If the last three months have been a fore-telling of our dystopian test-cricket-free future, the next will be a further demonstration of our dystopian context-free present. The West Indies ought to have a lot to play for in this series. In theory New Zealand are their most closely matched competitor, and one they should defeat at home. But while New Zealand had a credible home series victory against India, the West Indies have lost four of their last five tests, three badly, two in the reverse tie, and needing no small amount of fortune to draw the other. But the WICB's hard stance of Narine, forcing him to choose between the IPL final and the test series, and his (probably sensible) decision to stay in India, hints at the low-key nature of the contest: another obligation, easily forgotten, to fulfil between the IPL and CPL.
No matter. With the pitches likely to be slow, and perhaps high scoring, the key will be whether New Zealand can combat the West Indies spinners. Their own bowling, while likely to be less effective than at home, will keep the opposition honest, but they also need some of the high scores they produced at home. Rain is likely in the first test, and that would indicate a draw. But the home side is extremely unpredictable, and they are relatively well matched, so don't rule out the alternatives.
Speaking of obligations. England are obliged to play seven tests per season for their broadcast partners, and to host the world's less lucrative teams as well as India and Australia. Not that Sri Lanka seem desperate for more test cricket. They have, to be fair, played five tests so far this year, splitting a series against Pakistan they ought to have won, and defeating Bangladesh one-nil. That followed only three tests in 2013 though, with none between March and December. It may be the pitches, but their bowling has had recent phases where batsmen have scored both quickly and without fear, helped significantly by the captaincy. The batting has been prolific, despite the gradual decline of Jayawardene, Sangakarra seems to relish the rare opportunities (or the Bangladesh bowling).
England are an interesting problem for any previewer. A year ago they had a stable top-6 and their most experienced ever bowling attack. Now they have Cook, Bell and if he can find form, Root, a recalled Prior, and if their body lasts, Broad and Anderson. A radical shake-up can be good for a team, if they've been under-performing, and if the replacements are better. Both, possibly are true statements too, Pietersen aside, as in Robson, Moeen Ali they have some definite talent, and Plunkett, Jordan and Ballance are not noticeably inferior to Bairstow, Borthwick and Rankin. They will miss Stokes, as he was perhaps the only player to emerge from the Ashes with any credit. But they also probably don't need him, at home, against Sri Lanka. This series will be seen as a useful, not overly challenging, test, one the players will either pass or be easily moved on as a consequence of. That will be unfair on the players, as luck plays its part, as does the environment. The one player that should be watched closely is Cook, now charged with forming a new side in his image. His record with inexperienced players to date has been execrable; and he no longer has dependable support if he does so again.
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 June, 2014 18:52:06 [#]