Ratings - April 2008
Russell Degnan

New Zealand v England

Opening Ratings: NZ: 1038.23 Eng: 1129.08
1st Test: New Zealand by 189 runs
2nd Test: England by 126 runs
3rd Test: England by 121 runs
Closing Ratings: NZ: 1008.60 Eng: 1144.32

Weakened horribly by the absence of Bond, and having to rebuild a batting lineup also about to lose its only player of class; you couldn't help but hope New Zealand would win, even though you always thought they'd wouldn't. Even after a first test victory occured, through dogged batting from How, Taylor, McCullum and Vettori - wasted so low in the order - and inspired bowling from Mills (4/16) and Martin (3/33) in a typically English collapse of 110; you couldn't help but think the New Zealand collapse of 177 - Sidebottom, 6/49 - was more typical.

Both sides ground out runs in the second test, as the seam and swing bowlers did their thing. England ground out more though, with new keeper Ambrose making the only hundred (102). In the third test, Pieterson finally showed something, scoring 129 in an otherwise poor effort. Debutant teenager Tim Southee showed that perhaps New Zealand does have something to look forward to though, taking 5/55 in the absence of Mills and Oram. Sidebottom, the difference in the series ultimately, took 7/47 though, supported by Broad (3/54) to give England a lead they would never relinquish, as finally, Bell (110) and Strauss (177) scored some runs, and a mammoth target of 553 set for series victory. A typically classy - and final - sub-hundred by Fleming (66) was well supported by several players, but when Southee came in at 8/329 the game was over.

It was, but there was time for an Astle-like flutter of English hearts. Having blocked his first 10 balls and lost his captain, Southee decided trusting Martin to hang around was a bit pointless, and proceeded to paste Panesar and co. around the park. The 50 came off another 19 balls, and he was not out 77 off 40 (4x4, 9x6) when Sidebottom closed the innings and the series. A fitting end, his 24 wickets at 17.08 was by far the best performance, a mess of players scoring some, but not a lot of runs, and taking some, but not a lot of wickets.

India v South Africa

Opening Ratings: Ind: 1196.37 SAf: 1121.98
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: South Africa by an innings and 90 runs
3rd Test: India by an 8 wickets
Closing Ratings: Ind: 1164.06 SAf: 1157.85

In an odd way, the main thing to come out of this series was the realisation that the curator can tilt results any way they want. The first test was a batsman's dream and even the South African line-up did what they always do, and made excellent fifties across the board, though Amla top-scored with 159. But despite having 540 on the board, after three days, it was India pressing for victory. A blistering 319 by Sehwag left them poised on 1/468, and the chance to force a result on day five beckoned. Needless to say, an Indian side that seems to relish wastign chances did so again, through Dravid's negative 11 (off 291 balls, only 13 less than Sehwag), and a Steyn inspired lower-order collapse. McKenzie and Amla ensured the draw with 155 and 81 respectively, though Harbajan Singh picked up eight for the match.

The second test pitch was uncharacteristically green and the flat deck hacks that make up India's top order wilted before Steyn (5/23), Ntini (3/18) and Morkel (2/20). All out 76 is hopeless, but 4/117 is precarious and it was up to Kallis (132) and de Villiers (217) to ensure a South African victory by the end of day two. India's second innings was better, but no one went on and made big hundred, and a 418 run deficit was invariably unrecoverable, as South Africa closed it out.

Faced with a public lynching if he produced the sort of pitch that occured in Ahmedabad, the curator at Kanpur produced a mine-field. Sadly, South Africa couldn't use a won toss to over-turn India. A promising start well away to be a score of 265 although India was only just better scoring 325. But with Harbajan taking the new ball (Kumble being absent), and with support from Sehwag, India rolled the South Africans for just 125 on day three, before blasting the 64 they needed to tie the series. Honours clearly falling to South Africa, though they remain slightly behind in the rankings. A pity though, that it wasn't a longer contest.

West Indies v Sri Lanka

Opening Ratings: WI: 858.29 Sri: 1105.82
1st Test: Sri Lanka by 121 runs
2nd Test: West Indies by an 6 wickets
Closing Ratings: WI: 873.30 Sri: 1091.55

Liek the above, a series that finished just as it got interesting. Warnapura and Jayawardene hundreds got Sri Lanka off to the perfect start, with a first innings lead close to 200 despite the efforts of Sarwan and the West Indian lower order. Whether they'd get the result depended purely on time, as the West Indies (particularly Bravo, Sarwan and Gayle) proved uncharacteristically obdurate, facing out 106 overs and almost forcing the draw. Vaas, Muralitharan and Mirando picked up crucial wickets throughout the day though, with the opener taking 9 for the match.

The West Indies continue to improve however, and in the second test, Sarwan, taking on the mantle of number three, and the dominate batsman of the series - 311 runs, though with a hundred and three fifties he should have got more - was the difference, combining with Chanderpaul to chase down an intriguing 253 in the fourth innings. Before that, both teams batsmen failed to grasp the chances given, with Sri Lanka's key pair failing, and only Samaraweera making a decent score. No bowler was dominate, though Vaas and Muralitharan continue to do their thing, an Jerome Taylor was the key for the West Indies. As things slowly turn around under Gayle's captaincy, the Australian tour will provide an big opportunity for a rating improvement.

Forthcoming Series:

England (1144.32) v New Zealand (1008.60) - 3 Tests

The return leg to this contest should favour the English at home, though as is the case in the south, both sides are at home on seaming green wickets. New Zealand are clearly under-manned though, and it is impossible to see them consistently scoring enough runs to win the contest - as evidenced by the single century scored at home - even if they grind out enough runs and wickets to keep the English honest. Perhaps a 2-1 win to England, but definitely a win.

West Indies (873.30) v Australia (1393.31) - 3 Tests

Tours of the West Indies are never really easy for Australia, even when the West Indies was seriously under-performing, and they were dominating world cricket. The West indies still are, of course, and Australia still are too, but how long both those statements remains true is a good question. Australia's batting remains strong, even if there are question marks over Jacques, and an unknown in Haddin, and their bowling held up well during the summer. Even with the spin department looking bare, Clark and Lee are capable of working out, and working over the suspect West Indies line-up. Australia should win easily, but at least one test will see a surprise or two.

Pakistan (6th) 1083.60
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 586.64

Cricket - Ratings - Test 21st April, 2008 17:57:50   [#] [0 comments]