Belief is an important part of cricket. It keeps a team on their toes when they might otherwise be struggling to keep working. Lack of it tends to do the opposite. After having the second test taken from them, Pakistan seemed set in their belief that it was inevitable that it would happen again. At 6/248 in the first innings South Africa might have been in a little trouble. A session later AB de Villiers (121) and Philander (74) had capitalised on the hard new ball and dragged them to 409. From there, Pakistan was never going to overcome the trauma of previous collapses.
The catalyst for the collapse was a new factor. Kyle Abbott seemlessly replaced Morkel, taking 7/29 in the process. Sent straight back in, Hafeez looked utterly unready to face Steyn in being dismissed first ball, and only a late rally from Sarfraz Ahmed and Saeed Ajmal put any respectability on the second innings score.
The reverse of Pakistan's doubt is South Africa's confidence, which has only grown since getting past England last year. Whether they can carry that through a tour of the sub-continent with a pace-based attack will be a good test. But right now, you'd not bet against them.
It wasn't that bad for Australia. But that might be because outside Tendulkar, Kohli, Dhoni, Ashwin and to a lesser extent Jadeja, India played pretty badly. Having had Clarke carry them to 380 - with a bit of help from Henriques who played much better than his record suggested he would - Australia ought to have had a small lead, and the opportunity to bowl last on a wicket offering a lot of turn and uneven bounce.
Then Dhoni (224) happened, Lyon again failed to contain the runs, and the fielding (and keeping particularly) let the bowlers down. Except for Pattinson the bowlers looked bereft of ideas; the field placements, normally a strength of Clarke's were negative and let the batsmen score easily without risk; the batting looked short, and the value of Henriques as an extra seamer was negated by playing another three specialists.
The second innings collapse was somewhat inevitable, given the shakiness of the top four against spin, and only Henriques (81) again, kept the defeat from being worse than it was. India played poorly; their seam attack is limited, and their openers struggling; although Pujara will no doubt find some runs. But that might not matter, because Australia's panicked response suggests their own trauma at having to play on turning pitches against players who punish the loose ball. And that may end up being the biggest difference in this series. India score so freely, and Australia are so constricted by contrast, that even if the ball that does something arrives, it is the former who'll have the runs on the board.
Visitors to New Zealand have occasionally struggled to come to terms with the cold weather, seaming pitches and disrupted play. England however, are right at home, and few sides have better records on the islands than the northerners. With New Zealand at a relatively low ebb, and England still a strong team, it is hard to see these matches as being anything other than large losses for the home team. Man for man it is not clear whether a single New Zealander would even challenge for a place in the English side. While you should never completely discount any side at home, only rain will likely prevent a three-nil scoreline in favour of the away side.
Sri Lanka have long been one of Bangladesh's biggest tormentors. The Sri Lankans have dropped away, but while the possibility of an upset might have played in the back of the minds of the Bangladeshi players, it remained unlikely. Right now though, this series is near impossible to predict. Like the West Indies before them, the players have targeted the low profile series to make a point about contracts, and refused to sign on. Whether they will play, or whether they'll be replaced by others is uncertain. In the former case, expect Sri Lanka to win, but hope for a better match than has been the norm between these two sides. In the latter, a home defeat is a reasonable proposition, as it was when the last set of players decided to use a Bangladesh series to make a stand.
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 March, 2013 14:33:33 [#]