The nature of the beast is such that One Day cricket is played in larger volumes, grabs more attention and is in focus more than Tests, or at least, so it has been till the advent of T20. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that a player's ODI performances often cloud judgements when people evaluate his Test career.
Besides paying tribute to the greats who have made huge contributions to India's ODI history, the idea behind this list is also to make this distinction between India's greatest Test players, and India's greatest ODI players very clear. The parameters and seriousness with which these rankings are done remain the same as with the Test rankings. The difference, of course, is that this list is just a snapshot, and perhaps sometime in the future we will go into a more detailed exercise honouring many more names.
His strike rate is 85.
Home average is 46.
Away average is 43.
Averages 57 in matches won(211 matches).
Tendulkar has been India's premier force in One Day Internationals, and it is difficult to find arguments against that. The sheer weight of his statistics and records against all countries and opposition is overwhelming - he has the most number of ODIs, runs, centuries and Man of the Matches in the world under his belt. Unlike in Tests, he has taken India to victory in several One Day matches, opening the batting and setting the tone for the game. In 12.4% of the total number of matches he has played, India has won the game with him being the Man of the Match. Don't bother with the Maths - the specific number is a stunning 52. His performance in the finals of tournaments is an interesting story - his average in the 38 tournament finals that he has played is 53, and in the 15 that India won, it goes up to 100. Much of these, however, have come before 2001, after which came a string of 8 continuous poor scores in finals, though his average since then is a healthy 45. His big failing, to whatever extent his role has been in it, is that he has never won India a World Cup.
His strike rate was 74.
Home average was 44.
Away average was 40.
Averaged 55 in matches won(149 matches).
Add aggression and extended success as a captain (52% in 146 matches) to the recipe of artistic play already possessed by the left-hander and stir it with the success that he has cooked up and you get close to capturing Ganguly's impact in India's ODI history. If Ganguly was a Tiger chained lightly by his own limitations in Test matches, in ODIs he was let loose, all ferocious intent and arrogant ambition. Though the problems against fast, short bowling remained they were dealt with more emphatically than in Tests- he averaged 56 in matches India won abroad. You could sense that the Prince was in his Kingdom, at ease, free and fluid. As a captain he was rapacious, winning 52% of his matches (the highest in India's history as of then). This percentage becomes more significant when you take into account the fact that he took over from Tendulkar, whose success rate was at a two-decade low of 32%. Given his performances, Ganguly would probably have walked into most ODI World XI's of the early 2000's.
His strike rate was 74.
Home average was 44.
Away average was 40.
Averaged 48 in matches won(160 matches).
Azhar was the bulwark of the Indian middle order in the 1990s, steady, consistent and durable. A key role played by him was to support the forward thrusts provided by Tendulkar at the top of the order. The importance of his role grows in light of the fact that in the 1990s India seldom had the problem of plenty with middle-order hitmen that it does now. Chasing was seen as the biggest of several weaknesses the Indian team had and Azhar emerges as one of the leading crusaders who tried to change this. In matches India has won batting second, he averages 57. He had nineteen unbeaten 30+ scores in India's wins while chasing. He still had his problems abroad, particularly in Australia, though his away average was 39. All said, Azhar is one of the biggest figures in India's ODI history.
Two Indian legends are tied here, and no amount of re-evaluations, research and re-thinking yields a clear winner. Both players have made great contributions in roles and areas that are different from each other. Comparing performances in these roles requires a certain amount of approximation and generalization. In the case of these two players, their contributions in their respective capacities to the team are such that beyond a point, the lines blur. To illustrate, Kapil Dev has good figures as a bowler, but Dravid has greater figures as a batsman. Kapil, however, has won India games with the bat as well, while Dravid's overall contributions in the games India has won matches up to Kapil's figures with both the bat and the ball in winning causes. Kapil won India the World Cup as captain, Dravid is India's second-most successful ODI captain (just overtaken by Dhoni). Dravid's enormously successful dual role as wicket-keeper (averaging 44 as batsman in those games; in winning matches as keeper he averaged 65 in 37 matches) is impossible to overlook. There is little to pick in the MoMs (9 for Kapil against 12 for Dravid). All said, the fairest thing to do seems to be to give them both the 4th spot.
His strike rate was 95.
Home average was 25 with bat and 27 with ball.
Away average was 23 with bat and 28 with ball.
Averaged 29 with bat and 24 with ball in matches won(103 matches).
Kapil Dev with the toothy grin carrying the big, silver Prudential Cup is an image that inspires a vast haze of pride and mutual back-patting amongst Indian cricket fans, but it also hides under its shadows some of Kapil's inadequacies as an ODI player. His bowling average has to be taken seriously - 253 wickets at an average of 27 by a fast bowler in a period in India where spinners dominated the scene such that you couldn't stretch your limbs without poking one of them in the eye is great stuff. As a batsman he has played some great match-winning knocks (175* vs Zimbabwe in the World Cup, 72 in 38 balls vs West Indies in Guyana 1983, 54* in 37 balls vs New Zealand in the semi-finals of the World Championship of Cricket in 1985). But it is difficult to put aside the feeling that he could have done more than what his batting average of 24 suggests. There have only been 15 matches out of 225 where he has scored 25 or more runs and taken 2 or more wickets, and of these India has only won 8. Still it cannot be denied that he was India's premier all-rounder even in this form of the game where the bits-and-pieces cricketer gets an easier passport to be spoken of in the same breath as genuine all-rounders, and his combined contribution with bat and ball is immense.
His strike rate was 71.
Home average was 43.
Away average was 38.
Averaged 52 in matches won(157 matches).
It is in ODIs that the sobriquet 'The Wall' most grossly misrepresents Rahul Dravid, for he was anything but a rigid, unflexible arrangement of bricks. Dravid started out as a slow, intense, bogged down individual in the middle order who just couldn't get a move on. That he has since gone to assume varied roles such as a brisk, consistent accumulator of runs to a quick, precise, chanceless finisher of the innings, to even being a decent wicket-keeper, is proof to one of his lesser-celebrated traits - adaptability. He has, would you believe it, the (joint) second-fastest 50 by an Indian batsman in ODIs (off 22 balls, against a hapless New Zealand), to back these claims up, along with a success rate of 53% as captain. His contribution to India's ODI wins has been enormous - he has 10,509 runs and 93 innings of 50+ scores. A fact that goes largely unnoticed is that he was the highest run scorer from amongst all countries in the 1999 World Cup. The demons that haunted him in Test cricket seemed to carry on to the 50-over format as well - too intense, tries too hard, gets bogged down too often, all problems that came to the fore in the last few months he played ODI cricket. Still, for the huge role he played in delivering India frequent successes in ODIs, and the giant leaps he made in areas outside his comfort zone, he deserves a high ranking and due credit.
A name that comes close to making it to the above list but misses out is Anil Kumble, who has been a steady, stellar performer for more than a decade, finishing with 337 wickets at an average of 31. It is difficult to place him above the rest though, chiefly on account of the fact that unlike in Tests he has seldom been the spearhead or single-handedly won India too many matches. His friend from Bangalore, Javagal Srinath, also comes close. He has been instrumental in India's limited successes abroad, and there is a lot more than Indian cricket could have done with his achievements had they had the backup bowlers to take things forward. MS Dhoni, and his lieutenant Yuvraj Singh, are leaders of Indian ODI cricket today, and the years they have spent growing into this role and their accompanying achievements brings them close to this list. They are now a twin force in the middle order, punching and counter-punching opponents in tandem and in sync, regularly altering the flow of the match. In 41 matches as captain, Dhoni has a winning percentage of 60, the highest by any Indian captain. His contributions to winning causes are immense - he averages 72 in the matches India has won. Yuvraj has 6466 runs, but has been inconsistent with an average of 37. Yuvraj however, has several match-changing performances to his credit, and if he keeps up his recent run of form, he should get a lot closer to utilizing his immense natural talent than he is now.