Erratic. No, not Australia, Ricky Ponting. Following on his pronouncement after Brisbane, Ponting again declared early, giving his bowlers enough rope to hang themselves with. Against the West Indies a fortnight before, but also numerous times before in the past year, they had failed, either scraping a victory, scrapping a draw, or looking moribund in a crushing loss. Against Pakistan batsmen willing to toss their wicket away a big victory was recorded. Ponting's captaincy might be aggressive, but it is also ill-thought out. Attacking cricket, hitting quick runs in the lead-up to a declaration is worthwhile. Declaring prematurely, collapsing badly and scoring slowly in the second innings added nothing to Australia's cause. What isn't being mentioned is that the skipper is batting in the same way. Every stroke is a ill-timed bludgeon, he starts quickly, but never looks set, and gets out; the hundreds are rare, the recent average is just on 40. A lesser player would be criticised for it, and rightly so. His approach, in general, borders on maniacal, impatient and reckless. Perhaps it will work, perhaps it is time to start planning for a future without him.
Not easy to come back to test cricket after a year or more in the wilderness. But why blame T20 for recklessness? Batsmen in the past decade have scored faster, true, but they have also scored heavier and batted longer. Techniques might be worsening, but that is flat pitches requiring no footwork, as much as alternate forms of the game. The evidence that short form of the game is ruining players is just not there. What is there is a recklessness on the part of batsmen in Pakistan (and the West Indies, and Bangladesh) that stems from a mix of inexperience and brainless cricket. When Umar Akmal practising a crooked slog between balls during the second innings, it isn't because he hasn't got out of a T20 mindset, it is because he is irresponsible. Good cricketers adjust to circumstances, good cricketers can concentrate, in the field, and with the bat. The problem with Pakistan in Melbourne is that they didn't concentrate.
It might be time to reassess England's Ashes win. The consensus, at least in the Australian press, was that their win had more to do with Australian ineptitude and luck than England's ability. What we are seeing in South Africa says otherwise. This is an exceptionally disciplined side, not laden with stars, but capable of staying in games and taking opportunities. The draw in the first test owed as much to the disciplined bowling that slowed the South African charge until late on the fourth day, as to the batting. Those same qualities were to the fore at Durban, grinding down South Africa with the ball, then bat, then pouncing when the pressure told on their batsmen. Superstars they are not, but there is a balance and resilience to this side, and they get better with each test.
What to make of South Africa? Was it really a year ago they breached the defences of Australia at home, showing a strength of character that should have propelled them to number one in the world? A somewhat bizarre collapse aside, the South Africa batting looks as solid as ever, but, Smith aside, it lacks the power to take the game to the opposition. Duminy has a strike rate around 40, Kallis, Amla and Prince are not much better. With the ball, Ntini must surely be dropped, as the bowling has failed to make inroads into the English batting at three attempts. This is still a good side, but they need some aggressive intent to make them great.
It would be remiss of me not to mention India's ascent to the number one position, for the first time in their history, following Australia and South Africa's disappointing results against the West Indies and England respectively a few weeks ago. This is thoroughly deserved, their form will see them ascend still further, even if Australia briefly regains the top position in their series against Pakistan. Much of the credit in recent times must fall on Dhoni, a captain who attacks, and gives his players - particularly Sehwag - the license to do the same, to win games. After years of negative and counter-productive cricket they are finally playing near to their potential. The future, perhaps, is not bright, as the batting talents must surely wane, and the bowling remains flaky, but for now, they are the leading team in world cricket.
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season
Cricket - Ratings - Test 1st January, 2010 14:10:27 [#]