Ratings - May-November 2008
Russell Degnan

West Indies v Australia

Opening Ratings: WI: 855.12 Aus: 1544.66
Expected Margin: Australia by 206 runs
1st Test: Australia by 95 runs
2nd Test: Drawn
3rd Test: Australia by 87 runs
Closing Ratings: WI: 882.56 Aus: 1514.39

The first innings of the series went exactly as you'd expect. Ponting scored 158, well supported by Symonds (70*), though a five-for by Edwards restricted the total to 431; Chanderpaul's 118 kept the lead to 119 as the bowling prised out the West Indies bats with predictable ease. Then something odd happened, Edwards and Powell rolled the Australian top-order and Johnson (doubling up as night-watchman) to have them 5/18 one over into day four. Symonds rescued the innings with 79, but Bravo took four to set a tantalizing 287 for victory. The West Indies inability to carry a performance over five days haunts them however; Clark took 5/32 (20) and Australia the series lead.

In a virtual repeat of the first test, Katich and Clarke both scored tons in the second, Lee took five wickets, and Chanderpaul 107 not out, to give Australia 127 run lead. This time, the threat to an Australian victory was not a collapse, but bad light and the absence of a threatening spinner. MacGill struggled so badly he later retired, while Clarke came on first change without effect. Needing to bat out the day to avoid defeat, Australia obtained just 5 wickets as Sarwan (128) and yes, Chanderpaul (77*) held firm.

Once again batting first, this time Australia scored only 251, the wickets shared, Chanderpaul (79) carried the West Indies to 216 before Johnson and Lee knocked over the tail. A mammoth 223 run opening stand from Jaques and Katich allowed Australia five sessions to bowl out the opposition. At 3/303 chasing 475 the declaration was looking overly generous, and the bowling worryingly ineffective. However, in consecutive overs, Casson and Clark ended the resistance of Bravo and Chanderpaul respectively, and thereafter the innings was quickly wrapped up. A two-nil series victory was less comprehensive than expected given the West Indies weaknesses; Australia now losing ratings points in six consecutive tests. The West Indies showed a little, particularly Edwards with the ball, but as usual, their talents are not consistently applied to the task, and opportunities to press the advantage were quickly squandered.

England v New Zealand

Opening Ratings: Eng: 1178.53 NZ: 1063.68
Expected Margin: England by 75 runs
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: England by 6 wickets
3rd Test: England by an innings and 9 runs
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1193.81 NZ: 1037.93

England pushed hard for victory despite losing significant time to light in the Lords' test. A dashing from 97 from McCullum gave New Zealand some respectability in their first innings, but Strauss (63), Cook (61) and Vaughan (106) had England well set before Vettori knocked over the tail with five wickets. For a while a result looked possible, but How (68) and then Oram (101) ensured the draw. How New Zealand lost the second test will remain a mystery. A masterful 154 from Taylor and another five-for by Vettori gave them a 179 run lead to squander. And squander they did, losing 7/29 to Panesar's probing spin, that nevertheless left England 294 to chase. 106 from Strauss anchored the chase as only four wickets were lost. Thoroughly defeated already, O'Brien and Mills limited the damage from a Pietersen hundred and fifties to Broad and Ambrose to 364. It was nevertheless a sufficient score to roll a shattered New Zealand twice in succession as first Anderson (7/43) then Sidebottom (6/67) twice dominated the batting.

New Zealand have world class batsmen at 6,7 and 8, and a top rate spinner, but the core of any team, its fast bowling and top order batting is raw, inadequate or both. Sidebottom and Anderson dominated for England, and Strauss made a healthy return to form with the bat, though the form of Bell and Collingwood was worrying.

England v South Africa

Opening Ratings: Eng: 1193.81 SAf: 1243.67
Expected Margin: England by 18 runs
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: South Africa by 10 wickets
3rd Test: South Africa by 5 wickets
4th Test: England by 6 wickets
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1164.62 SAf: 1284.20

On paper, a series to die for. Expected to be closely fought, and of a decent enough length to tell, between two sides vying to be the second best team in the world. South Africa's slow starts to series came back to haunt them again. A 286 run partnership between Pietersen (152) and Bell (199) dwarfed the 102 from Prince that nevertheless rose above the wreckage of South Africa's reply. Following on 346 runs behind, and with two days to play, Smith, Amla and McKenzie (who batted almost 8 hours) demonstrated why South Africa are slowly emerging as a real force, easily accounting for the draw.

England squared up to the same task barely a week later. Having been blown away by Steyn and Morkel for 203 they suffered in the field again as Prince (149) and de Villiers (174) put South Africa 319 runs in front. The top order failed in its task, though Broad's 67 gave them some respectability and made South Africa bat again. The all-rounders squared off in the next test, Kallis (and Nel) taking wickets, with a circumspect Flintoff was left stranded on 36. Then Kallie scoring runs while Flintoff replied with the ball. Once again, the run scoring was focused on only a couple of batsmen, this time Pietersen (94) and Collingwood (135) setting South Africa a challenging 281 for victory. An occasionally charmed, but thoroughly dominant captain's knock of 154 from Smith saw thee South Africans home easily, closing out both the series and Vaughan's captaincy. With series dead and Pietersen at the helm, an England win was an almost certainty, Ntini and Pietersen the standout performances as Harmison returned. While not always consistent, South Africa's batsmen are progressively improving, and capable of scoring big runs on occasion. Their pace bowling in Morkel, Steyn and the ageing Ntini is fast and aggressive, and their gradual ratings improvement reflects the slow build-up of a dangerous side. No bowler from either side really dominated; the main difference lay in South Africa's consistency of performance with the bat (Kallis excepted), taking the draw in the first test, and building foundations for victory in the others. Only Pietersen was as good for England, with the ongoing problem of Flintoff at six sure to rear its head again.

Sri Lanka v India

Opening Ratings: Sri: 1138.14 Ind: 1188.82
Expected Margin: Sri Lanka by 75 runs
1st Test: Sri Lanka by an innings and 239 runs
2nd Test: India by 170 runs
3rd Test: Sri Lanka by 8 wickets
Closing Ratings: Sri: 1171.12 Ind: 1162.31

A battle of the spinners, with them taking no less than 71 out of the 98 wickets that fell. A battle too, that the Sri Lankan duo of Mendis and Muralitharan won convincingly, taking 47 between them, and keeping the key trio of Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly to 339 runs in 18 knocks. Those key points aside, it was a compelling series, with both sides dominant at times. Sri Lanka thrashed India in the first tests, with hundreds to Warnapura, Jayawardene, Samaraweera and Dilshan receiving just one fifty (to Laxman) in reply across India's two innings. Sehwag carried his bat in the second test, scoring 201 not out as India collapsed around him. Harbhajan earnt India a small lead with 6/102 before a dogged Indian batted performance, led by Gambhir's 74 left Sri Lanka 307 to win. A total they never looked like getting to, Harbhajan this time taking four.

Mendia again dominated the decider, taking five, including Gambhir who made 72. Sangakarra broke a form slump, scoring 144 to put Sri Lanka 147 in front on first innings. Although Dravid and Laxman both made 60s, Sri Lanka only needed to chase 122, which they did with ease. Gambhir and Sehwag led the batting averages, but, Laxman aside, the continuing form of Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly was a problem leading into the Australian tour. Sri Lanka continue to play well at home, reinforcing their status as the new India. As India did throughout the late 1990s, they maintain their above average, but not brilliant status in the rankings.

Bangladesh v New Zealand

Opening Ratings: Ban: 353.05 NZ: 1037.93
Expected Margin: New Zealand by 205 runs
1st Test: New Zealand by 3 wickets
2nd Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Ban: 374.79 NZ: 1021.68

Already without Bond and recently retired competent batsmen, New Zealand could ill afford to lose Oram for this series. Moreover, they need to put Vettori in cotton-wool to stop him getting injured, as they would be a truly awful side in his absence. Supported by O'Brien, Vettori took 5 in the Bangladeshi first innings, before making 55 not out during the New Zealand collapse. Although Bangladesh followed suit, Shakib al Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza put Bangladesh in a position to win their first test against "decent" opposition, setting New Zealand's flaky batting lineup 317 for victory (Vettori taking four). By gracious good fortune, Ryder's daft runout at the close of play brought in Vettori at four, ostensibly as night watchmen, but in reality where he should be batting. A patient 76 from him saw his side avoid international cricket's still pending most ignominious honour.

What goes around comes around, as the first three days were washed out in the second test, practically guaranteeing a draw, were it not for a little known aspect of the follow-on law, that stipulated the mark as 100 runs for two day games. New Zealand declared their first innings at 262 (Ryder 91). Bangladesh were well placed to miss the 200 run mark at 6/44, but Shakib al Hasan and Mashrafe Mortaza batted sensibly, each making 40 odd, creeping past 162 as time began to run out. New Zealand won the series but took a ratings hit for doing it so badly. Their next test against the world's best side will be interesting. Bangladesh: still inconsistent, still rubbish, still waiting for that win.

India v Australia

Opening Ratings: Ind: 1162.31 Aus: 1514.39
Expected Margin: Australia by 88 runs
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: India by 320 runs
3rd Test: Drawn
4th Test: India by 172 runs
Closing Ratings: Ind: 1228.95 Aus: 1427.55

Part test series, part grudge match for perceived injustices on last summer's tour, the series pitted a clearly declining giant of the game against an emerging side with declining stars. With both the Australian batting and the Indian bowling both reasonably solid and reasonably well known, the two key questions were the ability of Australia's bowling to perform in India (where none had been before), and the form of India's big four. The former was hurt before the series started when yet-to-play Bryce McGain went home, to be replaced by batting all-rounder Cameron White; the latter turned into a valedictory by the retirement of Ganguly.

Australia's ridiculously long batting lineup did the trick in the first test, Ponting over-coming both Harbhajan and Sharma's claims that he was their bunny to score 123, while Hussey guided the tail through to 430 with 146. Khan and Sharma taking five and four respectively. Johnson's four wicket haul had Australia well placed, before Harbhajan and Khan slipped away, each scoring 50s. A strangely subdued Australia (Katich scored 34 off 140 balls) crawled to a declaration, setting a target of 299 in five and a half sessions. Despite the wearing wicket, Ponting's mistrust of White led him to bowl Clarke earlier and more often than the Victorian, and while India's defensive approach negated any chance of a win for them, the chance of victory slipped Australia by.

Having lost Kumble to injury, the aggressive captaincy of Dhoni led India to a victory both comprehensive and total. Gambhir and Sehwag set the tone early with positive running and shot making, before Tendulkar found form with 88. Nevertheless, an Australian attack, minus Clark, ended the first day with honours even, having picked up several lucky wickets to have India 311/5. Dhoni and Ganguly combined on day two to take the score to 469, before first Sharma (removing Ponting and Hussey) then debutant Mishra (5/71) left Australia struggling. Watson scored 78 to put Australia within one run of the follow-on, but that merely spurred India to over-drive. Gambhir (104), Sehwag (91) and Dhoni (68) caned the attack, setting Australia 516 in a day and a half. In a bizarre riposte that failed miserably, Hayden and Katich came out swinging, taking the score to 49, before Sharma and Harbhajan induced an embarrassing collapse of 5/9, effectively ending the game with a day to play.

Clark returned for the third test, replacing Siddle's efforts with wicketless line and length. Around him, Lee and Johnson were pasted everywhere by an aggressive (if sometimes daftly so) Gambhir (206) and by Tendulkar (68) and Laxman (200) as India ran up 613 before declaring. The Australian batsmen responded in kind, albeit without the big hundreds (only Clarke 112), but making 577. A meek India, typical of a now retiring Kumble, neither pressed Australia nor scored many runs in their second dig, raising briefly the chance of a result before Tendulkar and Laxman got together and played out the draw.

Australia had one bright point in the fourth test: Jason Krejza, given an opportunity on a turning deck, he was mercilessly attacked by India. But to their peril, as he took 8/215 on debut (Tendulkar 109). A Katich hundred and Hussey 90 got Australia within range of India's total, but despite batting 10 overs more than India, the defensive approach of Dhoni reaped rewards, as Australia was unwilling, or unable, to chase the game as they needed to, and merely got out, squandering their good start. For one brief moment, at 6/166, India seemed vulnerable to collapse, but, tea time intervened, and it was a chastened Ponting who, having inexplicably drifted 10 overs behind the over-rate with his excessive on-field conferences and field changes, turned to White, Hussey then Clarke along with Krejza, in lieu of Watson (previously Australia's best bowler). Perhaps Dhoni and Harbhajan would have put on 108 regardless, but the loss of momentum closed the door on a win, as a chase of 382 needed a miracle. Once again, the chasers, particularly Hayden, finally finding a little form, attacked, Ponting's tour ending with a ridiculous runout, and any hopes of vicory with him as Harbhajan and Mishra slowly worked their way through the batting lineup to register another comprehensive victory.

Despite hopeful, mostly English or Indian, claims that this represents a new world order, Australia remain clearly on top in the ratings, but have suffered significantly, and threaten to drop further in the coming year. Ten consecutive rating drops puts them at a level not seen since 2001. Their aging lineup remains aged, as replacements like Katich and Hussey are no long term replacements. A series that started with question marks over the opener, the all-rounder, the keeper, the spinner, and the first change bowler, ended with question marks over the other opener, the temperament of the only young batsman, the all-rounder's batting, the keeper, the spinner and all three pacemen. The need to bring in new blood is becoming acute at both disciplines, even as the worry about losing more games (and the increasing doubt over Ponting's captaincy) intensifies.

For India, the emergence of a genuine quick in Sharma, and a complementary opener in Gambhir is promising, as is Dhoni's captaincy. Ganguly and Kumble are gone, Dravid is struggling badly, and Tendulkar focuses his energies on important cameos. There are batsmen waiting in the wings, though the process of sorting through them may take time. Like Australia in the late 1990s, India are still four years away from reaching their potential, but the platform is there.

Forthcoming Series:

South Africa (1284.20) v Bangladesh (374.79) - 2 Tests

Expected Margin: South Africa by 353 runs

The problem playing Bangladesh these days is that their rating is so bad, it is very hard to maintain the requisite margin. Not that Bangladesh haven't helped teams do that, regularly losing by an innings and plenty. South Africa are preparing for Australia this summer, so expect this warm up to be taken seriously enough.

Australia (1427.55) v New Zealand (1021.68) - 2 Tests

Expected Margin: Australia by 177 runs

New Zealand would dearly love to inflict more damage on Australia's reputation, but it is hard to see that occurring when they struggled to overcome Bangladesh, and were comprehensively thrashed by New South Wales last week. Brisbane was the scene of one of New Zealand's greatest victories, but in the past two decades it has been a fortress for the Aussies. While the mozzing gods snarl on hubris, the only real questions are: which fortunate Australian players will get the chance to bolster their reputation (and form) prior to the South African series; and which of these two teams has the furthest to fall.

India (1228.95) v England (1164.62) - 2 Tests

Expected Margin: India by 58 runs

Ridiculously and insultingly short series. Seems like a generous margin to England, but perhaps they can draw a game. England are probably poorer than their rating, having lost to South Africa at home, looked weak in the one-dayers, have an inexperienced bowling lineup in sub-continental conditions, and worries over several batsmen. The best you can say is they are settled, but that may be a rut. Unlike India, riding high on their best rating ever, England have declined to a pre-2004 level. Expect a confident India to inflict a big loss and a small loss.

Pakistan (6th) 1104.19
Zimbabwe (9th) 497.45

Cricket - Ratings - Test 19th November, 2008 01:08:30   [#] [2 comments]