The catch up; Ratings 12th February
Russell Degnan

A somewhat (very) delayed summary on account of a house move over Christmas. Something that also rather prevented me from watching much of the cricket played.

2nd/3rd TestsAustraliavWest Indies
Expected MarginAustralia by 237 runs
Actual MarginAustralia by 177 runs
Match drawn
Series rating1242.9816.9

The headline after the Boxing Day test, about the resurgence of fight in the West Indies, underlines how vast the talent gap remains between their test squad - shorn of several players being feted for their BBL performances across town - and an emerging Australian side. The fight waned quickly too, with barely a whimper on day two, as they awaited an inevitable declaration on the back of four top-order tons, and collapsed to 6/91 by stumps. Some generous declarations meant that the margin of 177 runs with a day to spare seem closer than it was. The chance to perform a heist and win despite taking only 6 wickets in the match was there, but they never got close, and even then, only because Holder won the toss and bowled.

Australia`s rating took another hit in the third test when three days worth of rain left them no chance of pressing for victory. The West Indies batting had, by series end, put up some middling totals (here, 330) but few big innings, and for all the (very) occasional bursts from Roach and Taylor, and the steadiness of Holder, they`ll win very little conceding such hefty totals so easily. A series talked down before-hand, that met expectations.

4 TestsSouth AfricavEngland
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 108 runs
Actual MarginEngland by 241 runs
Match drawn
England by 7 wickets
South Africa by 280 runs
Series rating1102.01162.1

A resounding victory for England, on the back of some exciting cricket, that came in surges, but from multiple directions. Interestingly, although South Africa entered the series with a long tail, and England played throughout with Moeen Ali at 8 and Broad, whose batting seems to be returning at 10, it was the home side who scored more from the bottom of the order. England, as they did in the Ashes, won less being consistently better than their opposition, than from winning at specific times: Ali and Finn twice knocking out the middle order in the first test and Broad`s 6/17 in the second test were sufficient to win, once the contributions of the batsmen were added up. Only in the final, dead test, when South Africa managed to build a platform for Rabada to showcase his talent, did England look like they lacked answers.

South Africa, by contrast, have finally entered a full rebuild. They weren`t in many ways, as bad as the result over the first three tests suggest, but far too few batsmen made starts, and without Steyn they were depending on Rabada to run through the English order. Now fourth, and possibly dropping as low as sixth, in the rankings, makes it seem a propitious drop, the top six are closely matched, and almost any of them could find themselves top of the pile in the next couple of years. There is, pleasingly, no better time to institute a test championship.

South Africa`s sudden ranking demise has raised the issue of their legacy. Jarrod Kimber wrote a fine article on their almost greatness, the quality of their away record, and its limitations at home. The ratings put them in a similarly uncertain position in the pantheon. In the post-war period, only five sides have maintained a rating above 1280 for more than two years: Australia from 1945-53, the deeply under-rated West Indies of 1965-68, the somewhat less under-rated side of 1984-90 (barring a blip in 1987-88), Australia from 2001-09, and South Africa from the beginning of the NZ series of 2012/13 to the (unfortunately) drawn match against Bangladesh of 2015. They sustained a long period of being very good, but until 2013, they never ended a season (northern or southern) as the number one side; didn`t have the highest peak rating of the period (their 1324 is slightly below England`s 2011 India bump of 1333); and didn`t maul sides in a way that would have marked their dominance.

But they got mostly results, more-so than England of the 1950s, which struggled on numerous tours either side of their Ashes victories, and sustained it longer than the bursts of England of 2011, or Australia of 1958-60 and the unknown of South Africa of 69-70. Jarrod has, I suspect nailed it: they were one of the five best sides of all time - though fifth, and ahead of 1950s England, but behind 1960s West Indies - but not great. Just really good. Rabada and an uninjured Steyn and Philander may yet combine to produce a late resurgence that further cements that place, but to sustain greatness, you either need all of your players to be of a similar age, or to maintain a production line of brilliance across a true great`s career. South Africa had some true greats, but the support cast was only briefly good enough to match them.

2 TestsNew ZealandvAustralia
Expected MarginAustralia by 31 runs

Speaking of test championships, the bilateral system heavily favours Australia not playing New Zealand, despite their close geography and multiple sporting connections. There is not a huge amount of money in it, and with their peak summer at the same, it is better for both to have a touring side from other climes. But this is a pity, because although often mismatched, they provide an interesting match-up, and both sets of fans enjoy the buzz of playing each other. A test championship that worked in this series more regularly would help drive interest in NZ cricket, at the exact time they have a team to capitalise on it.

In this series, New Zealand, at home, have an expected margin as close to Australia as they have been since the 1980s when they entered as favourites. This is a harder challenge, and a loss is still the likelier outcome, but a drawn series, as in 1993 would reflect the relative strength of the two sides.

Rankings at 12th February 2016
4.South Africa1121.5
6.New Zealand1048.5
7.Sri Lanka969.4
8.West Indies848.1

17.Papua New Guinea217.6
18.Hong Kong183.6

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 13th February, 2016 09:08:10   [#]