Ratings - January 2009
Russell Degnan

India v England

Opening Ratings: Ind: 1160.06 Eng: 1100.18
Expected Margin: India by 80 runs
1st Test: India by 6 wickets
2nd Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: Ind: 1167.91 Eng: 1098.27

A strangely short series, in what was a generally a good contest between the third and fifth best sides in the world. A comprehensive victory here would have propelled India into the top position on the rankings, but as it was they had to work hard merely to win. The first test was low scoring, punctuated by epic innings: a pair of Strauss centuries, a(nother) rejuvenation of Collingwood, a blistering 83 from 68 balls from Sehwag to set up the last day chase, and the long-awaited fourth innings match winner from Tendulkar. Strangely, having been dominant through the first innings, the spinners influence waned as the match progressed, Panesar received much of the blame for going wicket-less in the 387 run chase (a record for the ground, though only 40 runs higher than the tied test), though the English batsmen were negligent in not making more and faster runs.

The much anticipated Dravid resurrection finally occured in the second test, grafting 136, while the ever more impressive Gambhir made 179 at the other end. Pietersen, Gambhir and the in-form Yuvraj Singh scored runs in the subsequent innings, but with almost 100 overs lost to bad light and rain, India was unwilling to risk the series victory pressing for the win, and the game meandered to a draw. In the averages, Khan, Sharma and Flintoff (now back near his peak fitness) were the best of the bowlers, while Gambhir dominated with the bat, scoring 361 runs. It was, however, all too short.

Bangladesh v Sri Lanka

Opening Ratings: Ban: 542.57 Sri: 1107.36
Expected Margin: Sri Lanka by 232 runs
1st Test: Sri Lanka by 107 runs
2nd Test: Sri Lanka by 465 runs
Closing Ratings: Ban: 538.80 Sri: 1112.67

Ah, the enigma that is Bangladesh. Having restricted Sri Lanka to 293 on the first day through Shakib Al Hasan's 5/70, they proceeded to collapse for 178 as Muralitharan took 6/49. Now subdued, Jayawardene scored a brisk 166 to set up a 521 run chase over 5 sessions. And then, Bangladesh fire again, through the especially enigmatic Ashraful (101), and the genuinely talented Shakib al Hasan (96), they were 6/403 before a late collapse finished the game.

In the second test, Sri Lanka were struggling a little again, at 4/75, before Dilshan (162 off 165) and Kapugedera (96 off 124) blasted the score to 384. From there, Muralitharan and Mendis got to work, knocking over Bangladesh for 208, and giving Sri Lanka plenty of time to set a big total. Everyone contributed, but Dilshan's 143 was the highlight, as the Sri Lankan nerves from game one were eased with a 624 run lead. Given Shakib al Hasan top scored with 46, it was more than enough, though there was still a chance for Dilshan to take four wickets, just in case the man of the match was in any doubt.

Bangladesh are beginning to resemble New Zealand, with talented all rounders in Shakib al Hasan, Mortaza and the keeper Rahim providing the bulk of the runs, below a top order contributing very little, very inconsistently. The Sri Lankans got another average boost, but even when the result is "close" the games are a necessary evil, not a contest of equals.

New Zealand v West Indies

Opening Ratings: NZ: 987.67 WI: 911.82
Expected Margin: New Zealand by 88 runs
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: Drawn
Closing Ratings: NZ: 977.21 WI: 922.75

How I hate two test series. A contest between two evenly matched sides, and one best suited to help young players learn the fine art of controlling and winning games, is reduced to an irrelevant side-show by an extended one-day series and the need to play elsewhere. These two sides have an extended history against each other that should be drawn upon while both are lesser draws to the big sides, but instead they avoid each other beyond the perfunctory two tests.

As it was, the lack of a reserve day (or days) and the New Zealand weather killed all chance of something meaningful. In an evenly matched first innings, Ryder and Flynn showed some form though both missed out on centuries. In the reply, Gayle, Chanderpaul scored 70s, but it was the 106 (off 107) from Jerome Taylor that prevented Vettori's 6/56 from allowing New Zealand to try and force the issue.

The second test was an enthralling draw, Chanderpaul and Nash taking the Windies to 307, with O'Brien taking 6/75. The New Zealand reply was led by McIntosh's 136, but a half dozen batsmen failed to carry on their innings to bring the lead beyond 64, as Edwards took 7/87. Nevertheless, New Zealand was well placed with just less than two days to play, having had Patel pick up Chanderpaul for a golden duck, and having the West Indies 4/106. Gayle, with extended support from Nash, made 197 to rescue the game. Although New Zealand made some pretence at chasing down 312 from the two sessions remaining, they lost too many wickets to do so. A much improved batting series from New Zealand, led by Ryder and Flynn who nonetheless need to go on and score hundreds, not fifties. Less so the West Indies, so dependent on Chanderpaul, Gayle and now Nash, and struggling to bowl sides out. The ranking gap continues to close, but the Kiwis remain in front.

Australia v South Africa

Opening Ratings: Aus: 1266.48 SAf: 1188.62
Expected Margin: Australia by 89 runs
1st Test: South Africa by 6 wickets
2nd Test: South Africa by 9 wickets
3rd Test: Australia by 103 runs
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1235.76 SAf: 1218.57

One of the best three test series played in recent times, with either side capable of winning all three games, and the final one going to the last two overs, even if the series was no longer on the line. The Perth test started at speed, Ntini and Steyn ripping out Hayden, Ponting and Hussey with only 15 on the board, but Australia settled after that and would have been well on top if not for repeatedly getting out to poor shots and the seemingly innocuous spin of Paul Harris. South Africa, by contrast looked excessively comfortable at 3/234 on the second day, before Mitchell Johnson somehow prised out not just Kallis and de Villiers but 3 more wickets to have them reeling. Another top order failure, more bad shots, and another rescue from Haddin (94) and the tail. Nevertheless, Australia left South Africa and seemingly imposing 414 to chase from the final five sessions. Seemingly, however, was not very. First the injured Smith (108) and Amla (53), then Kallis (57), de Villiers (106*) and Duminy (50*) chipped away at the target, easily working the bowlers for runs, until the chase seemed a formality.

To lose once from an impregnable position is careless, twice is a testament to South Africa's grit, and Australia's impotence. A brutal if slightly out of touch Ponting (101) and a grafting Clarke (88*) gave Australia 394 despite further problem near the top of the order. Siddle and Hauritz then worked South Africa over, to have them 6/141, with only a seemingly brittle tail and second gamer Duminy to come. The loss of a completely ineffective Lee, and the insane selection of an injured Symonds were mitigating but not sufficient reasons for the score reaching 459, though Duminy's 166 showed enormous class. The spineless collapse that followed had an inevitability about it, only Ponting's 99 stood out as Steyn completed his 10-for and the 183 runs scored with astonishing ease.

The series lost, and despite a call for changes to the side echoing from coast to coast, the only ones made were required: trundling lower order batsman McDonald for Symonds, NSW left arm quick Bollinger for Lee. The script continued as for the first two games, Ponting won the toss and batted, Australia were 5/162, before a lower end rescue from Johnson and Clarke got the score to 445. South Africa had their moments, but the young Australian attack had theirs too, Johnson breaking Smith's hand and running out a lax de Villiers through sustained pressure with field and ball. Morkel and Boucher provided some resistance, before Siddle scythed through the lower order to take 5/59 and a 118 run lead. The Australian top order finally scored a few, before Ponting set a generous, but in light of the defensive bowling stock, sound target of 376 off 116 overs. When de Villiers went at 7/190 the game seemed up, but the tail hung around, Steyn and Ntini lasting 17 overs, long enough for Smith to decide he could risk further finger damage to bat. The final wicket, Smith, bowled Johnson off one of the cracks came with just 10 balls to go.

Both sides will take a lot from this series, South Africa, the mantle of the world's best side, though the ratings will lag on that, the knowledge that their players can win any game, and the ability of their players across the board to perform. Australia, the need for change, but also comfort in the performances of Siddle, Johnson, Clarke and even McDonald and Hauritz who bowled tight lines and kept the pressure on; something lacking over the past year and the major difference between South Africa's 414 chase and their failure in Sydney. The end must be nigh for Hayden, whose presence in South Africa would be a shock, but so too are we seeing the slow decline of Ponting and Hussey and increasing frustration with Symonds and Lee. The side that won in Sydney was raw, but it showed enough promise to suggest better things.

Forthcoming Series:

Suprisingly, none, for a month or more.

Pakistan (6th) 1064.46
Zimbabwe (9th) 595.29

Cricket - Ratings - Test 12th January, 2009 11:33:49   [#]