Ratings - February 2008
Russell Degnan

Australia v India

Opening Ratings: Aus: 1447.38 Ind: 1155.78
1st Test: Australia by 337 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 122 runs
3rd Test: India by 73 runs
4th Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1393.31 Ind: 1196.37

An undoubtedly fascinating series, full of very good cricket, and stretches of tedium brought on by horrific over rates and the feeling that neither side had grasped the opportunities given to them. Preparing via no more than a few overs of rain affected cricket against Victoria hrurt India in Melbourne. They did well to keep Australia under 400 twice, but the running and fielding was shoddy (though for the most part it remained so), the experiment of Dravid and Jaffer opening failed horribly, and they were worked over by Lee, Clark and Johnson in a big defeat.

Too much has already been written about Sydney, most of it rubbish, and too little focused on the cricket. This is a pity, because behind the rancour the game was both a classic and a microcosm of the series as a whole. India should have won, but most of their frustration at Symonds' fortune (in an otherwise admirable 162 no.) comes because they failed to impose themselves on the game at 6/134. Australia should never have got to 463. Certainly India are disingenuous complaining about their luck, with both Laxman and Tendulkar lucky to get past 50. But like India earlier, Australia let themselves down with poor catching, in what became a recurring theme, and in a manner that didn't do justice to continued excellent bowling in tough conditions.

However, it was the second innings that India lost the second test. In a manner oddly reminiscent of Adelaide last year, with all bets on a draw, India began to play the game out, ceded complete control over proceedings, and subsequently lost. Australia began the last day sensing that quick runs could give them a sniff, promptly collapsed, but set about stifling an Indian side that should have backed themselves for the win (not least by opening with Tendulkar and Ganguly). Umpiring errors inevitably favour the dominant side, though arguably there was only one, and that after Australia had spurned Dravid's many gifts. In essence, it was an undeserved test victory for Australia, but a thoroughly deserved loss for India, who will never reach the pinnacle of cricketing excellence if they can't realistically assess losses like this for their own failures, and not of others.

As poor as India were in the first two tests, they should be commended for their performances in the final two. Ironically, it was the pacy Perth pitch that finally showed what Australia is missing now Warne has retired. Most obviously, a relatively reliable slip fielder while in Hayden's absence, Clarke and company repeatedly embarrassed themselves. But more notably, while Lee and Clark have admirably filled McGrath's shoes when ripping through the top order, that ability to prise out the tail, and take control of games has gone. Australia batted poorly in the first innings, held by excellent bowling from Singh, Pathan and Sharma, but at 5/125 the opportunity was there to win the test. An opportunity rarely missed in the past, but let slip here as Clarke and Symonds bowled most of the afternoon session. The chase was admirable (though someone needed to go on), but ultimately short.

Given the opportunity to draw the series, India again showed little interest (or ability) to press the advantage in Adelaide. Comfortable batting and bowling on Australian pitches, and the Australian catching now such a disgrace that no victory could be countenanced, the game slipped away. A 2-1 result was fair, which is indicative of both India's gradual ascendance (now easily second in the ratings), and of Australia's coming gradual decline. The next two years will be tortuous for Australia with 20 odd tests leading into the Ashes, most of them on difficult tours. That Gilchrist walked when he did was wise. It will be interesting to see who remains further along.

In the run getting, Tendulkar (493 runs at 70.4) and Hayden (410 runs at 82.0) batted best, but no player on either side made a decisive big hundred, nor dominated the bowling for long periods, even when big scores were posted. Brett Lee was clearly the best performer with the ball however, (24 wickets @ 22.6) and the support from an unlucky Clark, an improving Johnson and a handy Symonds was enough to win the series. Kumble was best for the Indians but although their bowling was good, they never managed to assert themselves for long enough to properly challenge Australia. Ultimately it was only poor catching that stopped Australia winning more easily than they did.

South Africa v West Indies

Opening Ratings: SAf: 1139.37 WI: 833.77
1st Test: West Indies by 128 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by 7 wickets
3rd Test: South Africa by an innings and 100 runs
Opening Ratings: SAf: 1116.53 WI: 858.28

Being woefully inconsistent but immensely talented always endears a side to its opponents, and frustrates its fans. The West Indies took this to extremes though, finally winning a test (Bravo's first unbelievably) with the sort of fighting knocks and controlled agression that made them a great side in the 1980s, tempered by the sort of collapse that has made them an embarrassment in the 2000s. This is not the first time South Africa has dropped the opening test recently, and they once again took control of the series, first grinding the West Indies down through Steyn, Nel and Ntini, in a low scoring second test, then pummelling a Gayle-less side as Smith, Prince and De Villiers produced big hundreds, and Pollock made his swan-song. Samuels (top scoring in the series with 314 @ 52.3) and Bravo showed some fight in the final innings, indicating that this series may yet mark the beginning of an improvement in West Indies fortunes. But evan though South Africa's batsmen consistently fail to make the big hundreds required to dominate a test, they scored consistently enough for the bowlers to get to work. Steyn continuing to impress with 20 wickets @ 19.1.

New Zealand v Bangladesh

Opening Ratings: NZ: 1034.17 Ban: 597.99
1st Test: New Zealand by 9 wickets
2nd Test: New Zealand by an innings and 137 runs
Opening Ratings: NZ: 1038.23 Ban: 594.51

The sort of series New Zealand suffer in, when their weather contrives to draw games they should otherwise win. But having effectively two rest days helps, and both were won with ease as Bangladesh continues to fail at this level. Tamin Iqbal was the only batsman of note for them, unfortunately ill in their worst display of the series, and no New Zealand batsman cashed in with most of the un-makign continuing to occur in the lower half of the order (albeit a half that begins at the 3rd or 4th wicket). Martin was the best bowler, but no New Zealander did badly and the wickets were shared around.

Forthcoming Series:

New Zealand (1038.23) v England (1129.08) - 3 Tests

A series that doesn't actually start till March, but one that promises to be interesting. The ratings say it will be very even, though England, more than most sides, should be capable of handling New Zealand conditions. Neither side has done well of late, though New Zealand have probably made the poorer showings as their batting continues to struggle. It is almost impossible to see this being a high scoring series, but the English batting must be favoured to grind out scores they can defend. Expect them to scrape a win.

Bangladesh (594.51) v South Africa (1116.53) - 2 Tests

Another perfunctory tour to Bangladesh, given such short shrift by CricInfo that they didn't put it on their program until it started. South Africa's efforts in first tests have been abysmal recently, but Bangladesh are abysmal generally, so noone will take much interest unless the unthinkable occurs.

Sri Lanka (5th) 1105.82
Pakistan (6th) 1083.60
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64

Cricket - Ratings - Test 4th February, 2008 14:18:56   [#] [0 comments]