Contrived and controversial finish in unusual circumstances. The end to this game was a microcosm of the series itself. England on top, but barely, and through a combination of good fortune and doing enough when required, rather than by the amount the three-nil margin suggests. The series rating shows that both sides played very much as predicted. England's home advantage, greater experience, and higher ability told, but they only burst away in the one match, at Lord's. Their contributions were few, but decisive, and the series was in large part, half a team defeating a team of half-players.
One notable story-line in the latter half the series was England's lack of intent. Over rates continue to be abysmal, on both sides. At some level I don't care, because I'm happy with 6 hours of play, and the continual extensions are more annoying. But the constant drinks breaks and chit-chat are unnecessary, and the umpires need to be empowered to enforce strict time limits between events - 30s between deliveries, 1min between overs, with run or dismissal penalties for multiple abuses.
But England's slowness is mitigated by a number of factors. Firstly, Australia's good bowling was to blame for much of the slow scoring, even if no particular effort was made to upset that balance. Secondly, they played smart; they knew Australia would collapse, and that victory was assured when they did (and in all three losses, they did), so they played to stay in the game and waited. Thirdly, when they needed to be in the game, they did what they had to do, notably in Durham. Australia might curse the weather that ruined their best two positions, but you sense that they might have found a way to lose regardless. Finally, England had to be cautious because Harris and company put them behind in almost every innings with the new ball, and in four of five tests, on first innings. The umpires and referees let them get away with stifling the game, but England played poorly for long periods as well, and needed to scrap. That they scrapped to a dominant victory is one of the incongruities of the series.
In this test, Clarke's reputation for aggressive declarations worked against him. Far from needing to move the game along, England benefited from knowing that they'd get a chase regardless, and the more time spent batting on the last day, the smaller the chance they could lose playing for the draw, and the better the chance of a quick slog for victory. They got one, and the bad light was perhaps justice, even if the ICC continues to accept farce as a suitable end to matches.
Bell, and to a lesser extent Pietersen, was the reason for the win. Without him this series is turned around. In the past, I've not unfairly put him in the place of Pierre Bezukhov, easily led into poor shots and prone to irrational and ill-thought actions - even as recently as in India and New Zealand - and of only making runs when least required. But in a low scoring series he was head and shoulders above the next best batsman, and moreover, his runs, so effortless, came in the most important moments.
Australia had moments of brilliance surrounded by vast swathes of mediocrity. Even their bowling, brilliant as Harris was, never managed to roll England for less than 300, allowing them insufficient time to force a result. The batting order was never settled upon, and notwithstanding some better performances, is still a great concern. Watson and Smith scoring runs offers some hope that the return leg might be better, but on flatter pitches it hard to see England scoring as few runs in the top-order as here, and Australia's propensity for collapse will likely result in the same pattern: draws when the batting does well, losses when it doesn't.
England's ascendancy doesn't seem likely to last for long though, as in Anderson, Swann and Pietersen, the core of the side is at an age where injuries and form will start to slip. The inadequacy of Bairstow and the troubles of Root point to closer contests, if not in 2015, then thereafter. Australia, for their many faults, can at least point to a glut of youth, that need only mature. And ultimately, while the results didn't go their way, for long periods the matches did, which is some comfort.
A second consecutive I-Cup match from Canada that turned around their recent decline. Unlike the last match too, no rain was on hand to prevent them from completing the victory. The Netherlands have never competed well in the four day game, and they didn't here either, collapsing for 164 on day 1 to Gordon and Raza-ur-Rehman, before conceding a massive lead thanks to Gunasakera's 150 and contributions down the order. Aggressive knocks from Szwarczynski and Seelaar held off the inevitable for a time, but Gordon and Baidwan worked their way through the order. The 68 runs required was knocked off in 7.1 overs thanks to Gunasakera, again, who is finally applying his talents to making big scores.
Already a dead rubber in tournament terms, the match was mostly a warmup for the WCL matches that follow, which the Netherlands needed to win - eventually winning one and drawing on, but not without controversy. Canada's victory pushes them off the bottom of the table, leaving Netherlands with the wooden spoon. There would have been a good case for making relegation from this competition dependent on performance, and not the world cup qualifiers, if only to add some spice to this match, and those of Kenya and the UAE to follow.
The ratings point to a thrashing, but so few tests do Zimbabwe play that it is probably not a reliable indicator. So few tests do Pakistan play that even their rating tends to be a bit random; but such is life for the two pariah nations of the test circuit. If there was money in it they'd benefit, and probably be willing, to engage more with the associate world, but there is no money in it, and both are financially strapped at best, and possibly near bankrupt.
On the pitch it is hard to see Zimbabwe scoring enough runs to get a result. Their bowling is capable - although as usual, their best players continue to look for green and pleasant lands - but only Taylor poses a significant threat of a high score, and his record is of classy one-day innings, not monumental tons. With the weather likely to be perfect, anything other than a big Pakistan victory will be a surprise; but hopefully we see some fight from the Africans.
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 1st September, 2013 13:48:30 [#]