Season Review 2004-05 and 2005
Russell Degnan

No tests this month, so a summary of the last year instead.

England 2nd 1252.93 +75.5

England began the year as a solid team looking to assert themeselves as the second-best team in cricket. They ended it as likely challengers for the top spot, having won the Ashes for the first time in 16 years. Their record isn't that sparkling (12 tests, 6 won, 2 lost) but unlike everyone else they (mostly) played good teams in proper 5-test series, and they won. The best English ranking since 1979.

New Zealand 7th 1034.08 +11.33

Can New Zealand really be the next biggest improvers? Having been thrashed twice by Australia, and doling out the same to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, their only two competitive games were against Sri Lanka. 1 win, 1 loss.

Pakistan 6th 1046.49 +1.69

Pakistan were also thrashed by Australia, but managed to draw three series, against India away, Sri Lanka at home and the West Indies away. Rebuilding, but not going backwards.

Australia 1st 1342.10 -3.47

For ten months this year was all Australia's. Victory over India on the sub-continent, dominant wins over New Zealand and Pakistan at home, and the Kiwis away. An easy victory in the first Ashes test pushed their rating up to 1426 -- Australia's best since 1950. Four tests later and the team is in crisis and terminal decline.

Bangladesh 10th 614.29 -7.56

Lest anyone question Bangladesh's devotion to losing, behold! It takes real talent to actually force your rating down when even a draw gets a big bonus. To manage it despite recording a win against Zimbabwe shows just how far behind Bangladesh really are.

Sri Lanka 5th 1086.46 -9.02

The masters of the two-test series only played 6 tests in the past year. They beat the West Indies at home, but are developing an away record to rival India's with losses to New Zealand and Pakistan.

South Africa 4th 1127.19 -19.09

Declining? Or just stagnating? Competitive losses to India away and England at home were the downside; victories over the West Indies and Zimbabwe the up. South Africa will be an average team without some better bowlers.

West Indies 8th 816.39 -27.1

How low can the West Indies go. Every corner turned seems to herald another crisis and another loss. Now the worst side in the glorious history of West Indian cricket; they played eight games against competitive middle sides (South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) for one win and five losses. I'd say the only way is up, but then I would have said that last year.

Zimbabwe 9th 707.44 -29.52

Zimbabwe's race to the bottom continues. When your best result is a draw against Bangladesh it is probably a small mercy that they only played four tests.

India 3rd 1142.64 -45.13

Who'd be an Indian fan? A home loss to Australia was followed by wins over South Africa and Bangladesh, but a drawn series at home to Pakistan. What it amounted to was a side whose performances should have been better, but who still lack the winning mentality. Given the age of their middle order India are as likely to go down as up.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 27th September, 2005 18:44:27   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - September 2005
Russell Degnan

Late, but I wanted to wait till the end of the Ashes

Zimbabwe v New Zealand
Opening Ratings: Zim: 707.44 NZ: 1034.08
1st Test: New Zealand by an innings and 294 runs
2nd Test: New Zealand by an innings and 46 runs
Closing Ratings: Zim: 682.83 NZ: 1051.26

As incredible as it sounds, New Zealand actually got a little ranking boost from pummelling Zimbabwe. Mostly because the magnitude of the pummelling was so large and so quick they couldn't help it. A five day series isn't good for cricket. I want more teams in the test arena, but those on the bottom rung need to be playing each other, not teams 300 ranking points ahead who will unsurprisingly thrash them. Assessing the players, well for New Zealand, Bond is back from injury, but whether the centuries or the low scores are more significant for the top order is hard to say. For Zimbabwe, Mahwire had a useful series, a few wickets and some runs, and Taibu shows a lot of spirit. Streak, on return, had a mare, 5 runs and two golden ducks in 4 innings. Taylor and Masakdza also showed a little, but a little is not terribly much.

England v Australia
Opening Ratings: Eng: 1211.20 Aus: 1389.17
1st Test: Australia by 239 runs
2nd Test: England by 2 runs
3rd Test: Drawn
4th Test: England by 3 wickets
5th Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1252.93 Aus: 1342.10

The worst you can say of this series is that last three hours of the last test fizzled out. The remaining 120 odd hours was fascinating, intense, exciting, and brilliant. For an Australian their performance was too often frustrating and below par. Part of that was England's skill and discipline while bowling. Part of it was Australia's ill-disciplined bowling and poor catching that ultimately cost them both a series win and in one final moment, the draw.

This was a bowler's series, from first to last. No batsman fired, Pieterson being the only player with an average over 50, but that had a not out to help it and I remain unconvinced by him. Strauss scored two hundreds but was out early just as often and averaged less than 40. Langer and Trescothick were the most consistent but never really went on. Ponting, Vaughan and Hayden scored centuries but otherwise struggled.

The bowling was impressive however, and in the end the difference between the sides. Warne was immense. His competitive drive when things weren't going well, with bat and ball, in the field, and without doubt tactically while Ponting floundered. 40 wickets at 19 with an economy rate of 3.15 must rate as one of the greatest of all Ashes returns. McGrath was brilliant at Lord's, providing Australia's first and most significant riposte by reducing them to 5/21. After that, injuries and a lack of bite reduced him to holding up an end. That was still invaluable though. The most significant statistic of the series are the economy rates of English bowlers: all below 4. Except for Warne and McGrath the Australians were loose and punished accordingly.

The English bowling never really ran through Australia. Most often there were starts, but the pressure built, they all contributed, Jones was the best with 18 wickets at 21, Flintoff the man thrown the ball when needed, taking 24 wickets at 27.29 and capable of some brutal spells. Hoggard and Harmison too. They went at roughly 30 but both kept the runs down and took important wickets. By contrast, Lee and Tait were being scored off at well over 4 an over. No pressure, no wickets. Even though Lee took 20 his comeback veered from impressive to hair-pulling for the watching fan.

The other difference was fielding. England dropped a few. Pietersen and (criminally) Jones especially. It even cost them at Lord's when Clarke escaped. But for Australia dropped catches (and no-balls) were killer blows. Trescothick going on to 90. Vaughan on to 166. Jones onto 85. Pietersen onto 158. Wickets thrown away, in close tests decided by a few overs, and a few runs. An Australian side that had of taken catches could conceivably have won 5-0. That is how costly they were. But that is the way of close tests. It was unfortunate that poor umpiring decisions came into play as well, of which there were too many regardless of whether they evened out.

In general, the trend was for England, and Australia were chasing. My earlier prediction that they wouldn't be able to close out games nor make comebacks was partially true. They couldn't, and it will be a few years more till they can. But Australia never got going, or was never allowed to get going. This side is past it now, and needs to be shuffled either as fast as can be managed, or faster than it will be able to handle. In four years we can expect eight new faces but I won't make predictions for who might go by the next series in 14 months time.

What I will conclude on is another comment on the state of cricket. It should be obvious from the interest in and the spirit of a real contest, over five tests, that the strength of test cricket is its traditions and rivalries. For newer nations this is a weakness, because they don't have them, but it is never too soon to start them. The test program with its small, pointless two-test series is an abomination. A home-and-away season without a trophy or finish. Noone cares what the table says. Ratings are only interesting because they provide fuel for an argument. What matters is the cricket, and the contest. I support a test championship, held every four years, because that would be a contest. But the Ashes remains what matters, as to a lesser extent do the Frank Worrell trophy, the Trans-Tasman trophy and whatever we play for against South Africa. Because they are Australia's true rivals, and true rivalry can only exist over a whole summer.

Forthcoming Series:

Zimbabwe (682.83) v India (1142.64) - 2 Tests.

Another month, another pointless two-match series between two unevenly matched sides. Even India's appalling away record won't prevent this being a thrashing. Three consecutive days of rain might make it interesting, but even then I'd put money on India.

Sri Lanka (1086.46) v Bangladesh (614.29) - 2 Tests.

Speaking of which. Bangladesh is rated below Zimbabwe for now, but they are more likely to challenge Sri Lanka than the Africans their sub-continental neighbours. In future years these two countries could become great rivals. It is worth watching the results for that reason alone.

South Africa (4th) 1127.19
Pakistan (7th) 1046.49
West Indies (8th) 816.39

Cricket - Ratings - Test 13th September, 2005 18:49:10   [#] [2 comments]