Itâ€™s approaching 50 years since the maiden ODI was played between Australia and England at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). While T20s are the current darlings of cricket, it was the 50-over format which initially helped raise the popularity and exposure of the sport.
The format gave birth to the ICC World Cup in 1975, a quadrennial competition, which has become the benchmark for greatness in the game. Over the years, there have been several teams to have dazzled with their brilliant performances over both bilateral series and ICC competitions.
In this series, we take a look at eight of the best ODI squads in history, starting with the World Cup winning Australia squad of 2003.
Openers: Adam Gilchrist (WK), Matthew Hayden
Middle-order: Ricky Ponting (C), Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan
All-rounders: Andrew Symonds, Ian Harvey
Spinners: Brad Hogg, Shane Warne
Pacers: Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Andy Bichel, Jason Gillespie
When it comes to the greatest ODI teams in history, the Australia class of 2002-04 is up there with the best. Their 2003 ICC World Cup conquest in South Africa remains their crowning achievement, but there were also several other feats attained by an all-conquering unit led by Ricky Ponting.
Their run of 10 consecutive series wins between December, 2002 to September, 2004 is the longest by any side in the history of the format. During this impressive streak, they also stitched together a world-record run of 21 successive ODI victories in 2003.
There simply is no parallel to the dominance imposed by this particular squad which was sandwiched between two successful Australia ODI eras of 1999 and 2007.
The only real blemish to their mighty track record was a 2-1 home series defeat at the hands of Pakistan in June, 2002. However, that defeat only spurred the wounded Aussies to embark on their record-breaking winning spree which also resulted in a third World Cup title.
Considering their aura of near invincibility, even their semi-final exits in the 2002 and 2004 ICC Champions Trophy can be construed as a failure. Everything else before them were simply vanquished.
Captain â€“ Ricky Ponting
While they were the undisputed top dogs in Test cricket, Australia were suffering a slump in the ODI arena towards the start of 2002. A run of poor results saw Steve Waugh dropped from the squad in February, with Ricky Ponting elevated to captaincy ahead of vice-captain Adam Gilchrist.
The changing of the guard worked instantly for the Aussies, with Ponting leading them to a 5-1 away series over a formidable South Africa squad in his maiden assignment. The tone for Pontingâ€™s successful captaincy was set with that victory and a new era of dominance began for Australia. That he was also one of the leading batsmen in the world at the time meant that Ponting was often leading from the front with his huge appetite for runs.
A hard as nails skipper who took no prisoners, the Tasmanian was the perfect person to handle a group containing some egos like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Andrew Symonds.
In Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, the Australia squad had two of the most destructive openers of the times. Australia could count on the two left-handers to give them an electric start more often than not, with their consistency unmatched by another other opening pair of the same era.
It was a frighteningly good top-three with Ponting dropping in behind the openers. Between 2002 and 2004, only two other batsmen in the form of Mohammad Yousuf and Chris Gayle scored more ODI runs than either of Australiaâ€™s top-three.
Solid spine in middle-order
While the top-order could do the bulk of the damage, Australia were not short of quality in the middle-order either. Damien Martyn at No4 didnâ€™t quite steal the headlines compared to those before him, but the classy batsman did plenty of good work without garnering too much attention.
In the middle-order, Darren Lehmann was an underrated performer and averaged more than 50 in the period (2002-04). There was also Michael Bevans, a man widely considered to the best finisher in the ODI game along with the firepower provided by all-rounder Andrew Symonds.
A complete bowling unit
In the bowling department, this Australia side had it all. From the searing pace of Brett Lee to the unwavering accuracy of Glenn McGrath, the Aussies were spoiled for choice. In that particular era, Lee was at the peak of his powers and the most devastating ODI pacer alongside South Africaâ€™s Makhaya Ntini.
McGrathâ€™s metronome bowling and Gillespieâ€™s industry completed what was a pace unit unrivalled by any other side in the world.
Between February, 2002 and September, 2004, the trio of Lee, Gillespie and McGrath accounted for a staggering 245 ODI wickets between them.
They were further supplemented by the tireless Andy Bichel whose medium-fast bowling could always be depended upon. Similar to Bichel, Ian Harvey was also a steady performer and rarely let down the squad on the rare occasions he was called upon.
In the spin department, Shane Warne and Brad Hogg provided the option of wrist-spin of contrasting but equally effective styles. Symonds could roll over his arm for some off-spin as well, meaning that Ponting always had a wealth of options to choose from at any point in a match.
Greatest Achievement â€“ 2003 World Cup title
Coming into the tournament in South Africa as the defending champions, Australia were jolted by the news of a failed drug test for Shane Warne just one day before the inaugural game.
Despite their ace-spinner being sent back to Australia before serving a lengthy ban, the Aussies more than lived up to the tag of favourites. Pontingâ€™s men racked up 11 victories on the trot to lift the title in South Africa, becoming the first Aussie squad in history to clinch the World Cup undefeated.
The only time the Aussies were ran close was in their group clash against arch-rivals England, with Bevanâ€™s unbeaten 74 helping them eek out a two-wicket win. Every other opponent was rolled aside with impunity as Australia clinched the third of their record five titles.
If any other team came close their consistency in the tournament, it was eventual runners-up India. But even they were trashed twice by the Aussies, including a 125-run reversal in the final.
Lee and McGrath were on song in South Africa, with the pair snaring 43 wickets between them over the course of the campaign. The ever-reliable Bichel chipped in with 16 wickets of his own, while Hogg proved to be a worthy replacement for Warne by bagging 13 scalps.
With the bat, Ponting led from the front with 415 runs including a swashbuckling ton against India in the final. Gilchrist and Hayden combined for over 700 runs in the tournament while Martyn and Symonds aggregated nearly 650 runs between them.
It was a complete team effort from the Aussies, with Bevan also playing his part whenever the situation called upon. There were simply no passengers in the side.
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