There can't really be a huge amount to say about this series. Each match has followed a familiar pattern. Early trouble from Australia against middling bowling; a rescue act from Haddin with some support (this time from Smith); a miserable English collapse; some breezy pressure-less batting from Australia, though Rogers always looks to be doing it harder than Warner; and an English batting performance that seems to lack fight and ends far too quickly. Harris was deservedly man of the match for taking 8/61; his pitch-map an object lesson in the value of constant pressure; his seam position impeccable throughout.
England's inability to change the pattern of the series ought to be the major story. It is still unfathomable though, how far they fell since the previous series, and how quickly. The graph below is both illuminating and odd.
It shows for five (or more) test series the correlation between the number of matches a team wins a series by (the x-axis) and the ratio of runs/wickets for the two sides (the y-axis). The home side being positive on both axis. Unsurprisingly, it is a strong correlation; perhaps equally unsurprisingly, the 2013 Ashes saw an unlikely 3-0 result given how narrow the margin between the sides. In the return series is would have been reasonable to expect Australia to improve by 25%, given home conditions, translating to a one or two test victory.
The improvement though, was 100%. Despite the top-order batting continuing to fail - with almost no runs of consequence from Bailey, Watson or Warner in the first innings - the bowling was so dominant, and England so incapable of combating it that a 5-0 result began to look inevitable from as early as the second test. As confidence ebbed, the false shots of the first two matches, a correctable fault, gave way to nervous prods and slower scoring. Their inability to attack any weak links - and here Lyon deserves praise - nor to bat long enough to tire and injure the Australian bowling exaggerated the final margin. But at the same time, the stats from the 2013 series were (Bell and the tail aside) not markedly better.
The difference - though perhaps the lesser of the worries for England - comes from the bowling. Whereas Swann took 26 wickets in England an off-spinner in Australia is rarely anything other than a liability. Broad bowled well, but his workload and injuries seem to have sapped the energy he brought to his match-winning spell at Chester-le-Street. Anderson has never been as effective where the ball won't swing; and couldn't possibly carry the load expected of him. In this respect, the one shining light for England is Stokes, who alone cannot be said to have dropped his head; by the end, the best batsman and bowler in his side. Australia's batting ought to remain a huge concern, but it did just enough to find the weak links in England's chain and exploit them mercilessly.
The tendency of teams to be white-washed once things start going wrong is a very recent one. In the past, with a longer tour, England might have found some form or selectoral certainty in state games, rested their key players and their minds, and found ways to take advantage of Australia's own weaknesses. But the modern tour brings in players with no cricket behind them, or leaves those already broken tied to the Catherine Wheel for more punishment. With time to prepare, more favourable conditions and a more favourable opposition the next series ought to be straight forward, even if the current side was kept.
For Australia the next series is South Africa. Their record there is decent, even in recent years, conditions are favourable, but the opposition is formidable. The bowling just needs to stay fit. They'll need much more with the bat.
If I described this match as Angelo Mathews against Pakistan I'd not be too far wrong. He was last out in the first innings, for a relatively quick 91 of Sri Lanka's paltry 204; then he opened the bowling; then, needing to bat long for a draw after conceding a 179 run lead, he built on the start provided by Silva and Sangakarra to nurse his side to 5/480, making 157 off 343 balls himself.
The flattening pitch, a feature of cricket in the UAE, thus prevented a result. Junaid Khan took advantage of the early conditions that prevail to take 5/58 in the first, and worked hard for 3/93 in the second. But there was little for Saeed Ajmal and it is him who they expect to take second innings wickets. Pakistan's own batting card was a bit lop-sided, with Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan providing a 218 run partnership on their way to 136 and 135 respectively. But it wasn't built on, nor did they score quickly, and both those worked against them once Sri Lanka settled in.
Hopefully the second test will have a pitch that offers turn, as neither side has the pure pace needed to take wickets on roads with no swing.
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 7th January, 2014 00:54:36 [#]