What does it mean to play hundreds of ODI games?

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Making it into the 100-ODI-caps club is a milestone in a cricketer's career. Likewise, the 300 club. But the milestone has significance relative to the context of the nation and team.

Back in 1986, The Economist invented the popular concept of ‘The Big Mac Index’ as a light-hearted guide to describe and evaluate if the currencies of different countries are at their “correct” level: an extremely popular yardstick, cogently equating what one dollar means to the Chinese vis-à-vis the Americans, to the Japanese as against the British, to Indians with respect to Germans in purchasing-power parity (PPP). PPP being the currency's ability to purchase an identical basket of goods and services — in this case, a McDonald’s burger — in any two countries.

From macroeconomics to cricket — two different worlds, yes — numbers have different values to different proponents. Like a currency note can fetch products of assorted values, a run, a wicket, a match — the different denominations of the cricketing currency — convey different values to different nations when viewed in their respective cricketing contexts. Cricketers showcase varying emotions when it comes to achieving feats such as a 5-wicket haul, a century, or — macroscopically — 1,000 runs, 100 wickets et al. Let’s talk about a milestone not so spoken about, something for which one must also adjust the cricketing inflation and devaluation (like the Big Mac Index). What is it for a cricketer to play 100 ODI games for his country? From an Aussie to an Afghan, how wide-ranging and historic are the experiences and expeditions of playing a hundred or more ODI games?

 

Among the big players — England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and India — to accumulate a century of ODIs is to defy fierce competition. These six countries, the big brothers of the ODI cricket, which started their ODI journey back in the 70s, are, to a certain degree, birds of a feather flocking together. Cricket is not cricket without them. They have contributed the lion's share of the total number of ODI matches played in the cricket history.

Interestingly, these nations — notwithstanding the plethora of matches they have played over the years — have just a handful of cricketers that have made it to the 100-caps club in ODIs. Only the best of the best make this cut. Such is the skewed ratio that for every blessed Sachin Tendulkar, there are six unfortunate VVS Laxmans in India (1:6); for each successful Mike Hussey, there were seven hapless David Husseys in Australia (1:7). Staying afloat at the top to play 100 matches is extremely difficult for players from these nations owing to the tough competition.

For the Englishmen, it is even more sparsely populated: one Eoin Morgan for twelve Alastair Cooks (just 8% of English ODI cricketers have marked a century of ODI appearances). For England, however, that’s not a consequence only of sheer competition. That’s just England being England, a cricketing nation that has been slightly disenchanted towards ODIs for long. So fragmented has English cricket been in ODIs that Paul Collingwood, who tops England’s list of most ODI caps with 197 ODIs, would stand 11th and 13th respectively in the corresponding lists of Australians and Indians.

Country

Total no. of players

No. of 100 Caps

Percentage

Australia

220

26

12%

England

247

19

8%

New Zealand

192

23

12%

West Indies

180

29

16%

Pakistan

214

30

14%

India

217

33

15%

Sri Lanka and South Africa, though alphabetically poised slightly low in that order, show a high ratio in producing such cricketers. South-African cricket, which possesses both quantity and quality has, post sanction, produced 21 cricketers who have accomplished the feat — among them, Alan Donald, AB de Villiers, Daryll Cullinan, Dale Steyn — from a pool of 120 international cricketers, in ODIs. Sri Lanka, with almost a similar ratio, has given 26 cricketers from a total of 180.

100 symbolises the fight for recognition from the next ‘big’ members. Teams that once were called ‘minnows’ are the next ‘big members’ in the reckoning. They not only spread the cricketing boundary across the world but level the sport as well. If West Indies denotes dilution of quality, Bangladesh is the embodiment of a young nation gradually maturing to excellence; if a current Zimbabwe is the shadow of the past, an Afghanistan is the bright spot of the present.

In cricketing terms, the Bangladeshis, the Irish and the Afghans are not similar at all except for the fact that they were granted full-member status in relatively recent times. This somewhat makes their players’ achievements comparable. While the Mohammad Rafiques (123 ODIs), the Habibul Bashars (111 ODIs), spent almost their entire lifetime in the quest for recognition in the global arena, a Mohammad Nabi (83), an Asghar Stanikzai (75), a Niall O'Brien (87) and a Paul Stirling (84) are taking strides on similar paths to inscribe their names with parallel heroics. A 100 ODI games for them is equivalent to a mission to bring cricketing freedom to their respective nations. The word 'freedom' here is not hyperbole. As for some of these countries, to play the sport in the international showground is to break the shackles of economic, social and political backwardness.

 

The current breed of Indian cricketers exhibits a trend which is very unusual in Indian cricket. The monopolistic dominion is almost gone and it’s a level playing field for many.

Zimbabwe's is a different case. Judging today’s Zimbabwe with the yesteryear’s is to judge a book by its cover. Caught between a glorious past and an ambiguous present, the present-day Masakadzas and Williamses are remotely traceable as successors of the Andys and Grant Flowers. There are two different sets of Zimbabweans with 100 or more ODI caps, separated by the turn of this century. The manifold increase in the numbers post 2000 sadly suggests the diminishing value of their brand of cricket. Since 2004 (the beginning of Zimbabwe’s cricketing crisis), Zimbabwe’s win rate has fallen by five percentage points since the preceding period (39.3% till end of 2003 against 34.7% from 2004).

A dream for the match-deprived associate nations: If to be a Virat Kohli is to perform in the glare of fan-frenzy and attention, then to be a Preston Mommsen and a Josh Davey of Scotland or a Mark Chapman and Jamie Atkinson of Hong Kong is to play the game in oblivion and emptiness. A 100 ODI caps is a far-fetched reality for these associate nations let alone their individual players. The licence to play the game at the highest level comes with a caveat to them. Their attaining a series or two, here and there, is at the mercy of their supreme senior counterparts, or at the behest of the ICC. Living in isolation and long periods of lull — some for two decades — it’s a dream for the players from the associate nations to register a 100th ODI. If a Virat Kohli becomes a hero after 100 ODIs, a Chapman may turn a monk.

Among all the players who have had the good fortune to represent their countries for 100 or more occasions, many have made their debuts in the 90s and 2000s. Interestingly, there is a reverse trend in the recent times for the major countries. With the 2000s producing fewer than the 90s and none from the current decade, one cannot help but be surprised.

Is this just an aberration or the norm in the age of scattered ODI representation? Is it an end of oligopoly and beginning of the fragmented representation? Possibly all.

What about the current generation of Indian players?

The current breed of Indian cricketers exhibits a trend which is very unusual in Indian cricket. The monopolistic dominion is almost gone and it’s a level playing field for many.

The chart above shows how cricketers making a debut in the current decade are finding it difficult to pile up a massive number of matches in comparison to the Tendulkars, The Dhonis and the Yuvrajs. As many as 60% of them (those who made their debut in the 2010s) have played fewer than 10 ODIs in their career, just a minority have played 100 ODIs and none yet to make it to 200. Horses-for-courses selection, true competitive democratisation of cricket, format-specific specialists and a small dip in the number of ODIs being played are probably the reasons for such patterns.

As seen, like the Big Mac Index, the number 100 (ODI games) carries different values to different players and nations. If England’s long-time ODI mediocrity has deprived them of a sizeable number of 100-clubbers, West Indies' is a case of depreciation in cricketing ability/quality. If an abundance of ODI caps for Zimbabwe in recent times bespeaks the bareness of its cricketing cupboard, Afghanistan and Bangladesh showcase raid appreciation of game quality.

A congregation of 100 games is a story of its kind. To realise the value of this accomplishment is to appreciate values beyond what is on the face. As much as it is about the endurance and quality of the individual players, it is about the progress made by various nations and the shifting realities of ODI cricket.

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