Ratings - December 2008
Russell Degnan

Australia v New Zealand

Opening Ratings: Aus: 1427.55 NZ: 1021.68
Expected Margin: Australia by 177 runs
1st Test: Australia by 149 runs
2nd Test: Australia by innings and 62 runs
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1436.33 NZ: 1010.55

Claims the this, or that aspect of international cricket is killing the game are common, and, in the past I've given them short shrift. Partly, because the key series are as strong as ever. Australia, England, India, and to a lesser extent, South Africa and Sri Lanka have strong sides and high interest (albeit not always at the ground). But there are problems elsewhere, as this series highlight. It is practically impossible to assess Australian performances because they were on another level to the Kiwis. Even in Brisbane, rolled twice for low scores, they never seemed in trouble. I asked which players will enhance their reputation, and the answer became Clarke and Johnson, but neither can rest on their laurels, because the selectors won't be rating games against New Zealand that highly.

On the other side of the Tasman things are bad, as they slip into an ever more populated abyss for wretched cricket sides. The three best sides of the 1980s are all rubbish, New Zealand and Pakistan have been decimated by the ICL, the West Indies by ineptness, and a culture dedicated to wasting talent. For political reasons, neither Pakistan nor Zimbabwe have played test cricket, though Zimbabwe are also not playing because they are complete rubbish. Bangladesh escape that fate because they vote with India. With only a few exceptions, poor teams have been a constant throughout test history. But never before have they been so poor, relatively speaking, nor have they declined so dramatically from positions of relative strength, and nor have there been so many short, meaningless series between teams. Test cricket will live on, but it may yet not live on everywhere it currently resides.

Things may look up for New Zealand. If they can retain their current lineup, then they have players who can play. Ryder is talented, if brainless, Taylor is a genuine talent with similar issues, O'Brien a funny blogger and capable bowler, Southee capable of everything but inconsistent, and there is something about Flynn that bodes well. Oram, Franklin, McCullum and Vettori will provide a decent core if their batsmen could just put their heads down and score. But their inability to carry an innings out will haunt them until they learn.

South Africa v Bangladesh

Opening Ratings: SAf: 1284.20 Ban: 374.79
Expected Margin: South Africa by 353 runs
1st Test: South Africa by innings and 129 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by innings and 48 runs
Closing Ratings: SAf: 1283.37 Ban: 376.03

Another pointless waste of time between two mismatched sides. There is so little to take from this from either side. South Africa scored runs and took wickets, yes, but any bowler or batsman who didn't is probably unlucky. Mushfiqur Rahim and Junaid Siddique made some handy runs for Bangladesh, but given neither averaged over 30 that is clutching at straws. Shakib Al Hasan however, did take 11 wickets at 20.81, which given South Africa only batted twice is practically a 10 wicket haul. The ratings of neither side changed, which says it all really.

Forthcoming Series:

New Zealand (1010.55) v West Indies (882.56) - 2 Tests

Expected Margin: New Zealand by 80 runs

Two sides struggling to maintain respect for their cricket, fighting officially for second last on the test table (the position of Bangladesh, like statistics versus them, now routinely excluded from discussion). Why a series between two sides in this predicament is two test is beyond me, as both could use a proper work-out, but I suppose that is the way of it. New Zealand should win, they are at home, where they have always been hard to beat. The Kiwis are not a good side, but nor are the West Indies, being erratic, dependent on Chanderpaul and Sarwan for runs, and wishing they could depend on someone for wickets. But, New Zealand are also faltering, badly, have a brittle batting lineup, and haven't shown any ability to win games even while in front. An interesting proposition then.

Australia (1436.33) v South Africa (1283.37) - 3 Tests

Expected Margin: Australia by 85 runs

Don't pay much heed to that margin, this series could be anything. South Africa have had a year to remember, sweeping minnows aside with ease, but also playing well away, to draw with India and beat England. Their batting, for so long only capable of pretty 50s unless Smith and Kallis played well, has routinely scored big hundreds, even as Kallis has lost form. Their bowling, always before an unimaginative right arm pace attack, is still an unimaginative right arm pace attack, but with real menace in Steyn and Morkel. They could be rubbish against Australia. Just three years ago they played well only to lose sessions every time they mattered, such that the eventual margin flattered Australia. You suspect, against an Australian side less inclined to always win, that they could surprise. But don't suspect Australia will take them lightly. Even if Australians don't share the same sense of rivalry, they do like playing a tough unit, and will rise to the contest.

But, are Australia good enough. If South Africa are as stable as they've been since re-entering test cricket, Australia are as unstable as they've been since before then. Almost every player is worrying. Even as Katich has cemented one opening position, Hayden has looked less certain in the other. Ponting lacks that hunger for runs that marked him before, his captaincy (and legacy) being questioned every time he plays. Hussey is solid, but may also be in a form slump. Clarke has been scoring runs, but has yet to prove himself resilient in the face of a collapse. Symonds lurches from crisis to crisis, struggling throughout the early summer. Haddin hasn't yet settled with bat or gloves, drops catches, lets through byes, and seems uncertain keeping on poor pitches, with only one knock in favourable conditions to tally, Watson is probably in great form, but may not play, and hasn't yet proven his worth if he does. Lee has proven his worth, then regressed to bad habits, bowling loose spells on two lengths, tempered only by moments of genuine skill. Clark has bowled a good line and length, but is either too slow, too good or too unlucky, with batsmen generally content to play him out given his support. Johnson is improving rapidly, and may well be the key, with a seeming knack for taking important wickets, even while bowling complete rubbish. And Krejza, has one test, a big bag of wickets, and an injury - so your guess is as good as mine.

Clearly Australia are not what they were, they dropped an almost record 174.71 points across 11 games following the win in Sydney. South Africa have steadily added almost 100 points over the same period. Often, the gaining side is primed for a fall, and vice versa. That, home advantage, a history of dashed expections, and a tendency for their opposition to start a series slowly may work in Australia's favour. Australia will probably win, but some reputations (and possibly careers) will be built or destroyed on both sides.

India (3rd) 1228.95
Sri Lanka (4th) 1171.12
England (5th) 1164.62
Pakistan (6th) 1104.19
Zimbabwe (9th) 497.45

Cricket - Ratings - Test 11th December, 2008 15:13:44   [#]