Which Was the Better ODI Series: Pakistan V South Africa or India V Australia?

Tim CollinsFeatured Columnist IVMarch 29, 2017

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 06: Hashim Amla of South Africa reacts after being dismissed by Pakistan bowler Mohammad Irfan during the third One Day International between Pakistan and South Africa at Sheikh Zayed Stadium on November 06, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Two series, four teams, 12 matches and a couple of extremely contrasting exhibitions of cricket.

That's precisely what was served up to us in recent weeks, as concurrent ODI series conducted themselves within a rather close proximity.

But which was the better showdown? Or perhaps even more pertinently, which was better for the 50-over format's sustainability?

Clearly, differences between the two encounters were in abundance. Of course, the most striking disparity between the two series was the wildly contrasting scoring rates.

While Pakistan and South Africa played out a rather traditional five-match encounter, India and Australia put on a seven-game exhibition of ODI batting without limits.


Pakistan vs. South Africa

MatchFirst InningsResultSecond Innings
1st ODISouth Africa: 183defPakistan: 182
2nd ODIPakistan: 209defSouth Africa: 143
3rd ODISouth Africa: 259-8defPakistan: 191
4th ODISouth Africa: 266-5defPakistan: 238
5th ODISouth Africa: 268-7defPakistan: 151


India vs. Australia

MatchFirst InningsResultSecond Innings
1st ODIAustralia: 304-8defIndia: 232
2nd ODIAustralia: 359-5def byIndia: 362-1
3rd ODIIndia: 303-9def byAustralia: 304-6
4th ODIAustralia: 295-8No ResultIndia: 27-0
5th ODIWash OutNo ResultWash Out
6th ODIAustralia: 350-6def byIndia: 351-4
7th ODIIndia: 383-6defAustralia: 326


Across the 11 completed innings between India and Australia, the average total was 324.45, with nine of those efforts passing the 300 mark. Compare that to the 209-run average between Pakistan and South Africa (a 105-run difference) and suddenly the chasm in scoring between the two series becomes profoundly clear.

Yet, determining which of these polar opposites represents a better example of ODI cricket is the task now facing the ICC as it attempts to keep the 50-over format alive and well. 

While India and Australia's two-week parade of fireworks was undoubtedly exhilarating as a one-off occurrence, relentless showcases of that nature would harm the one-day format long-term.

The dramatic explosions from the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Shane Watson and George Bailey were certainly compelling, but at what point does the remarkable transform itself into simply routine? Do Sharma's 16 sixes in Bangalore take the gloss off each individual blow?

Although the series between Pakistan and South Africa contained less raw excitement, their duel was a definitive indication that a balance between bat and ball can still exist in limited-overs cricket. Certainly, Dale Steyn's destruction of Pakistan in the fourth match was an example of the ICC's two-new ball rule aiding the slingers rather than the swordsmen.

Virat Kohli scored two rapid hundreds in India series against Australia.
Virat Kohli scored two rapid hundreds in India series against Australia.

Idealists will seek a sumptuous blend of the two series, revolutionaries will call for more of what was witnessed in India, while purists would argue that Pakistan and South Africa's showdown was a truer test of mettle. 

Undoubtedly, the sudden and colossal impact that India's encounter with Australia has had on ODI cricket is a positive for the game. Expectations have been drastically changed: What's considered possible has been significantly altered.

The crossover of Twenty20 traits into the 50-over format has always been inevitable, but it's this series that has officially signalled that movement.

However, while the absurd scoring rates in India made Australia's subcontinental visit simply breathtaking, it's important that this example does not become the rule.

Cricket needs variety for it to thrive.

Administrators would also be well advised to examine the length of these two contrasting series. Although the six and seventh matches played between India and Australia produced some extraordinary individual performances, the games weren't able to deliver anything that hadn't already been witnessed prior to that point.

Balls continued to disappear over the fence while batsmen endlessly celebrated milestones, yet precious little more was learned.

Of course, part of cricket's appeal is the ability to watch a story unfold over the course of several matches, the ability to observe an ever-evolving battle. But after five consecutive confrontations between two opponents, it's almost impossible for the plot to thicken further. 

Saturation is a delicate balance on the international calendar, so too are the financial implications of any bilateral series. However, as a spectacle, it's important to leave an audience wanting more. 

Naturally, the relative strength of the two sides should be taken into account when planning an ODI series. As the world's top two teams in the one-day arena, it could be argued that seven matches were justified for India and Australia.

However, were any of cricket's loyal fans realistically craving for more of the same by the time Sharma had collected his Man of the Series Award?

Outside of India, cricket is faced with an ever-present battle to captivate its audience continually. Monotony is a key figure in that battle.

So while the unfathomable contest that just played out on Indian soil was immensely absorbing, in a strange contradiction, it's not necessarily the perfect blueprint for future series.

Balance and variety are critical; understanding the importance of saturation and quality equally important.

It's that sumptuous blend that will satisfy the hearts and minds of cricket's fans. Perhaps we're idealists after all.