England’s Greatest Ever ODI Team?

If you believe the hype, England’s current ODI team is the best we’ve ever had. It plays with aggression and vim, is packed with match-winners, and has finally catapulted England’s limited overs cricket into the modern era.

However an interesting thought crossed my mind when I was in the bath the other day (please excuse the hideous image). As I rubbed soap into my beer belly (again apologies) it occurred to me that very few players in the current XI would make my all time England ODI XI. In fact, very few of them would even make my squad of sixteen.

Here’s what I think England’s best limited overs team since 1985 (approximately the time I started watching cricket) would look like. Subjectivity always plays a part in these debates, and I accept some of these players are personal favourites, but nevertheless I still think you can make a compelling case for every single one …

1. Graham Gooch

2. Joe Root

3. Allan Lamb

4 Neil Fairbrother

5. Kevin Pietersen

6. Jos Buttler

7. Ian Botham

8. Andrew Flintoff

9. Darren Gough

10. Graeme Swann

11. Bob Willis

The other 5 players in my squad of 16 would be Marcus Trescothick, Graeme Hick, Alec Stewart, Phil DeFreitas and John Emburey.

I think the above XI basically picks itself. We’ve got England’s best two all-round batsmen of the last thirty years at the top (I’ve got Root in the Tendulkar opening role), followed by the guts and dashing stroke play of Lamb. Who can forget that time when Lamby took Bruce Reid to the cleaners in the final over in Sydney in 1987?

The middle-order consists of the improvisation, quick running (and left-handedness!) of Fairbrother, the flamboyance of KP, and the sheer talent of Jos Buttler. It’s a pretty formidable engine room I think you’ll agree.

When it comes to the all-rounders, Botham and Freddy are streets ahead of everyone else. I guess you can make a case for Ben Stokes but the two I’ve picked are better bowlers. Imagine his Beefiness and Flintoff batting together at the end of an innings. Things could get very messy very quickly for the opposition.

The new ball is taken by Willis and Gough, two genuine quicks with contrasting styles who would complement each other beautifully. I wish I could have seen these two bowling together. The lone spinner is obviously Swann, who had less competition for his place than any other player.

My reserves are a little controversial but they were all very good ODI players. Tresco is our second best pure opener and unlucky not to make the final team. Hick was a superb limited overs batsman and brilliant fielder who made a crucial 80-odd in our 1991 World Cup semi final. People remember Hick for his test failures but always forget how good he was in pyjamas.

Alec Stewart is the natural reserve keeper-batsman and John Emburey is the only other spinner worth considering. Phil DeFreitas is the reserve seamer-batsman because (a) he’s one of the best fielders I’ve ever seen (b) he was a good bowler with a decent record, and (c) he whacked the ball absolutely miles when he batted. Plus Daffy did everything with a certain nonchalant flair that was hugely entertaining.

The only controversial omission, unless I’m forgetting anyone, is David Gower. I left Lubo out because his ODI career average was a disappointing 30. That’s a lot less than the other guys who made the final cut. Interestingly enough, Ian Bell is England’s all-time leading run scorer in 50 over cricket, but I doubt many will be clamouring for his inclusion in the above XI.

I’d love to know what you think about my team and what changes you’d make. I’d also be interested to know if you’d include more current England players in your XI. After all, if the current team is supposed to be our best ever, why do only two of them make the final cut?

Perhaps our current team isn’t that great after all? It’s something chew over … whether you’re in the bath or not.

James Morgan


  • Derek Underwood would be my spinner. Left arm variation and his miserly economy rate would have done for me. That and the enjoyment of watching him bat against the quicks always made me smile.

    • Unfortunately I never really saw Deadly live. By all accounts he would’ve been a shoo in.

  • Fascinating. I think it all depends on when the team plays. If it’s before the last 5 years, then Trott has a very good case to make. Excellent average, but SR falls behind modern standards. I’d play Lamby (a childhood hero) lower down to make way.
    I realise that I’ve just fulfilled the England ODI version of Godwin’s law…
    Meanwhile I must mention that neither of England’s two highest scoring batsmen have been included. Hales may not have the long-term class yet, but in time I think he’ll make it.

  • I was looking at the rankings this morning and it’s a bit of a surprise to discover that England are ranked 5th in ODIs.

    Of course people sometimes point out how flawed the rankings are (and I would back England to beat NZ who are ranked 4th more times than not) – although they didn’t complain too much when England were “No.1 in three formats”.

    The reason isn’t too hard to find – while England have three batsmen in the Top Twenty, there aren’t any English seamers in the Top Twenty bowlers.

    • As usual SimonH gets there before me.

      I think given the changes in the game it’s reasonable to say that players like Hales and Morgan might compare well as ODI players with some greats of the past.

      However, it’s really hard to see how any of the current bowling line up measure up to the RoW or the past in ODI terms.

      • Yep. One could argue that the current batting line up is the only think that’s really improved. The bowling attack lacks class which is one reason I’d consider Broad for the champions trophy.

  • I would make two changes; Billings for Buttler. Billings is a better technical bat (and scores as quickly) and a much, much better keeper. And the controversial one; we need a captain as none of those selected make much of a case. I would drop Fairbrother and pick Dermot Reeve. He may not be the greatest bat or bowler but he had an unchallenged ability to psyche out an opposition and was a genius at unconventional thinking. Worth his place in white ball in the same way as Mike Brearley in tests. And. as a bonus, he would piss off the suits at Lords more than anyone I can imagine.

  • England’s worst ever ODI XI is fun to pick. With a ten-match minimum (to exclude players who played the odd rogue ODI, perhaps on tour) how about:

    Tufnell (not the worst spinner by any means – but for his fielding….. )

    With Peter Moores as coach of course!

    • How many games did Richard Blakey play? Neil Smith must be a contender too if he reached ten games.

      • Neither played enough – three and seven matches respectively.

        Neil Smith was okay so long as he wasn’t sent in to open!

    • Taking fielding into account Gus Fraser must be a strong contender – although he may get in these days on the grounds that he could be used to completely block the V without the need for any movement.

      Thinking of a global team Inzaman must be a shoe in for skipper given his tendency to wave a regal hand in the direction of the nearest youngster whenever the ball passed him in the field.

  • I would have Trescothick opening every day of the week. He’s our best ODI opener ever – got hundreds in all conditions and able to adapt his innings to the situation. I would argue we never replaced him at the top.

    I think Root would be better at 3 so would leave out Lamby. Think Freddie is wasted at 8 – he’s a better ODI batsman than many gave him credit for, but was actually better higher up the order when given a chance to play himself in.

    • Me too, I think Tresco would have been awesome had he played even just a few years later and he was hardly bad. I hold out hopes that the likes of Roy and Billings might make such a side in a few years but they don’t just yet. It says everything of our lack of real class in a number of positions over the years that I struggle to think of too many convincing options. I’m not sure Gooch was even that good for his time.

      I have to say that despite his reputation, my lingering memories of Botham before he basically became a pace off the ball merchant in ODIs was of a player who flattered to deceive with bat and ball in the shorter form of the game. I guess he sort of made up for it in the 92 world cup but he was a long way past his best as a player then.

      • Tres had a slightly better average (37 to 36) and a much, much better SR (85 to 65) than Gooch (I know some of the difference comes from their respective eras – but not as much as 20 I’d have thought).

        Gooch did however play two of the greatest ODI knocks by an Englishman – and they were very different in nature. There was the 129* against WI in WI when they were at their peak and the WC SF against India on a bunsen.

        I think I’d select both, drop Root to No.3 and play only one of Lamb or Fairbrother as they did tend to fulfill the same role in ODIs. Their records are virtually identical. I’d probably go for Lamb out of a feeling he’d be more likely to perform on the really big stage.

  • Allan Mullally was anot awful red ball bowler but very effective in ODI as he got the white ball swinging back.

    Ave under 28 at an economy under 3.5 – surely merits inclusion and left arm too. I’d have him over Willis if the criteria is post 85 as I can’t believe Willis played much ODI after that?

    Also think Robin Smith worth a mention. Not sure who to put him in for.

    • Smith played possibly the best individual innings I’ve seen by an ODI England player. A big hundred against the Aussies (at Edgbaston I think). I believe it was our highest ever score until recently.

  • There is a very strong case for Nick Knight as opener in place of either Gooch or Root (but Root would replace Fairbrother in this scenario). I know Knight’s limitations in tests but he had a better average than Gooch or Trescothick (over 100 ODIs), was a much better fielder in ODIs (as Botham could take the one slip position), and would provide a left hand/right hand opening combo. It remains a mystery to me how he could be so good in ODIs (against the likes of McGrath and Donald et al) and so limited in tests.

  • Anybody worked out which actually-played-together-in-an-ODI team contains the most players from James’s XI?

    It’d be interesting to compare the current team (with only Root and Buttler from James’s picks) with the one that contains the most of them.

    • The World Cup final team in 1991 wins hands down I think. They had Gooch, Botham, Hick, Lamb, Fairbrother, Stewart and possibly Daffy too. Flintoff, Pietersen and Gough played together a few times too.

  • Of your XI I’d probably only question Willis. I don’t remember him being a LO player (I started in 85 too)
    I’d replace him with Anderson, he was brilliant for 4-5 years when he came on the scene. Remember the demolition of Pakistan in the 2003 world cup?

    • Willis played about 70 ODIs and took 80 wickets at just below 25 with an miserly economy of just 3.3. Jimmy’s ODI average is 29 with an economy touching 5.

      I think you’d pick Anderson in certain conditions (that demolition of Pakistan was on a green top) but otherwise I’d go for Bob.

      Jimmy has a very good strike rate but I always thought he’s too easy to get after in limited overs cricket. His T20 record for example (even for Lancs) is surprisingly average.

      • Technically that Pakistan game wasn’t a green top, if it was then Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib would probably have terrorised England. Anderson’s movement was through the air after the sun went down on an early autumn evening. I had to put on a sweater and an anorak!

  • As an aside I remember over 30 years ago watching a cricket tournament at Crystal Palace Football club (Six aside competition or something played on matting) Gooch out of interest hit Imran Khan clean out the grounds with a massive straight six off a length. So I am sure he had the ability in him to up the scoring rate.
    But I would have Trescothick in for Gooch, namely because he is left handed and his ODI record as discussed earlier. And even if their cricket stats were exactly the same, I’d have still Trescothick as from a spectators point of view he was more exciting to watch.

  • Interesting premise. My thoughts…

    – Regardless of the debate about individuals that would make an all time XI, I think it’s a different question entirely if we consider the best team.

    – The other difficulty is that the current team are best evaluated on the basis of the last 18 months. The period is too short really to make any conclusive judgments, but a couple of years down the line we’d be in a better place. My money is that by the end of their careers, quite a number of the players would make an all time England XI / XV

    I’ll reserve judgment for now, but I think it’s pretty telling when we are pretty much bound to leave out a couple of batsmen at least for this series that ought to have walked into a prior team based on their records…

  • Further to this – I desperately hope that Billings isn’t one to make way. Looks like that may be the case though.

  • My best ever England ODI team would be:

    Knight, Trescothick, Trott, Root, Pietersen, Flintoff, Butler (wkt), Botham, Swann, Gough, Willis (Capt), Collingwood (12)

    These are the players with significant numbers of matches who have the best averages for their roles. Trott has the best batting average of 51.25 and it seems illogical to leave him out.

  • Plenty of scope for debate here but the 2 things that jump out at me from the comments are

    (i) Surprised Gooch is left out by anyone. Remember he missed 4 years at the peak of his powers. He also played one of the very greatest one-day innings in the 1987 World Cup semi, sweeping his way to 100 as England beat India in Mumbai.

    (ii) Equally surprised that anyone would include Trott. Sure, his average is good, but strike rate is equally as important as average, especially in recent years. Trott’s record would have been great had he played in an earlier era, but he failed to play in a way that reflected how the game had changed. Consequently, England lost more than won with Trott in the side because his strike rate put too much pressure on the middle order to up the pace.

  • Don’t think Root doing the Tendulkar role and Trott doing the Trott can both be in the same top 3. I’d probably take Trott.

    My team is below, only worry is that it’s a bit light on batting, so I may have to consider Ali or Rashid for Emburey, and possibly the 1992 WC version of Chris Lewis for Mullally.



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