Ratings - January 2007
Russell Degnan

New Zealand v Sri Lanka
Opening Ratings: NZ: 1029.53 Sri: 1118.78
1st Test: New Zealand by 5 wickets
2nd Test: Sri Lanka by 217 runs
Closing Ratings: NZ: 1023.37 Sri: 1122.13

A shared result was what the ratings predicted, although New Zealand probably had the worst of it. The Sri Lanka bowling, led, as ever, by Muralithatan, but with some fine support from the unpredictable Malinga - who set up their victory in the second test - and the evergreen Vaas, embarrassed the New Zealand top-order. In three and a half innings they managed only two half centuries - both by Vettori at eight. Somehow, The bowling of Bond and Franklin won them the first Test. Mostly, because Sri Lanka aren't well endowed with batsmen either. Silva came back from a pair to make runs in the second Test. Otherwise, it was all down to Sangakarra. His unbeaten tilt at one of test cricket's oldest records in the first Test was cut short with Muralithatan's own tilt at the stupidest runout in Test history - yet one New Zealand needed, given their batting troubles. In the second Test, another unbeaten 156 from Sangakarra was too much for the Kiwis. The ratings don't change, but this was a good result for Sri Lanka.

South Africa v India
Opening Ratings: SAf: 1072.22 Ind: 1121.06
1st Test: India by 96 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by 174 runs
3rd Test: South Africa by 5 wickets
Closing Ratings: Saf: 1093.35 Ind: 1105.52

It is ironic that India have possibly unearthed a pace bowler capable of bowling sides out, just as their batting lineup began to decline from the heights needed to support said bowler. Sreesanth's 18 wickets at 21.94 was one of the only hghlights for India, who managed but one century and six fifties in their six completed innings. South Africa were not substantially better, although Ashwell Prince is beginning to find his feet, even as Gibbs's become even further entrenched on the crease. Smith was also good, but needs to make tons, not fifties, while Pollock's runs, while few, were decisive in both their wins. Equally decisive was his bowling, which, along with Ntini, and the debutant Harris, gave South Africa the opening in a series India should probably not have lost, having taken a one-nil lead. South Africa are having to work hard for their victories, but may be bringing a side together for the future; India though, stand at the precipice, with retirements looming. The next couple of years will be interesting for both sides.

Australia v England
Opening Ratings: Aus: 1379.04 Eng: 1222.42
1st Test: Australia by 277 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 6 wickets
3rd Test: Australia by 206 runs
4th Test: Australia by innings and 99 runs
5th Test: Australia by 10 wickets
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1441.45 Eng: 1174.65

Something burst in the Australian bubble in 2005. Somehow, improbably, where previously no game was ever lost, no opportunity missed, England managed to scrape the win, and close those opportunities. The rebuilding of that mentality was not without its moments of doubt, notably against South Africa and Bangladesh, but as the series loomed, a remarkably similar, yet substantially more determined Australian side took the field in Brisbane. Katich's nervous defense replaced by the class of Hussey; Gillespie shattered confidence - his performance in Bangladesh notwithstanding - by Clark's probing seamers.

England, by contrast, lost almost everything they would have needed, had they though themselves capable of repeating the narrowest of victories: Vaughan's captaincy was replaced by Flintoff's defense; Flintoff's heroism, by a mere mortal, struggling with a year of injuries; Trescothick's belligerence with a talented but nervous Cook; Harmison's aggressiveness with torpid inaccuracy; Simon Jones's reverse swing with James Anderson.

The signs were there in the past year, even if both Australia and England were understandably anxious that the improbable might recur. England's losses away were ugly, when the year before they'd won inspiringly. Their victories at home came against toothless attacks; their losses - and the gifted win in a game as good as lost - were more prescient.

Without question, the team selected compunded these problems. Fletcher coaches cricket by the numbers. Take the averages together, and pick your most likely result. But an average never predicts a century, nor a five-for; things you must have to win games. Picking Giles over Panesar was undoubtedly a mistake. Rectified it was too late for Monty to help a crushed team. Persisting with Flintoff at six was equally foolhardy. The win in 2005 came in spite of this madness, not because of it; the frequency of collapse in 2006 a belated punishment.

But to the cricket. The opening two tests were vastly different to the final three. In the first, England began badly - Flintoff excepted - and got worse. Ponting inspired a mammoth 602 with his 196; McGrath inspired one last collapse to bowl England out for 157. No team can win from there, or even draw without help. Yet England fought it out, with both Collingwood and Pietersen making 90s.

In Adelaide they were clearly the best team for two days. A huge partnership by Pietersen and Collingwood, a fifty from a still confused, but confident Bell, and Australia looked vulnerable; McGrath and Warne old. Perhaps the declaration was premature, perhaps the wicket before stumps was worth it. Hoggard's heroic 7/109 gave England a sniff, but one crucial dropped chance, and some outstanding batting put Australia back level with one day to play.

And here, where a year ago luck had flown to England, now it passed them by.

There is a saying that you make your own luck, with aggression and purpose. Few players in cricketing history have played with as much aggression and purpose as Shane Warne. Few teams have ever become as defensive and purposeless as England did on the fifth day in Adelaide. Collingwood's not out 22 off 119 balls (and 198 minutes) was the innings of a batsman in a terrible dream, where every turn leads him into yet another identical position. Warne bowled 33 overs for 49 and four wickets, the pacemen and fielders came to the party.

This isn't the first time Warne has provoked a team into shock; into poor shots, worse running, and into their collective shells. Normally it passes, batsmen settle their mind, gain back some initiative. But this continued, on and on, hour after hour, not lifting until Hussey had hit the winning runs, if not later. In Melbourne, three weeks later, I chanced to see the team bus near the MCG, each player dressed, like little schoolboys in their training gear, being ferried from place to place. Perhaps it is nothing, or perhaps, as Harmison tellingly revealed England never regained the initiative because, unlike the Australians, they need to be told how.

Panesar and Harmison briefly revived hopes in Perth, but it was never going to happen. The Australia of old was back, the English more shattered than any team who'd toured before. Every chance for England was ruthlessly closed off, every opportunity for Australia mercilessly taken. There was an inevitability about it all, not least when McGrath, Warne, then finally Langer followed Martyn into retirement, that none of Flintoff's late series cameos, Pietersen's aggressive, but brainless batting, Harmison's sudden decision to turn up, or Cook and Bell's struggles to get yet another start to waste, could slow.

Statistically, it would take too long to show how dominant Australia was in this series. The batting of Hussey, Clarke and Ponting was the highlight, but the rest of the top eight were at least on a par with, if not substantially superior to the English batting. Clark was the standout bowler for Australia taking 26 wickets at 17; but even Brett Lee, who never really impressed, had a substantially better average than England's best bowler Hoggard. And unlike 2005, the Australian bowlers controlled any English aggresion, keeping their scoring below 3 runs per over, even as England failed to do the same.

The Australian rating may go higher, but the crushing of a team that probably remain the second best in world cricket puts them at their apogee. The retirements of their two champion bowlers - undefeated when playing together for 5 years - can only bring them back to merely good. England are a mystery, their team still young and talented, but needing to rebuild their confidence. Needless to say, this was a vengeance most sweet.

Forthcoming Series:

South Africa (1093.35) v Pakistan (1110.41) - 3 Tests.

The ratings give this to South Africa, but it may be closer than that. The absence of Mohammed Yousuf will hurt Pakistan considerably, but if and when he returns, Pakistan probably have the stronger lineup. In the bowling, the return of Mohammed Asif after the rescinding of his drug ban means they are not near as toothless as they were against England. given the series squeezes 15 days of cricket into just 20 calendar days, momentum will be key, and therefore, may be slightly in the home team's favour, coming off the win to India. But with Pakistan you never really know.

West Indies (8th) 832.90
Zimbabwe (9th) 671.01
Bangladesh (10th) 599.27

Cricket - Ratings - Test 15th January, 2007 01:58:43   [#]