Forget about using the ratings as a prediction. They say Australia should win this but by the barest of margins, adjusted for form, the prediction is as close to 50-50 as it can be. Similarly, forget about recent history, the last series was tied, the two before that were tied home and away. They are two sides joined at the hip, playing with the same brute force and aggression tempered with the artistry of their key batsmen. The series in Australia will, for the first time in recent memory, take to Australia's bounciest pitches, and it does so with the fastest pair of attacks I can recall seeing; and possibly the fastest in test history. This won't be one for the connoisseurs, even with Amla and Clarke's elegance, or the undoubted greatness of Kallis and Ponting. This is one for the fans with blood-lust, who like watching Cowan, Smith and Hussey shovel and leave. If won't necessarily be low-scoring, as Australian pitches are generally flat, but collapses are likely, as I certainly don't trust Australia's batting, and South Africa's lower middle order is suspect.
As I write, South Africa have won the toss and decided to bat, despite going in with four and a half quicks. This probably suits Australia twice over, as batting first is deeply over-rated. As always in Australia, the new ball will be central to the outcome, and both sides can exploit it. South Africa should perhaps be slight favourites, given their away record, recent English form, and slightly reduced propensity to collapse. Conversely, Australia are good players of pace, and if the ball stops moving they can score heavily and win. Steyn, as ever, is the key for South Africa, as are Pattinson and Siddle for Australia. A drawn series would be the safe bet, but it seems unlikely to have any drawn tests. Compulsive viewing for certain.
A test series marking 12 years since Bangladesh was elevated to the ranks of full members, which if nothing else, provides opportunity to reflect on what a ridiculous system fixed membership and closed shops are. The gap between them and the West Indies had closed for a period. Recent form tells us nothing about Bangladesh, who seem to have retreated, or been beaten back from test cricket; nevertheless, the West Indies have certainly improved in the past few years, and that gap seems to have been restored.
Bangldesh's biggest problem is a hopeless dependence on Shakib, who, good as he is, won't win tests with either bat or ball. Although the batting is better than it was, only Tamim Iqbal has had any sustained success, and none recently. On home pitches, favouring spin and batting, they have had moments where a win looked possible, but it seems unlikely that they will do so against Narine and the other West Indies spinners. With Gayle back, and Samuels scoring heavily, only indifference will bring down the tourists.
Two flawed sides with much to prove. England come into this tour without their captain and opener of the past few years, a susceptibility against spin bordering on crippling, injured quicks and a marked drop in form from two summers ago. India in transition, having seen some of their ageing and declining batsmen depart, albeit with potentially brilliant replacements, but with continuing question-marks over their openers and Tendulkar, and a bowling attack that hasn't performed well in the past few series.
Looking at recent form, and taking into consideration home advantage, the matches should be very close, with India slight favourites. The result will largely hinge on the ability of England's batsmen to combat whichever of Ashwin, Ohja and Harbajhan India put out. Their bowling will suffice, but needs to be prepared for long days. India's recent home record is better than away from home, but they didn't impress against New Zealand or the West Indies, and stuggled against Australia before that. Draws are a distinct possibility if the pitches don't provide much turn. If they do, we'll see an interesting contest, and much comment on home pitches.
I'd like to think this series will be competitive, as neither side has played particularly well in the past couple of years. But New Zealand ranged from competitive but losing to woeful on their last two tours, and Sri Lanka remain a force at home, where their batsmen score heavily, and their spinners become world class. New Zealand have no weapons to combat that, particularly with Ryder missing, and neither Taylor or Williamson seemingly able to take the next step. If it rains a lot, and it may, draws are a distinct possibility, but otherwise the home side will have it.
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 9th November, 2012 09:48:04 [#]