Many low scores but not all bad, ratings 3rd August
Russell Degnan

1st TestSri LankavAustralia
Expected MarginAustralia by 94 runs
Actual MarginSri Lanka by 106 runs

We could dwell on Australia's failures in this match: their hard hands and poor footwork; the shot-selection of Smith and Nevill that turned a sizable first innings lead into an opportunity to taste defeat; the marked sameness of Lyon's bowling striving too much for bounce or his inability to prevent runs on the on-side; or the scattershot of Mitchell Starc whose average is fine but needs a plan for his second and third spells. They are largely reprisals of the same failures that occurred in previous matches, particularly Asia. Sri Lanka aren't a good side, but Australia outside their comfort zone aren't either.

Instead let's focus on Herath and Sandakan. Sandakan (4/58 and 3/49) is the more obviously exciting player, and certainly the easier to commentate on, turning the ball sharply in to right-handers with a wrong-un that left Mitch Marsh bemused.

But Herath (4/49 and 5/54) has a subtler skillset that creates openings where none seem apparent. Every ball could loosely be described as left-arm orthodox, there is no doosra, but his arm follows a variety of paths, from high to low, the ball comes out flat to looped, the pace sharp to held up, the spin skidding or cutting, the bounce at the ankle or riding the bat. The batsman who uses his feet will often fail to make it to the bounce, the one who plays for spin will see it thud into his pads, the one prodding at something innocuous feeling it rise off the edge. Its the work of a master, and it needs to be better appreciated, not least in how we can describe and analyse the way he goes about it.

Mendis needs acknowledging too: 176 off 254 balls when the next best score is 55, on track for the Bannerman record for much of his innings. He showed, again, that the Australian bowling can be attacked and defeated.

Conversely, Nevill and O'Keefe (and to an extent Voges) showed that you can face out a relatively large number of overs against Herath without being dismissed. But they need to be able to score too, and it isn't clear that, Smith's nudges and Marsh's wallops aside, that they know how that will happen.

1st TestZimbabwevNew Zealand
Expected MarginNew Zealand by 183 runs
Actual MarginNew Zealand by an innings and 117 runs

Interestingly, and disturbingly for the quality of the ratings, Zimbabwe missed their expected margin by the least of the four losers last week: 184 runs. It also wasn't a substantially worse loss than West Indies versus India, nor Pakistan versus England, though it was to a (marginally) inferior side. That's the positives. The negatives are that they were 8/72 and 5/86 in their two innings, compared to 6/576 when New Zealand pulled the plug on their innings.

Their shortcomings are also difficult to fix. Five batsmen were shot out to short balls from Wagner, others to Boult's swing. Neither of which they can easily practice against. They fed Taylor and Watling's cut and pull shots, implying poor lengths, but they lacked penetration, with Watling in control for 97% of his deliveries. The comparable figure for Sean Williams 119 was just 85%, and more often than not, innings of that type are short. If the two tier championship gets up they'll benefit from playing against Afghanistan and be competitive with their peers, but they'd be at risk of further relegation too. With an impoverished board and better opportunities elsewhere, maintaining interest in becoming a good Test cricketer is going to be very difficult regardless of what happens.

Expected MarginAfghanistan by 158 runs
Actual MarginAfghanistan by an innings and 36 runs

The Netherlands had seemingly turned around their dire four-day record in this tournament with tight victories over Scotland and the UAE. But with only one score above 230 in their three matches to date, the seeds of their failure against Afghanistan were already planted. Dawlat Zadran (4/32) and Yamin Ahmadzai (5/29) blew through the Dutch on the opening morning, and the visitors were in front, 4 wickets down by stumps. As with the previous match, the batting of the youthful Shahidi (83) and Rahmat Shah (51) bodes well for a team in need of renewal. The team as a whole failed to string together partnerships, but all but the tail got into double figures and built a 195 run lead.

Rippon followed his 5/79 with 80 in the second innings, scored at good pace, but supported by noone, as the match finished inside two days. Another young player, Zahir Khan, taking 4/29. Afghanistan briefly top the table on the back of the win, but they need to defeat Ireland or hope they drop points - which is likely, with the hardest draw and two home matches to play - if they are to stay ahead. The cup is not yet a two horse race, but it is becoming increasingly likely that it will be. It needs Hong Kong, who play all three teams ahead of them, and Scotland, who have three winnable matches and the Irish to challenge.

Rankings at 3rd August 2016
5.South Africa1121.5
6.New Zealand1028.4
7.Sri Lanka952.0
8.West Indies848.1

17.Papua New Guinea228.1
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 3rd August, 2016 10:23:13   [#]