New summer, familiar problems, ratings 1st November
Russell Degnan

1st/2nd TestPakistanvEngland
Expected MarginPakistan by 8 runs
Actual MarginMatch Drawn
Pakistan by 178 runs

A match that resembled a flat and windless Tour de France stage, with a flurry of action to finish, and barely any at all until the final session. England were ultimately stymied by the bad light, and playing conditions still too favourable to abandonment. They might too, point to Bell`s dropped catches in the first innings that cost them almost 200 runs, but that ignores Pakistan`s reckless finish and declaration in that same innings.

The most interesting side story of the match was Adil Rashid, for the 0/163 he conceded in the first, and the 5/64 that opened the match up in the second. He bowled poorly at first, unable to contain the batsmen who milked both spinners for boundaries without any risk. Yet his figures are less unflattering than might be supposed. A spin bowler with a first-class average in the mid-30s, bowling to batsmen with averages near 50 on a flat pitch should average in the 80s; and likewise, against the tail, on a turning fifth day pitch, his average should be in the teens. That`s the reality of a player picked to prosper in certain conditions, but forced to toil in those less to his liking. His inability to support the pacemen when they need it, by keeping the runs down, will be a problem, and was a problem in the second test where England lost.

The returning Yasir Shah showed the sort of parsimony that a spinner needs to bring in this match. The pitch was friendlier, but the ageless duo of Misbah ul Haq (102 and 87) and Younis Khan (56 and 118) offset the contributions of Root (88 and 71). England`s tail fought hard to keep the series tied into the final match, but facing almost 150 overs was too many against the combined spin of Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar.

England go to Sharjah with an advantage in batting depth and a weaker spin attack. It hasn`t hurt them to bat second so far, as it favours their bowlers - who despite the flat deck in Abu Dhabi still saw movement in the air for periods - and forces Pakistan to declare. But England`s nervousness against spin, and preference for front-running would be mollified if they could establish themselves first. To date, despite Cook`s form, it has been put almost entirely into staying in the match. Fighting, but not winning.

1st/2nd TestSri LankavWest Indies
Expected MarginSri Lanka by 107 runs
Actual MarginSri Lanka by an innings and 6 runs
Sri Lanka by 72 runs
Series rating1087.1759.1

The West Indies may have been sporting one of their better bowling lineups of recent years, but a batting order with Ramdin and Holder at 6 and 7 was unlikely to offer enough runs to win. As well as they played in the second test, they ultimately fell a long way short in scoring only 334 runs in the match. Herath, as ever, remains the workhorse on which Sri Lanka`s home victories are produced, taking 10 in the first test and 5 in the second. The runs were shared around, with big contributions from Thirimanne and Chandimal in the first and lesser, but more important efforts, from Siriwardana on debut in the second. Runs (and wickets) from Braithwaite, Bravo and Blackwood were useful, but insufficient. There is hope in this squad for the West Indies but there has been hope for a long time now, and they still cannot compete with the next weakest team in the top-8 away from home.

I-Cup MatchNamibiavIreland
Expected MarginIreland by 71 runs
Actual MarginIreland by an innings and 107 runs

Namibia have been at or near the top echelon of associate cricket for almost fifteen years, but there remains a strong sense of an over-promoted club side about their team, and performances. The glut of all-rounders and lack of strike-power is one of the key reasons, as is their difficulty keeping their best players. They smack of a team that might miss someone for a mate`s wedding, but provide a good tea, and play hard.

The lower middle order of Namibia (5-9) passed 20 eight times in this match, but only one score passed 50, the top order failed twice, and Porterfield and Joyce feasted on the bowling, putting on 326 in 66.2 overs, leaving plenty of time for the declaration and victory. Their victory propels them to the top of the table, and back to ninth in the rankings; now closer to the West Indies than the full member is to any team in the top-5, or Ireland to any associate apart from Afghanistan. The renewed push for divisions in test cricket is mostly a consequence of avoiding the need to play Zimbabwe or Bangladesh (or West Indies), but the continuing incongruity of associate nations being most competitive with the lower ranked full-members is a powerful argument for the dismantlement of the existing system.

3 TestsAustraliavNew Zealand
Expected MarginAustralia by 154 runs

Welcome to the new era of Australian cricket. The last era never really got going, as the players coming through were either inadequate to the demands of test cricket, or inferior to the previous era of all-time greats. By the time they appeared, they were past their prime. Smith and Warner, very much entering their primes, lead a new generation that promises better results. But young-ish, inexperienced players also fail, often. Voges, Khawaja, Mitch Marsh and Burns all have a lot to prove, and a lot of (younger) contenders for their spots. Smith too, needs to show he can face a new ball, and thrive, or if he will need to be protected down the order, to properly utilise his talents.

They face a New Zealand side that went through a similar transition a half decade ago, and has just now hit its straps. Boult and Southee are potentially deadly if there is any sign of life in the `Gabba pitch, while it remains unknown whether Australia will persist with the uneven lineup of Starc, Johnson and Hazlewood they carried through the Ashes, or insert Siddle to provide some stops. New Zealand`s batting is anchored by Williamson, who has likewise emerged as the player he always looked likely to be. But there is more talent in the rest of the lineup than your average New Zealand side as well, and they know they can win matches anywhere, having done so in England, the UAE and Australia on their last trip.

The ratings say and easy Australian win, and you`d not tend to bet on them losing at the `Gabba, even if you, like me, retain memories of Hadlee`s demolition thirty years ago. New Zealand`s form line, and Australia`s unknowns hint at a close and entertaining match, especially if the Kiwis bowl.

4 TestsIndiavSouth Africa
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 29 runs

South Africa have not been a dominant number one team, but they have been one that hasn`t lost often, including in India, which ought to have caused trouble for their pace attack. Pace through the air helps, as does sublime skill, and Steyn has both. The ratings and form line of this match indicates a series that could go to either side, with both sides containing both superbly talented and inconsistent batsmen, but a more uncertain bowling attack: South Africa`s somewhat neutered by conditions, India`s coming in to their own. Past series here have swung on the condition of the pitch, and that ought to work in India`s favour. But betting against South Africa has been unwise, so they ought to retain slight favouritism until we see otherwise.

Rankings at 1st November 2015
1.South Africa1267.9
6.New Zealand1000.5
7.Sri Lanka980.8
8.West Indies859.2

17.Papua New Guinea219.4
19.Hong Kong150.1

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 1st November, 2015 16:26:57   [#]