Ratings - January 2007
Russell Degnan

New Zealand v Sri Lanka
Opening Ratings: NZ: 1029.53 Sri: 1118.78
1st Test: New Zealand by 5 wickets
2nd Test: Sri Lanka by 217 runs
Closing Ratings: NZ: 1023.37 Sri: 1122.13

A shared result was what the ratings predicted, although New Zealand probably had the worst of it. The Sri Lanka bowling, led, as ever, by Muralithatan, but with some fine support from the unpredictable Malinga - who set up their victory in the second test - and the evergreen Vaas, embarrassed the New Zealand top-order. In three and a half innings they managed only two half centuries - both by Vettori at eight. Somehow, The bowling of Bond and Franklin won them the first Test. Mostly, because Sri Lanka aren't well endowed with batsmen either. Silva came back from a pair to make runs in the second Test. Otherwise, it was all down to Sangakarra. His unbeaten tilt at one of test cricket's oldest records in the first Test was cut short with Muralithatan's own tilt at the stupidest runout in Test history - yet one New Zealand needed, given their batting troubles. In the second Test, another unbeaten 156 from Sangakarra was too much for the Kiwis. The ratings don't change, but this was a good result for Sri Lanka.

South Africa v India
Opening Ratings: SAf: 1072.22 Ind: 1121.06
1st Test: India by 96 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by 174 runs
3rd Test: South Africa by 5 wickets
Closing Ratings: Saf: 1093.35 Ind: 1105.52

It is ironic that India have possibly unearthed a pace bowler capable of bowling sides out, just as their batting lineup began to decline from the heights needed to support said bowler. Sreesanth's 18 wickets at 21.94 was one of the only hghlights for India, who managed but one century and six fifties in their six completed innings. South Africa were not substantially better, although Ashwell Prince is beginning to find his feet, even as Gibbs's become even further entrenched on the crease. Smith was also good, but needs to make tons, not fifties, while Pollock's runs, while few, were decisive in both their wins. Equally decisive was his bowling, which, along with Ntini, and the debutant Harris, gave South Africa the opening in a series India should probably not have lost, having taken a one-nil lead. South Africa are having to work hard for their victories, but may be bringing a side together for the future; India though, stand at the precipice, with retirements looming. The next couple of years will be interesting for both sides.

Australia v England
Opening Ratings: Aus: 1379.04 Eng: 1222.42
1st Test: Australia by 277 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 6 wickets
3rd Test: Australia by 206 runs
4th Test: Australia by innings and 99 runs
5th Test: Australia by 10 wickets
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1441.45 Eng: 1174.65

Something burst in the Australian bubble in 2005. Somehow, improbably, where previously no game was ever lost, no opportunity missed, England managed to scrape the win, and close those opportunities. The rebuilding of that mentality was not without its moments of doubt, notably against South Africa and Bangladesh, but as the series loomed, a remarkably similar, yet substantially more determined Australian side took the field in Brisbane. Katich's nervous defense replaced by the class of Hussey; Gillespie shattered confidence - his performance in Bangladesh notwithstanding - by Clark's probing seamers.

England, by contrast, lost almost everything they would have needed, had they though themselves capable of repeating the narrowest of victories: Vaughan's captaincy was replaced by Flintoff's defense; Flintoff's heroism, by a mere mortal, struggling with a year of injuries; Trescothick's belligerence with a talented but nervous Cook; Harmison's aggressiveness with torpid inaccuracy; Simon Jones's reverse swing with James Anderson.

The signs were there in the past year, even if both Australia and England were understandably anxious that the improbable might recur. England's losses away were ugly, when the year before they'd won inspiringly. Their victories at home came against toothless attacks; their losses - and the gifted win in a game as good as lost - were more prescient.

Without question, the team selected compunded these problems. Fletcher coaches cricket by the numbers. Take the averages together, and pick your most likely result. But an average never predicts a century, nor a five-for; things you must have to win games. Picking Giles over Panesar was undoubtedly a mistake. Rectified it was too late for Monty to help a crushed team. Persisting with Flintoff at six was equally foolhardy. The win in 2005 came in spite of this madness, not because of it; the frequency of collapse in 2006 a belated punishment.

But to the cricket. The opening two tests were vastly different to the final three. In the first, England began badly - Flintoff excepted - and got worse. Ponting inspired a mammoth 602 with his 196; McGrath inspired one last collapse to bowl England out for 157. No team can win from there, or even draw without help. Yet England fought it out, with both Collingwood and Pietersen making 90s.

In Adelaide they were clearly the best team for two days. A huge partnership by Pietersen and Collingwood, a fifty from a still confused, but confident Bell, and Australia looked vulnerable; McGrath and Warne old. Perhaps the declaration was premature, perhaps the wicket before stumps was worth it. Hoggard's heroic 7/109 gave England a sniff, but one crucial dropped chance, and some outstanding batting put Australia back level with one day to play.

And here, where a year ago luck had flown to England, now it passed them by.

There is a saying that you make your own luck, with aggression and purpose. Few players in cricketing history have played with as much aggression and purpose as Shane Warne. Few teams have ever become as defensive and purposeless as England did on the fifth day in Adelaide. Collingwood's not out 22 off 119 balls (and 198 minutes) was the innings of a batsman in a terrible dream, where every turn leads him into yet another identical position. Warne bowled 33 overs for 49 and four wickets, the pacemen and fielders came to the party.

This isn't the first time Warne has provoked a team into shock; into poor shots, worse running, and into their collective shells. Normally it passes, batsmen settle their mind, gain back some initiative. But this continued, on and on, hour after hour, not lifting until Hussey had hit the winning runs, if not later. In Melbourne, three weeks later, I chanced to see the team bus near the MCG, each player dressed, like little schoolboys in their training gear, being ferried from place to place. Perhaps it is nothing, or perhaps, as Harmison tellingly revealed England never regained the initiative because, unlike the Australians, they need to be told how.

Panesar and Harmison briefly revived hopes in Perth, but it was never going to happen. The Australia of old was back, the English more shattered than any team who'd toured before. Every chance for England was ruthlessly closed off, every opportunity for Australia mercilessly taken. There was an inevitability about it all, not least when McGrath, Warne, then finally Langer followed Martyn into retirement, that none of Flintoff's late series cameos, Pietersen's aggressive, but brainless batting, Harmison's sudden decision to turn up, or Cook and Bell's struggles to get yet another start to waste, could slow.

Statistically, it would take too long to show how dominant Australia was in this series. The batting of Hussey, Clarke and Ponting was the highlight, but the rest of the top eight were at least on a par with, if not substantially superior to the English batting. Clark was the standout bowler for Australia taking 26 wickets at 17; but even Brett Lee, who never really impressed, had a substantially better average than England's best bowler Hoggard. And unlike 2005, the Australian bowlers controlled any English aggresion, keeping their scoring below 3 runs per over, even as England failed to do the same.

The Australian rating may go higher, but the crushing of a team that probably remain the second best in world cricket puts them at their apogee. The retirements of their two champion bowlers - undefeated when playing together for 5 years - can only bring them back to merely good. England are a mystery, their team still young and talented, but needing to rebuild their confidence. Needless to say, this was a vengeance most sweet.

Forthcoming Series:

South Africa (1093.35) v Pakistan (1110.41) - 3 Tests.

The ratings give this to South Africa, but it may be closer than that. The absence of Mohammed Yousuf will hurt Pakistan considerably, but if and when he returns, Pakistan probably have the stronger lineup. In the bowling, the return of Mohammed Asif after the rescinding of his drug ban means they are not near as toothless as they were against England. given the series squeezes 15 days of cricket into just 20 calendar days, momentum will be key, and therefore, may be slightly in the home team's favour, coming off the win to India. But with Pakistan you never really know.

West Indies (8th) 832.90
Zimbabwe (9th) 671.01
Bangladesh (10th) 599.27

Cricket - Ratings - Test 15th January, 2007 01:58:43   [#] [0 comments] 

The Fine Line Between Class and Stupidity
Russell Degnan

In the 11th over at the cricket today, Harmison bowled a short, wide delivery to Matthew Hayden. Cricinfo described it as follows:

10.3 Harmison to Hayden, FOUR, short, wide and Hayden makes no mistake, hammering that off the back foot with a lovely cut through backward point. Four all the way, that was some power

The Guardian Over-by-Over, which started the summer being quite amusing, but has deteriorated further than the English performances into a tedious drunken whinge about umpires and Australians, described Hayden's stroke like this:

11th over: Australia 42-1 (Hayden 12, Ponting 0) Short and wide from Harmison and Hayden, who could barely get the ball off the square, cuts him for four. That's not one of Hayden's favourite strokes, but the ball invited punishment.

In the 26th over Harmison bowled another short and wide ball to Hayden. According to the ball trackers, it pitched a few inches fuller than the ball described above, but came through a couple of inches higher. That is to say, it was a faster delivery, with more bounce and carry, but otherwise practically identical. However, what happened was quite different:

25.3 Harmison to Hayden, OUT, short and wide, inexplicably Hayden slashes at it and the ball flies off the top edge straight to Collingwood at second slip. Harmison jumps in delight, Hayden stands bemused with his own shot selection for a short time before heading off


WICKET! Hayden c Collingwood b Harmison 33 (100-2) A poor ball and an even worse shot as Hayden toe-ends a cut shot straight to Collingwood at second slip. With 10 minutes to go before tea, that should make the sludge pies taste a little more palatable.

Two practically identical balls, and two practically identical shots, except one was on Hayden quicker, and ended up in the hands of second slip. Yet the first was decribed as a glorious shot that treated a poor ball to what it justly deserved, and the second as poor shot selection that cost Hayden his wicket.

Harmison could hardly be called an intelligent bowler, but he does have a quicker ball, which also happens to be a sucker ball. The regular misplacement of his line and length while bowling the quicker ball generally induces a shot (Clarke fell for the same ploy). The extra yard of pace means the batsman will often mistime the shot. Hence the sucker.

So, was Hayden culpable of poor shot selection? Not really.

Flicking through Bradman's The Art of Cricket, he (twice) tells his readers to cut hard. But there is no advice to leave juicy short and wide deliveries begging to be hit for four. In fact, reading his chapter on shot selection where he advocates pulling balls from wide outside off stump, Bradman would turn in his grave to think an Australian batsman was leaving that kind of trash.

What Hayden was culpable of, was not watching the ball close enough, to either pick up the pace properly, or to check his shot if he wasn't quite there.

The commentators are culpable of talking bollocks. Using post hoc reasoning to adduce that the wicket was caused by poor shot selection, when it was really a mix of poor shot execution and canny (tinny) bowling. Needless to say, if Hayden's cut shot had been drilled into the backward point fence, I suspect they wouldn't have bemoaned his luck.

Speaking of stupidity though. Symonds was a few millimeters away from never playing for Australia again with his ugly swipe at the third last ball of the day. Stupid shots look so much stupider when your team needs runs.

Cricket - Articles 4th January, 2007 01:43:57   [#] [4 comments] 

Ratings - December 2006
Russell Degnan

Late doesn't do this justice, but it would ill behove me to review series not given a preceeding view.

Pakistan v West Indies
Opening Ratings: Pak: 1110.27 WI: 834.82
1st Test: Pakistan by 9 wickets
2nd Test: Drawn
3rd Test: England by 199 runs
Closing Ratings: Pak: 1108.86 WI: 836.13

A series dominated by two batsmen, both record breakers. Lara's 183 runs in two innings in the first test was neither as much as, nor enough to counter Mohammed Yousuf's 192. Umar Gul and Shahid Nazir bowled Pakistn to a big victory, with only Taylor preventing a complete rout. In the second test, Taylor's five-for and Lara's 216 - supported by Gayle, Ganga and Bravo - had set up the West Inides for a rare victory after 3 days. But again, Mohhamed Yousuf countered, scoring 191 - his third score in the 190s in 2006 - and as usual, the opening the West Indies had worked for themselves was squandered. In the third test, Lara failed, falling to Umar Gul twice, though several 50s were scored in his absence, Yousuf scored twin tons, breaking Viv Richards' record for most runs in a year, and providing the runs for Kaneria to take Pakistan to victory.

Overall, Pakistan were just too strong for a poor, but improving West Indies side, with only Taylro showing something with the ball, and only Lara with the bat. Pakistan's batsmen were not poor, but Mohammaned Yousuf towered over them, his 665 runs at 133.00 for the series dwarfing all but Lara (448 at 89.60). The rating barely move, but Pakistan will take much of an improved showing without Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif after he disaster in England. The West Indies may take something from it too. Mostly, the importance of going on and getting a score once you make 50. The seven times they didn't were the difference between a 2-0 and a 1-0 loss.

Forthcoming Series:

New Zealand (1029.53) v Sri Lanka (1118.78) - 2 Tests.

Sri Lanka's continuing reluctance to engage in longer test series - even against sides that, with time, they could forge an enduring rivalry, makes what looks an interesting fixture a rather pointless exercise. The Sri Lankans have been on a roll since the English tour, with some potential to support Jayawardene and Sangakarra with the bat, even if Muralitharan continues to plow a lone furrow with the ball. New Zealand have got Shane Bond back - easily their best bowler since Richard Hadlee - though who knows for how long. Who'll score the runs for them remains a mystery however, with far too many rescue acts from Daniel Vettori down the bottom.

South Africa (1072.22) v India (1121.06) - 3 Tests.

The ratings give this marginally to the South Africans, with home advantage taken into account - moreso given India's woeful away record. Both teams are in a rebuilding phase, India early in it, as the superstars in their middle order slowly fade away; South Africa already carrying a side of younger players that have hitherto dissapointed. South Africa's batting looks terribly weak, totally dependent on an out-of-form Smith and a perennially injured Kallis. This may tip the balance against them, as while neither side looks terribly strong in the bowling - Ntini and the emerging Sreesanth aside - you can still count on a few runs from Dravid, Tendulkar and co.

Australia (1st) 1379.04
England (2nd) 1222.42
Zimbabwe (9th) 671.01
Bangladesh (10th) 599.27

Cricket - Ratings - Test 1st January, 2007 17:29:55   [#] [0 comments]