A team is in real trouble when people start scrambling for the record books to see just how badly they are being beaten. Australia are hard to assess in that sense, having won in Perth and played respectably in India, there are reasonable grounds for supposing they aren't that bad. But the tendency to collapse, a feature of their cricket for the past three years means they are consistently trying to fight their way back into games, instead of having poor bowling performances meander to a draw.
And yet, yet, oddly enough, had Australia had a little more backbone in Adelaide, the series would still be tied at 1-all. Moreover, they are still a reasonable, but unlikely, chance of tying this series at 2-all. Both a sign of how difficult it is to win in Australian conditions, and that some talent remains.
We ought, therefore, to praise England for making Australia look so bad. Their tight bowling lines, mostly thoughtful field-placings, and intelligent batting (particularly on the first evening) has meant they are not only consistently putting Australia under pressure, they are inducing collapses, and then sticking the boot in with the bat. They go into this test with an opportunity to reach the top ranking spot for the first time since 1972. For Australia, another crushing loss will send them plummeting to their worst ranking since the early 1990s, with a feeling that there remains more to come.
A final word on Ricky Ponting. For some time now I've wanted him to drop down the order or removed from the lineup, as his record has been below that required for a number three. After a test match so poor it threatens to besmirch both his playing and captaincy record, most commentators have joined the chorus of disapproval. It would be sad, therefore, if injury meant Melbourne was Ponting's last foray onto the test arena. Sad, but necessary however, as the side is going backwards rapidly with him at the helm.
India would have faced up on the Durban pitch with some trepidation given their mauling a week earlier. One of their great strengths as a team is that their batting strength largely protects them from losses. On a pitch that talks that strength is negated, and it becomes a test of mettle both for the batsmen (who must choose their shots judiciously) and the bowlers (who must bowl accurately to take full advantage). They owed the win in this test, as they have in several others this year, to Zaheer Khan and VVS Laxman, who assessed and played the conditions better than any player other than Steyn (a match-winner if not for his supporting batsmen).
For South Africa, who have again failed to assert themselves on a home series, there remains the suspicion that they are carrying several players, and therefore too dependent on their stars performing, to maintain form. The series, and the race to be the number one is interestingly poised, although India now seem likely to retain that spot through the World Cup, before facing off against England in a head-to-head for same come June.
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.
Cricket - Ratings - Test 3rd January, 2011 10:22:56 [#]
Ratings - 1st January 2011