Following on from the first instalment of our ‘Best One-Day International Team in the World’, where Australian David Warner and Indian Rohit Sharma were selected to open the batting for the side, now it’s the turn to choose the man in at the fall of the first wicket. With all statistics collated from January 1 2016 onwards and based only on their performances in the number-three position, we will analyse the best the game has to offer. Using a combination of readily available statistics as well as our unique analytical metrics, we will analyse the best players from across the globe in order to construct the best team in the world.

With bonafide superstars like Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson all lining up for their respective sides in the position, there is no shortage of world-class talent to choose from – but there can be only one winner. 

The criteria to make our shortlist was to have scored at least 1,000 runs in the aforementioned period: a feat achieved by 12 men. The named trio above (with 5,009, 3,242 and 2,752 runs respectively) are joined by: Babar Azam (2,818), Faf du Plessis (2,129), Steve Smith (2,040), Rahmat Shah (1,902), Shai Hope (1,266), Andrew Balbirnie (1,247), Shakib Al Hasan (1,177), Kusal Mendis (1,145) and Calum MacLeod (1,140).

Boundary hitting

With the role of the modern-day number three seemingly being the rock of the batting line-up – the one of whom others in their team bat around – there is perhaps not quite as much attention to their boundary-hitting abilities when compared to their more powerful colleagues up and down the order.

However, there can be no doubt that they are still required to be able to find – and clear – the ropes in order to keep the scoreboard progressing. Perhaps surprisingly given that he finds himself playing for one of the Associate nation sides – a team who have not been granted Test match status – it is MacLeod who is the most prolific at finding the boundary – as can be seen below.

Averaging a four every 10.31 balls faced,  he is the most adept at hitting fours within the dataset, whilst he is only bettered by Balbirnie – a player who represents the newest Test-playing nation in Ireland – when it comes to dispatching maximums, with one every 84.53 compared to the Ulsterman’s one every 74.71. Overall, this works out at a boundary every 9.19 deliveries, pipping the mercurial Kohli by 0.47 balls – a fine achievement for the Scot considering the Indian’s status amongst many as one of if not the best ODI player of all time.

At the other end of the spectrum, West Indian Hope can clearly be noted for his penchant for aerial shots as opposed to those along the floor, whilst Shakib is the opposite of that: a player who appears more skilled at beating the field as opposed to clearing them.

Average and Strike-Rate

As alluded to above with the differing roles between openers and number threes, the first man in is often the one looked to as a calm, methodical head when those around them are allowed to let loose. As they tend to bat slower and longer than many others, their averages tend to be inflated compared to those around them, whilst their strike-rate – the amount of runs scored per 100 balls faced – may dip slightly given their more conservative nature.

When analysing both side-by-side, in any other era the quintet of Shakib, Babar, du Plessis, Root and MacLeod would be almost certainly the standouts – but that doesn’t factor in the genius of Kohli.

His numbers are, quite frankly, beyond belief. Not only is his average of 80.79 almost 20 runs higher than the next best, Shakib with 61.94, but his strike-rate dwarfs those around him too – as does his run total, standing at an eye-watering 1,767 ahead of Root in second (his overall career average of 59.33 is also the highest of any player to have scored in excess of 2,000 ODI runs – but that’s for another day).

Notwithstanding Kohli’s other-worldly ability, it may come as somewhat of a surprise to see Smith and Williamson – generally regarded as two of the top all-format batsmen in the world – sitting in seventh and eighth-place respectively going by their average.

MacLeod’s place amongst genuine world-class players is another feather in his cap, as he seeks to bolster his reputation after his match-winning 140* off 94 against England in 2018, and proves he is much more than just a powerful player who comes off sporadically.  

Combining these metrics gives another picture of how far ahead of his rivals the 31-year-old is: when adding both together, his figure – 179.54 – is 28.77 runs higher than Du Plessis with 152.18 in second.

Elsewhere, Shakib sits marginally behind his South African counterpart with 150.77, a testament to how good the all-rounder’s stand-alone batting ability is, with Root (149.44) and Babar (147.05) vying for the next spot. Bringing up the rear is Rahmat and Hope, with 105.43 and 106.33 respectively – and an indication of their relative struggles in comparison to their esteemed company. 

Pace or spin?

The art of being a middle-order batsman is the capability to be as effective against both pace and spin bowlers. You are as likely to face both given that, if those above you have done their job successfully, you will be entering in a period – the middle overs – where spinners are more than likely operating.

Given the fact that subcontinent players – those who hail from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – are generally brought up on low, spinning pitches, it comes as no real surprise to see that three of the top four when it comes to averages against slow bowlers come from one of these nations – but yet again it is that man Kohli who reigns supreme.

However, he has to ‘settle’ for third spot when it comes to ability against the quicks, as Shakib and MacLeod usurp him in this aspect, both boasting averages of around 60 – 60.42 and 59.3 to be precise. However, it should be noted that, although he appears to relish a battle against the quicker ball, MacLeod is well behind when it comes to playing the turning ball. His average against spin (20.22) is almost a third of what it is with pace on the ball, and highlights a real deficiency in the Scotsman’s game.

Just like those from Asia are naturally inclined to be favoured against spin, those educated on quicker, bouncier tracks found in Australia and South Africa are, in theory at least, more likely to succeed with pace on the ball. Therefore it comes as no surprise to see Du Plessis and Smith sit favourably here, able to demonstrate averages north of 50 at 51.78 and 50.29 respectively. 

Just like in the previous section, adding these two figures together for each player is another metric that can be used when analysing their overall effectiveness.

Kohli still sits top of the pile, although an honourable mention should be given to Shakib given that he is the only other player who can display a 100+ score as well as the Indian captain. Claiming last place on the podium is Azam with a score of 96.36, exactly three runs ahead of Root on his tail. Conversely, Mendis holds the wooden spoon for this particular area, marginally behind Balbirnie.

Taking this one step further, we have worked out a unique overall average for all players through taking away the difference between both individual averages from their cumulative total, thereby rewarding those who fare better against both and punishing those who have a significantly lower average against one bowling discipline to the other – and no prizes for guessing who is top…

A Mr V Kohli sits atop the pile with a score of 107.86, his Bangladeshi challenger falling away to a score of 92.9 as a result of his greater difference between bowling types. He still holds second place, though, holding off Babar (92.54) by the skin of his teeth. In fact, Root (89.2) aside, nobody else within the sample is remotely in the same ballpark as the top-scoring players.

Length of innings against run-rate

The final constituent metric we will analyse the players against is through a comparison of their runs-per-ball (RpB) and balls-per-dismissal (BpD) – thereby accounting for both longevity at the crease and ball-by-ball impact. 

The majority of the graph reads similar to the previous image illustrating average against strike rate, albeit with a slightly shorter range on the x-axis. The only notable differences are the slight positive horizontal movements of Shakib and Babar, Balbirnie and Williamson and Rahmat and Hope,  representing a longer mean innings for each respective player. Mendis remains a significant outlier in that he appears to neither really occupy the crease for a notable time nor score quickly enough to make up for this. And, of course, the star is Kohli.


Taking all of these metrics into account, we have developed a ‘Batting Index’ to objectively choose who is the stand-out performer, and so now is the time to nail our flag to the mast and make a selection. You’ve probably already guessed who it is, though.

That’s right, the answer can only be King Kohli. 

His overall index of 287.4 outclasses everybody else in the field – no surprise given the facts and figures we have already discussed – with all else left in his dust, his closest challenger Shakib left 43.67 points behind. Again though, honourable mentions must be given to Root and Babar, who were neck-and-neck approaching the final furlong – but it is the Pakistani right-hander who completes the top three thanks to his Index registering 0.95 points higher than his English contemporary at 239.59.

However, the lesson here is that Kohli truly is not just in another world but another stratosphere when it comes to 50-overs batting. He possesses all the tools to take down any kind of bowling attack in the world and, on his day, is almost unbeatable. The only word that can be used to describe him is a genius.

Current side

  1. Rohit Sharma (India)
  2. David Warner (Australia)
  3. Virat Kohli (India)