Monday, January 4, 2010

That was the decade that was

The 2000s was the busiest decade ever in international cricket with 464 Test Matches, 1405 One Day Internationals and 414 Women’s One Day Internationals played. In the case of the last two, the decade pretty much doubled the previous number of matches in the history of the two genres. Scarcely a week went by without some kind of competitive international cricket around the world.

It seems a long time ago now that 1 January 2000 dawned with the following players occupying the top spots in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings:

Test batsmen: Brian Lara
Test bowlers and all-rounders: Shaun Pollock
ODI batsmen: Michael Bevan
ODI bowlers: Shaun Pollock
ODI all-rounders: Lance Klusener
Women’s ODI batsmen: Belinda Clark
Women’s ODI bowlers: Catherine Campbell
Women’s ODI all-rounders: Karen Smithies

So who do the rankings list as the leading players of the decade?

Nine Test batsmen achieved the landmark of 900 points topped by Ricky Ponting’s pinnacle of 942, achieved after his innings of 142 at Adelaide in December 2006. In the history of Test cricket, only two men – Don Bradman and Len Hutton – have achieved a greater peak. With the ball, Muttiah Muralidaran took an astonishing 565 Test wickets in the decade and peaked at 920 points after taking 12-82 in the match against Bangladesh at Kandy in July 2007. So if those are the peaks in individual form, what about those who were able to sustain their form over more extended periods?

As mentioned, there were 464 Tests played in the ten-year period from 2000 to 2009. It is possible to examine who occupied top spot for most of those matches, and that man is Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar. He may not have scored most runs in the decade – that honour belongs to Ricky Ponting – but his tally of 79 matches spent at the top of the batting tree is the highest of any of the 17 players to top the batting tree. He is three matches ahead of Ponting, with Brian Lara (69) the only other man to have spent more than fifty matches on top. Spare a thought for poor old Michael Clarke whose spell at the top lasted just one match and two days!

With the ball, it is a far more exclusive club with only six men having the honour of being world number one. Muralidaran dominates with 214 matches, followed by Glenn McGrath’s 135 and Shaun Pollock with 77. Between them, these three occupied top spot for more than 90% of the time.

In the case of all-rounders, it is even more of a one-man show. Jacques Kallis follows in the fine tradition of South African multi-taskers, and he spent 378 of the decade’s matches looking down at the rest of the world. In fact, only three other men managed a look-in: Chris Cairns, Shaun Pollock and Andrew Flintoff were the others, but their combined total of time at the top amounted to less than two years as the South African was the irresistible force among two-dimensional players.

In the shorter format of the game, it is easy to forget how great a one-day player Michael Bevan was. The consummate ‘finisher’, he started the decade in top spot and spent 342 matches there, nearly twice the number of runner-up MS Dhoni, who has been top for most of the last eighteen months. It was Bevan who achieved the highest points tally too with 880 back in February 2000. Fellow Aussies Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden were the only other two batsmen to break the 850 point barrier.

Bowling-wise, three players managed to sneak through the 900 mark. Shaun Pollock spent 641 matches on top of the world – nearly three times as many as the next two on the list – and peaked at 917 in early 2007 after taking 5-17 against Pakistan. Pollock’s points tally was the highest by anyone since Richard Hadlee in 1984 – a remarkable achievement in these modern days of heavy bats and fast scoring. Murali spent 244 matches in top spot and peaked at 913 and Glenn McGrath took the bronze medal on both fronts with 221 matches and a peak of 903.

It is no surprise to see South Africans dominating the ODI all-rounders with three of the top five in terms of matches at the top hailing from the Rainbow Nation. Kallis and Pollock are unsurprisingly the top two with Lance Klusener the other. He was the dominant force in the shorter format of the game early in the decade following his ‘Player of the Tournament’ award in the ICC Cricket World Cup 1999. Special mention should go to Andrew Flintoff and Shakib-al-Hasan who both managed to sneak in among the South Africans and spend a significant portion of time as number one.

Three batsmen were the leading lights of Women’s ODI cricket over the decade. Turn-of-the-decade leader Belinda Clark dominated the early years, before Karen Rolton took over and spent the most matches at the top – 197. Her peak of 873 points in 2004 was also the highest achieved by anyone. England’s Claire Taylor spent most of the latter part of the decade in the number one spot – a total of 123 matches – and these three left little time for anyone else to enjoy the glory.

With the ball, it was Australian Cathryn Fitzpatrick who was without doubt the leading performer. She was not only top for the most matches – 240 – but her peak points total of 899 achieved in 2004 is nearly a hundred more than anyone else has managed in the history of Women’s ODI cricket.

Australians also dominated the Women’s ODI standings with Rolton and team-mate Lisa Sthalekar spending all but eight of the decade’s 414 matches as the world’s number one. Rolton peaked in October 2006 when her batting rating was 856 and her bowling 770 – a spectacular achievement.

So as we move forward into the 2010s, it will be fascinating to see which players make the biggest impact on the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings as the decade of international cricket is played out. Come back in January 2020 to find out!