Jason Roy or David Warner? Virat Kohli or Kane Williamson? Mitchell Starc or Trent Boult? These are questions undoubtedly posed by cricket fans across the globe –  especially given the boredom posed by the current COVID-19-related situation. As part of Total Cricket Analysis’ opening stand, in the coming weeks we will look to select the best One-Day International XI over the past four years based on their statistics and figures since January 1 2016. No national impartiality, no domestic bias, no patriotic swaying – only cold, hard facts and figures. 

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. 

First up – the opening batsmen.

Boundary hitting

To start off, the criteria for making our opening batsman shortlist was to have scored at least 2000 runs at the top of the order since the start of 2016. Therefore, the men in contention for a place in our side are: Rohit Sharma (4538 runs), Quinton de Kock (3142), David Warner (3076), Aaron Finch (2997), Jason Roy (2972), Shikhar Dhawan (2897), Tamim Iqbal (2489), Martin Guptill (2401), Jonny Bairstow (2276), Hashim Amla (2105) and, last but not least having snuck in with 2000 runs exactly, Ireland’s Paul Stirling.

With the constant evolution of the game – bigger bats, bigger players and bigger scores – the role of the opening batsman is almost unrecognisable from even ten years ago. A modern-day limited-overs opening batsman is tasked with getting his team off to a flyer as they seek to take advantage of early fielding restrictions in their favour, looking to get on top of the bowlers almost immediately and get away early boundaries.

On the graph above, the batsman’s ability at hitting fours is plotted against their frequency of sixes hit. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the fact that England have cemented their status as the best team in the world, it is one of their openers who shows the greatest proficiency for finding the ropes. With Bairstow hitting a boundary on average every 7.55 balls, he is marginally ahead of Dhawan (every 7.72 deliveries) in second-place – whilst Roy sits third with a four every 8.25 balls. 

When it comes to sixes, the English pair occupy two of the top three spots again, with a six every 37.78 and 40.16 balls respectively (albeit Roy is only marginally ahead of New Zealand’s Guptill at 40.32 balls faced). However, it is Indian Sharma who claims the top position here, averaging a maximum every 33.35 balls faced.

Elsewhere, it is worth noting Amla’s isolation towards the top of the graph as he is clearly well behind his peers when it comes to boundary striking – representing the shift away from touch players such as he at the top of the order. 

Overall, the two Englishmen have the highest overall boundary frequency out of any on the shortlist: both average a boundary less than every seven balls faced, illustrating just why they are seen as two of the most dangerous batsmen in the world.

Average and Strike-Rate

Following on from the above revelation of Bairstow and Roy as the two most frequent boundary hitters, it comes as no surprise to see the pair possessing the highest strike-rate – the amount of runs scored per 100 balls faced. Their role in the side is very much one of aggression and power straight from the off, forcing opposing bowlers into submission with their ruthless hitting. Therefore, given the higher risk nature of their roles it is perhaps not a shock that neither of the duo are challenging at the top for the title of highest average – the honour again bestowed on Sharma (64.97) – albeit a position of fourth for Bairstow with an average just above 50 is very respectable indeed.

Amla is once again positioned towards the region which suggests neither an average or strike rate worth writing home about in comparison to those he is up against, whilst Tamim’s role for Bangladesh looks to be one where he is relied upon for volume of runs as opposed to the tempo at which they are scored.

Moving on from this, combining the two together gives a good overall picture of their respective abilities, as it takes into account both run weight and run speed – as seen below.

There is a three-way fight for the position at the top of the podium here, and it is Sharma who edges out Bairstow by the barest of margins (to quote Ian Smith) – 0.32 runs to be precise, with scores of 160.41 and 160.09 respectively. Aussie Warner occupies third place with a score of 157.25, whilst Roy comes in fourth with 153.17. To put this into context, the bottom two rankings are given to Stirling (122.07) and Amla (127.84) – the men with the two lowest number of runs scored out of the group also. 

Pace or spin?

In the days of specific one-to-one bowler-batsman match-ups, gone is it a formality for pace bowlers to take the first over of the innings – think back to Imran Tahir with the first over of the 2019 World Cup.

The general notion of opening batsmen used to be that their challenges would come in the form of pace only, unless they were able to see off the initial barrage and reach the middle overs of the game when the spinners came on. However, more and more often teams are now throwing the ball to their slow bowlers earlier on in an attempt to quash the opener’s desires to feel it coming onto the bat quickly. As mentioned above, Faf du Plessis’ decision to start with his leg-spinner paid dividends immediately as he removed Bairstow with just his second ball – and it is the Yorkshireman who shows the most notable weakness against the turning ball.

As can be seen above, it is the 30-year-old who sits farthest towards any extreme of the graph to present the argument that he is significantly weaker against one form of bowling in comparison to the other (notwithstanding Amla’s relatively low average against both forms), although it could legitimately be argued that Guptill is the opposite to Bairstow when it comes to favouring varying types of bowling.

To move from the most destructive against pace to the second-weakest against spin is a clear deficiency on Bairstow’s part, and highlights why the Proteas opted to start with Tahir as they, and indeed several other teams have done since, looked to target the right-hander’s clear preference to feel the ball coming onto the bat. 

Once again it is Sharma and Warner who are the notable standouts and appear to be the most complete players against both forms of bowling, boasting the highest cumulative average from against both bowling forms (below), with red representing their average vs pace and green against spin. It is here that the pair really demonstrate their class, with an average sitting comfortably above 100 and over ten runs clear of third-placed Tamim.

Taking this one step further, an ‘Overall Average’ can be devised when taking away their respective difference in averages from their cumulative total – thereby rewarding players who are equally as good against both and punishing those who have a clear flaw against one.

When analysing these data it provides a clearer indication of who is the better overall player against both bowling disciplines – and it narrows the margins of difference between players hugely. 

Whilst the range of the cumulative averages was touching 40 (38.94), for the overall averages it drops to just below 30 (29.28). Taking the top position is Warner, who moves ahead of Sharma by over three runs (83.64 against 80.46), whilst a name not yet mentioned – South African de Kock – pushes the Indian all the way with an overall average of 79.74 to sit in third. Bringing up the rear is Guptill, hampered by a difference in averages of 28.42 – the highest of any players within the data set – and way behind Amla in the penultimate position with a difference in the pair of 9.44 runs.

Length of innings against run-rate

Similarly to overall strike-rate, runs-per-ball (RpB) is a measure of how quickly the batsman scores but on a smaller, more immediate level. When contrasting this against balls-per-dismissal (BpD), their impact on the game in a ball-by-ball fashion can be judged based on both longevity and run quantity. 

Both graphs read pretty similarly – they can be contrasted below – albeit with a few adjustments to some individuals.

Notably, Roy sees his position shift heavily in a negative direction on the x-axis, whilst Tamim is moved heavily in a positive direction, adding further weight to the argument of him being Bangladesh’s platform to play off. The length of Sharma’s mean innings is impressive too, especially when considering his outstanding individual levels already alluded to.

Both of these metrics – RpB and BpD – can be combined to produce an expected average (xAvg). In truth, it is only Sharma who sits a significant distance away from his actual average (AA) – although still a minuscule difference in the grand scheme of things – with an AA of 0.14 runs higher than his xAvg – every other player sitting only a maximum of 0.01 runs either side.


Taking into account all of the numbers we have crunched within this article, a Batting Index has been devised to objectively select the two men who can be called the two best ODI openers in the world. 

Not at all surprising given how often they have been referenced, it is Sharma and Warner who can hold the claim as the best individual openers in the current game over the past four years, three points ahead of Bairstow in third place with an Index of 237.33.

Although they have both rightly been successful in claiming the first spots in our side, the fight for top spot between the duo is tantalisingly close. In second place, with an Index of 240.87, it is Warner, only 0.02 points behind Sharma, who can claim an index of 240.89.

As has been demonstrated with the above statistics, the duo are clearly the two stand-out openers in the current ODI game with their time spent at the crease, run-scoring ability and expertise against either bowling discipline, and so can rightly hold the positions at the top of the order.

Stay tuned in the coming days as we run the rule over the World’s glittering array of number threes, and see who can claim the position within our all-star side.