any stack up against the 2003 team.
Here’s how they lined up:
Adam Gilchrist (wk)
Ricky Ponting (c)
Jason Gillespie/ Andrew Bichel
Fair side hey? And bear in mind, this is a team that had the greatest spinner of all-time Shane Warne banned from the tournament of the eve of the first game. Brad Hogg took on the role of leading the slow bowling responsibilities and ended up with 13 wickets overall.
Throughout the tournament, legitimate all-rounder Ian Harvey and spare batsman Jimmy Maher also got a run. Nathan Bracken was called in as cover when Gillespie was ruled out through injury.
So teams that could also lay claim to the title? I’ve considered them all.
Sri Lanka 1996 and 2011 weren’t bad. But not this good.
There’s no way Pakistan in 1992 had the dynamic power of the ’03 Aussies.
New Zealand. No. South Africa. Negative. Zimbabwe? Bangladesh? Ireland? Please.
Which leaves India, England and the West Indies.
So what was India’s greatest ever ODI team? 1983? Nope. They lifted the trophy but even the most patriotic fan would concede they weren’t even the best side in that tournament.
2011? Now that was a serious team. Sehwag. Tendulkar. Gambhir. Kohli. Yuvraj. And Dhoni at the peak of his powers at the helm. That’s as good as it gets – especially on the sub-continent.
They had Harbhajan Singh bowling spin. Top drawer right there. But it’s the quicks I’ve got question marks over.
Sorry, but a seam attack of Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth and Munaf Patel doesn’t cut it in the conversation for best ever team. Especially when they’re up against McGrath, Lee and Gillespie. Red pen please.
So the West Indies? There’s a period of time through the early 1980’s which is hard to go past. There were some greats of that era. Clive Lloyd was incredible. But he was well past his best by the time Richie Richardson came along.
Sir Viv Richards – imperious. There’s no denying his greatness.
And then there was Greenidge and Haynes. A partnership etched in cricket folklore. But for all their aura, both clocked their ODI runs at a strike-rate in the mid to low 60’s. Different era I know. But Gilchrist and Hayden were different gravy.
Before Brian Lara, there was Faoud Bacchus and Gus Logie. Good players, but I’ll take Darren Lehmann and Michael Bevan thanks.
The strength of the mighty Windies side was in their quicks. Their formula was to go pace heavy. And they were the best in the business. Garner. Roberts. Holding. A young Courtney Walsh.
But that strategy presented challenges of their own. It meant Jeffrey Dujon – a fine wicketkeeper/batsman by any standard – was often forced to bat at six. When he didn’t, the incredible Malcolm Marshall or the less credentialed Eldine Baptiste would stroll out with the willow much earlier than they were qualified for. Sometimes Roger Harper would get a game – and go the journey. To counter that, they’d eek 10 overs out of part-time spinners Viv and moustache-based selection Larry Gomes.
Gomes was the intriguing fit through an era heavily branded as calypso in style. These were the days when 200 wasn’t a bad total to have on the board and Gomes certainly played his role as the turtle among some relative hares. His one ton, six half-centuries and a strike-rate of just 54 across 83 games makes it difficult to justify calling this West Indies team the greatest of all-time.
Which only leaves the Poms. There’s no doubt England’s best ever ODI side is the one that tied last year’s World Cup final. It was the year leading into the tournament where their CV was truly built.
They took on games with a bully attitude and put fear into opposition with their sheer belligerence and aggression. There was a swagger and arrogance to their destructive approach as they carved out a period of dominance that put them streets ahead of the rest.
But they almost blew it. Maybe they ran out of puff. Maybe their class shone through and got them across the line when the house looked like tumbling down. If not for some moments of pure individual brilliance, who knows what could have been.
The batting’s strong. But do you want Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow over Hayden and Gilchrist? Joe Root or Ricky Ponting? Eion Morgan or Damien Martyn?
The sheer class and X-factor in that England team was Ben Stokes. He batted slightly higher than Andrew Symonds but they filled a similar role. Rearguard defence. Counter-attack. Enforcer. Advantage Stokes? Maybe. There would be plenty who would suggest otherwise.
They batted in different spots in the order and thus played different roles, but Jos Buttler is England’s Gilchrist – regardless of the wicketkeeping duties. And my word he’s good. no one in the modern game can go through the gears like Jos. There’s a bit of Michael Bevan about him too. The original master passing the baton to the contemporary closer.
But again, it’s the bowling attack that seals it. No matter how you frame it, Woakes, Archer, Plunkett and Wood just doesn’t trump McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and Bichel. It’s not even close.
It’s why I’ve got the 2003 Aussies on top. They’re marginally in front of the 2015 team which took out the World Cup.
It’s an argument I’m sure some are prepared to have. But gee I’d want to hear some compelling reasons as to why the 2003 World Cup winning Australian team isn’t the best ODI side we’ve ever seen.