In the last decade, as Cricket expanded its wings in a global ambition to reach wider geographies, fueling more competition than before, it widened its template to accommodate T20s, a big change. The shortest format increasingly came to be held alongside 50-over cricket that witnessed two of the sport’s most rigorous and widely-watched events over the last ten years: the two 50-over World Cups.
Over this crucial last decade, the world arose to welcome several stroke-makers who came into their own, some realizing their potential, some backing themselves to go the long, miraculous distance, increasing cricket’s hold over its doting audience.
Through some outstanding exhibitions of batting, particularly in the ODI format, Cricket’s legion of hungry fans was left bedazzled through the exploits of a Kohli, Gayle, AB, Rohit and lots more.
So which were some of the best ODI knocks of the decade?
Virat Kohli’s 133 off 86 balls, 2012 CB series, Hobart
We remember good batsmen by their ability to score against any team. We remember great batsmen by their ability to score consistently against any team. But we recognize a batsman as being a ‘once in a lifetime’ talent by his ability to produce something miraculous from the bat despite thriving in pressure.
Long before Virat Kohli entered the Wisden’s list for the “five cricketers of the decade,” long before he came to be recognized as among the best batsmen around alongside Steve Smith, and way before he became the only batsman to average above 50 across all formats in 2 years, he proved he was in the last category.
Kohli, before all of his great deeds, was once an important man in charge to save India the blues against Sri Lanka in a must-win ODI at the CB Series in 2012.
Part of a side that had Sehwag and Sachin as openers, both of whom were back in the dugout with the team needing big runs, it was up to Virat Kohli, who arrived in the 10th over of India’s chase to keep the team afloat.
The situation was narrower than the roads that hang somehow on treacherous mountainous terrains.
Yet, Virat Kohli thrived and birthed a famous alter ego that would continue to mark his personality in several successful outings thereafter: that of the “chase master!”
In playing a knock of exceptional stroke-making, pacing his innings to great perfection, Kohli fired 133 off just 86 balls to take India home in just the 37th over, striking 16 fours and 2 sixes.
But the highlight of the dashing right-hander’s Hobart heroics was his assault on Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga, which came in the 35th over.
Collecting 2, 6, 4, 4, 4, and 4 off Sri Lanka’s most experienced and truth be told, most feared pacer, Kohli cover drove, flicked, hoisted and did all in his might to puncture Sri Lanka’s hopes in producing a knock that’s remembered several years hence as a classic example of exceptional counter-attacking batting.
Chris Gayle 215, 2015 World Cup
He’s not called the Universe Boss for anything! While at 40, Gayle’s still going strong, having just tasked mauled England, striking them for one big stroke too many in the 2019 summers- wherein he collected 424 from 4 innings- imagine how powerful and dominant might he have been when he was several years younger?
An answer to this was found in 2015 and unfortunately, by a side, you don’t get to see that often nowadays, having endured perhaps one of the most challenging years of their journey in 2019: Zimbabwe.
In the last World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand, Zimbabwe did the mistake of running into Chris Gayle at Canberra on February 24, 2015. Worse still, what the scorecard revealed upon the completion of the 50th over, they did the mistake of taking the field or so you felt.
Gayle, who strikes big and long did exactly that against an attack that featured Chatara, Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza, and Elton Chigumbura. We’ve seen Gayle hit 100s before. We’d seen him going on past 150s before. But on that utterly one-sided batsman-mauling-the-bowler day, Gayle bettered himself and went for the full blow; collecting a double hundred, dismantling Zimbabwe with his 147-ball-215 effort.
96 of Gayle’s runs came only through sixes. It was a usual business for the lanky Jamaican: stand and deliver as the leftie played the judge and executioner, Zimbabwe the utterly perplexed victim that had gone silent in a spell of audacious white-ball hitting. Interestingly, why Gayle’s feat stands a worthy seat in the firmament of the best ODI knocks of the decade is because, before being broken, funnily in the same tournament, it was the World Cup’s maiden double hundred.
Rohit Sharma 209,bi-lateral series vs Australia, 2013
The graph of striking a century pretty much rests into three categories. There are normal hundreds where batsmen immediately after scoring a ton get out. Then there are mid-sized hundreds, a 120 or 130-something knock. Then there are batsmen who flourish through striking daddy hundreds.
But none do this as often and as powerfully as Rohit Sharma. At a time where striking a double ton seemed only possible in the longest form of the game, Sharma through sheer love for batting and batting for long periods of time made the unimaginable possible, that too, in limited-overs cricket.
The only batsman, thus far, to have struck 3 ODI double centuries, Sharma reserved one of his most dazzling exhibitions of a bowler’s rout against Australia in 2013.
At home, hosting Australia, India went on to plunder 383 runs for 6 wickets at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy, a contest that they’d eventually by 57 runs. But it wasn’t possible without Rohit Sharma’s belligerent, ruthless 209 off just 158 balls, a knock that featured 16 sixes.
Not even a Gayle or AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli or Andre Russell have fired as many sixes in a single inning, to this day.
Sharma’s 209 was an exhibition of savagery up the top of the order. In a team that had stroke makers like Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Dhawan, and King Kohli himself, the Mumbai batsman’s batting blitz made it seem as if it were Rohit Sharma vs Australia.
But perhaps what we tend to forget about Rohit’s brilliant ODI double is the sheer length of time for which he batted, opening the inning and getting out not before the final over of the innings was bowled. Sharma’s knock, fetching palpable excitement to India while agony for Australia will long remain among the best ODI knocks of the decade.
Gautam Gambhir 97 off 122 balls, 2011 World Cup Final
In a memorable career for India, Gautam Gambhir has struck 34 half-centuries in 50-over cricket. But none more crucial and definitive than his match-winning 97 in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka in 2011.
Batsmen always like to make runs and impactful runs at that. While scoring runs is one thing, going on to score in high-pressure situations with everything being at stake is a feeling like no other.
Who would understand this better than Gambhir who perhaps did a “Dark Knight” for India, as his nearly faultless effort that while yielded 97 useful runs, enabled India to firmly gain control of a match that seemed to be slipping away from the team’s grasp, with Sachin, Sehwag, and Kohli back in the dugout?
Yet, how often do we remember the 97 vis-a-vis Dhoni’s six-hitting, hair-raising 91 off 79, another commendable knock?
Implicit in Gambhir’s 97 in the “all to play for” World Cup final was the pressure he warded off, applying himself to the match situation without getting perturbed about the early upsets in the Indian innings had evidenced.
Once Gambir, the man who relied on timing and the ability to find gaps, was set, the boundaries became a constant companion, several of which were fired with sincerity as if his life depended on it, whether toward the favorite square region or the mid-wicket boundary.
Perhaps if there’s a match-winning fifty that means all the much more and despite, after all these years, appears as a priceless jewel that perhaps remained underappreciated then it was Gambhir’s big world cup moment. His effort will always be counted as among the best ODI knocks of the decade.
Kevin O’Brien 113 off 63, 2011 World Cup
Kevin O’Brien’s century against England had to be among the best ODI knocks of the decade.
Usually, Ireland is a side that doesn’t consume much mind-space particularly when one remains ever-buried in closely following developments around Australia, England or India.
But if there was a batsman who perhaps compelled us to take the Associate nations seriously, proving that despite their understated persona, there was no dearth of sheer bamboozling talent, then it was big-hitting Kevin O’Brien whose exhibition of belligerent power-hitting shocked England, stunned cricket fans, compelled the Irish to hold the tissue box to attend to moist eyes, all of this at Cricket’s grandest stage: the World Cup!
In World Cup 2011, Ireland made history as they stunned England, in what was their maiden appearance in any World Cup event ever but only at the back of a scintillating, fast-paced 113 from Kevin O’Brien off just 63 deliveries.
When he arrived in the middle of a high run-chase, Ireland requiring 328 from 50 overs, the team was already floundering at 106 for 4. Soon, the chasing side plunged to further disarray, being 5 down for 111.
This was the halfway stage where England was all over Ireland. But what followed thereafter was an exhibition of remorseless power-hitting rarely seen by an Irish batsman.
O’Brien used all the power in his forearms and the gift of reading the line of the ball early to deposit boundaries and sixes at free will at the Chinnaswamy. His first fifty took only 30 balls, the next, required only 20. Importantly, as he raised a 162-run match-saving stand with Alex Cusack, O’Brien powered shots with all his might to ultimately smack the fastest-ever World Cup hundred.
AB de villiers- 149 off 44, Jan 2015
Flamboyant, fearless, and free-spirited: AB de Villiers was this adventurer who took to cricket for one purpose and one purpose alone- to regale fans around the world.
AB de Villiers often seemed less of a batsman and more of a Renaissance artist, doing things with unmatched skill and creativity that normal batsmen around him could only dream of doing, seeming mortals, more like menial workers merely holding the Cricket bat.
But all these times, it was de Villiers’ blade that would stroke awe-inspiring artistry using the most unorthodox techniques.
A modern-day Leonardo da Vinci with the paintbrush traded for the Cricket bat!
And in his 44-ball-149 against the West Indies in South Africa, an inning scored nearly half a decade back. de Villiers showed just that displaying raw power and pure skill to present an adrenaline-boosting effort of pure batsmanship and played one of the best ODI knocks of the decades.
The usually cheery and unsuspecting West Indies with bowlers like Jason Holder, Suleiman Benn, Andre Russell, and Jerome Taylor would’ve never guessed what was to come when de Villiers was unleashed on them on one sunny afternoon at Jo’Burg on 18th January 2015.
How often have batsmen gone onto collect hundreds walking into bat in only the 39th over? But after Rossouw departed, not before hammering the Windies, giving them a taste of what was to come, in walked De Villiers only to send the Windies packing.
It was as if his bat was oozing fire. The most unimagined and unperceivable cricketing shots; a flick from the middle-stump over the square leg region, a late-cultish scoop over the third-man boundary; began to carpet bomb the West Indies.
If there were among the best ODI knocks of the decade, then de Villiers’ carnage over the hapless Windies- wherein he scored his century off 31 balls, the world record for the fastest ton- was the top candidature.