Ratings - December 2007
Russell Degnan

An early start to December, with the India-Pakistan tour following the heels of the Australia and South African summer warm-ups.

Sri Lanka v Australia

Opening Ratings: Aus: 1441.45 Sri: 1100.60
1st Test: Australia by an innings and 140 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 96 runs
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1447.38 Sri: 1095.58

Sri Lankan cricket has been consistent in the past 5 or 6 years. They've been dominant at home - despite a loss to Australia - and weak away - despite wins over England. Their stars are undoubted quality, but until recently the non-Murali section of their bowling line-up hasn't had the fire-power to do much damage. After the World Cup there were hints that this might be changing. Australian pitches are a good leveller in that sense. Fernando and Malinga enjoyed the pace too much; were too short and punished. Maharoof and Vaas were pedestrian, and Murali seems to inspire AUstralian batsmen to prove something. Ignore the small margin in Hobart. It was only that small because Ponting has confidence in his bowlers - not always well placed. The Australian batting abolutely mauled Sri Lanka: 1303 runs for the loss of 11 wickets. Jacques was lucky at times but cashed in. Clarke and Hussey are in superior form, and Symonds and Gilchrist are not players you want to see at 4 for 400. As well as Sangakarra batted in Hobart, and he looked class in both innings, a win there would have been a travesty.

Uncompetitive in the field, the Sri Lankan batting was always going to struggle. They have been over-dependent on Jayawardene and Sangakarra for some time, so it was no surprise to see them bowled out cheaply without the latter, despite Atapattu's efforts. However, they still asked some difficult questions of the Australian bowling lineup. Johnson showed something, despite being impatient. Clark was probably unlucky, not least because he deserves the new ball. MacGill looked second rate, and with an Indian batting lineup shortly to arrive, his test career must be in doubt. The revelation though, 60 tests into a frustrating and unfulfilled career, was Brett Lee: 16 wickets at 17.56. Important wickets too, at key times, combined with tight bowling, especially in Brisbane. A typically expensive and ineffective Lee probably would have meant both tests petered to a draw on flat unforgiving pitches. In the long run, Australia is weaker for losing McGrath and Warne. In the short term, with a firing Lee, they can still boss teams around.

South Africa v New Zealand

Opening Ratings: Saf: 1122.74 NZ: 1065.59
1st Test: South Africa by 358 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by an innings and 59 runs
Closing Ratings: Saf: 1139.37 NZ: 1034.17

Stephen Fleming was always shrewd, and it may be his shrewdest ploy yet to shake off the captaincy when his side was about to go into a serious decline. There are some solid all-rounders in the New Zealand side - Oram, Styris, Vettori - who, as support for an uninjured Bond could, and do, bowl sides out. But the rest of the batting is as inexperienced and untalented as some of the sides Zimbabwe put out before they lost their test status. This was not a pretty series. After conceding over 100 on first innings despite bowling South Africa out for 226, the loss of Bond was the spur for Kallis and Anla to put on 330. Even 46 not out by the new captain couldn't get them to 200 in the second innings. The second test was the same story, except for the bit about bowling out South Africa cheaply, this time New Zealaned conceded 220 to Amla and Kallis, and it was Fleming scoring 54 (their only half century of the series, though Cumming was well set whne he got injured) in a spineless second innings of 136. Steyn was the destoryer, taking 20 wickets at 9.2, but this series bodes ill for New Zealand cricket.

Forthcoming Series:

India (1158.23) v Pakistan (1080.98)- 3 Tests

Yet another series between these two, but disappointingly not the five tests that befit such a contest. India should, after their efforts in England start favourites, but the absence of Sreesanth and RP Singh puts enormous pressure on Zaheer Khan and the spinners. Pakistan are, as ever, enigmas. Much rests on the twin batting talents of Mohammed Yousuf and Younis Khan, and on whether Shoaib Akhtar decides to play (especially without Mohammed Asif). India, at home, would seem to have the edge. Though questions may be asked of their ageing batting lineup and uneven attack, it is hard to see Pakistan makign enough runs to win games.

Sri Lanka (1095.58) v England (1136.24) - 3 Tests

The ratings imply this should be close, as does the English victory in the oneday series that finished before Sri Lanka's whirlwind tour of Australia. However, neither England's batting nor their bowling lacks the bite of a few years ago. This may not matter, if they can contain Sangakarra and Jayawardene, and if their top-order fins some form. But if not, or if the other Sri Lankan batsmen decide to give some much needed support, the improving Sri Lanka will likely roll a weakening England.

West Indies (8th) 833.77
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 597.99

Cricket - Ratings - Test 21st November, 2007 02:36:55   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - August-November 2007
Russell Degnan

After quite a big lay-off, some catching up to do, and some practically completed series to contemplate. A pre-season term report to follow.

England v India

Opening Ratings: Eng: 1174.56 IND: 1102.90
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: India by 7 wickets
3rd Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1136.24 IND: 1158.23

I said this series was likely to leave us wanting, and it couldn't have been more true. Lord's was England's on points, India 9 down and 100 runs in arrears when rain and Dhoni (76) saved them. A low scoring affair (Pietersen's century and Strauss's 96 being the best of a number of middling knocks), with the medium pacemen spreading the wickets between them (Anderson and Singh both picking up five-fors). At Trentbridge England's batting again failed, but India's dominated, without anyone getting a century. 283 runs behind on first innings, a Vaughan century wasn't near enough as Zaheer Khan and Kumble again did the damage. Needing a win to tie the series, the new English bowling attack - containing not one of the five bowlers that won them the Ashes - was again unable to break through. As before, only one Indian batsman made a ton (Kumble, of all people), but 5 fifties (6 if you included extras helped along by Prior's sloppy keeping) got them to 664. England's longer tail and inability to get big scores left 319 runs behind with two days to play. An almost impossible task, despite Dravid offering them the chance to chase an even 500. 101 from Pietersen meant they survived to draw the game but the last two years have seen a rapid decline in the fortunes of English cricket. The loss or lack of form of key bowlers (mostly Flintoff and Jones) and a tendency from key players to not press on past fifty has seen them plummet down the ratings. India, by contrast, are finally seeing the benefits of a long-term push to improve their fast bowling stocks. Khan and Singh had dominant series, and while the batting will soon need an overhaul, this is a significant victory.

Pakistan v South Africa

Opening Ratings: Saf: 1101.32 Pak: 1102.43
1st Test: South Africa by 160 runs
2nd Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Saf: 1122.74 Pak: 1080.98

An typically annoyingly short series series, but one Pakistan would have expected to win. This is a Pakistan side far too dependent on the talents of Mohammed Yousuf (who missed the first test) and Younis Khan. When they fire, the runs flow, but they are vulnerable otherwise. South Africa, by contrast, have the consistency of Kallis and Smith anchoring the innings while the talented but inconsistent Prince, Gibbs, De Villiers and Amla work around him. It was Kallis's twin centuries that won them the first test, along with the emerging talents of Steyn and spinner, Harris. In the second test, Harris again emerged as the major threat, but slow scoring from the South African batsmen in both innings - Kallis again dominant - meant Pakistan were able to bat out the four remaining sessions and draw. A disappointing end to Inzaman ul Haq's career, but a significant win for South Africa who begin to reverse their ratings decline.

Ongoing Series:

South Africa (1122.74) v New Zealand (1065.59)- 2 Tests

Why these two teams would play just two tests is beyond me. Does noone care for a decent series anymore? A change in the New Zealand captaincy provides the biggest piece of interest in this series. under Fleming, New Zealand have been an uninspiring if difficult to beat team, combining a brittle top order with a strong tail, and ineffective bowling with grit and determination. Vettori, more than anyone, personifies those attributes, and is a useful cricketer even if he won't win many matches for them. The man who would is Shane Bond, a bowler capable of matching Hadlee at his best, but so limited to just 16 tests in his career. South Africa are still rebuilding their side, working together a solid batting lineup, but one that struggles to make big scores (Kallis and Smith excepted), with genuine pace in Steyn and Ntini, and the promising spin of Paul Harris. Without Bond - and he quickly became injured - New Zealand are a poor side. Not West Indies poor, but teetering in the second tier, and lacking even their talent. Vettori is in for a challenge.

Australia (1441.45) v Sri Lanka (1100.60)- 2 Tests

Not just a two test series, but one where Sri Lanka goes home after for games against England, before returning for even more pointless one-dayers. Such is international cricket these days. It does a poor away side like Sri Lanka no favours to rush. Their bowling needs to adjust to the bounce and pace of the pitches. Their squad members would benefit from first class games - as would those same first class cricketers. As it is, this is short sharp and messy. Observers of Australian cricket will have noted the last time Warne and McGrath didn't play together was also the series India took their bowling to pieces. McGrath and Warne didn't offer as much towards the end as in years past. But they were instrumental in winning at both Brisbane and Adelaide against England; a clear demonstration that the real loss will be those competitive instincts rather than their talent. No matter. It takes more than two tests to pick apart an Australian attack, particularly one still boasting potential match-winners with something to prove (Lee and MacGill), and Sri Lanka's horrible dependence on Sangakarra and Jayawardene makes them an unlikely side to do it. Sri Lanka's bowling is itself making a transition from the Muralitharan-Vaas axis of containing spin-swing, into one boasting power in Malinga and Fernando. Pity they won't have time to learn how to use it.

England (3rd) 1136.24
Pakistan (5th) 1102.43
New Zealand (7th) 1065.59
West Indies (8th) 833.77
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 597.99

Cricket - Ratings - Test 18th November, 2007 19:02:00   [#] [0 comments]