Australia plays moneyball, ratings 29th October
Russell Degnan

1st TestBangladeshvEngland
Expected MarginEngland by 215 runs
Actual MarginEngland by 22 runs

Without hyperbole, one of the closest and tensest Test matches in history. Plenty has been written about the performances of the key players: Stokes, Shakib, Tamin, Bairstow, Moeen and Sabbir Rahman, whose second innings 64 not out harked back to the trial by fire of Justin Langer. What was most remarkable was the evenness of the chase. Neither side were ever on top, with Bangladesh always slightly behind, except briefly before Batty got one to kick on Mushfiqur, and before the fall of the third wicket.

This evenness is remarkable when you consider how rare it is for a game to be balanced. Teams chasing less than 20 runs per wicket tend to win 80 or more percent of matches, dropping to less than 20% when they need more than 30 runs per wicket. For almost all of Bangladesh's chase though, they sat in between those two averages, never getting ahead, but never so far behind that the game was gone. But that also meant forever teetering on the edge.

Falling just short is no barrier to overall success - Australia have made a habit of it for decades - and if anything, the confidence that they can match a side like England over five days ought to herald a new era of better results. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get over the hump. In the meantime, their rating kicks a little, and the chance to break into the top eight in a year or two beckons.

2nd TestPakistanvWest Indies
Expected MarginPakistan by 158 runs
Actual MarginPakistan by 133 runs

Like England, Pakistan failed to beat their expected margin against the West Indies, but they were never in danger of a loss, having declared at lunch on the fourth day with 455 runs to play with. The match played out more or less as expected. Younis Khan (127) returned and he and Misbah (96) allowed Pakistan to post 452 in the first innings. Once again, the West Indies leaked too many runs, though at least Gabriel and Holder were in the wickets. Bravo, opening was the top-scorer with 43 in their disappointing reply. The total of 224 was beneath the follow-on, but with time, a day's worth of bowling behind them and Yasir Shah eyeing the pitch, it was no surprise to see Pakistan out for another two sessions.

It was Yasir (6/124) who ground his way through a stiff West Indian resistance. Eight players passed double figures, with Blackwood (95) and Brathwaite (67) top-scoring and Chase and Hope soaking up nearly a session of deliveries between them. Given the expectations, this tour has not been a bad one for the West Indies. But it isn't clear they have a path to victory given their bowling attack. For most of the past decade their bowlers have sprinkled rare days out - such as Bishoo in the first test - with struggle. Their recent batting has occasionally been gritty, but they've had only five 150 run partnerships in the past three years, three of which involved Chanderpaul. The top six nations have, by contrast, had a minimum of 18. Ultimately that is talent, but it is a talent gap without any "franchise" players to build around either.

2 TestsZimbabwevSri Lanka
Expected MarginSri Lanka by 173 runs

For Zimbabwe, there may be more riding on this match at home against a middling ranked full member than meets the eye. As the ICC's slow march towards a Test championship or something they can rebadge as such continues, the question of mismatched games against the weaker full members looms over the discussion. Sri Lanka's habit of destroying weaker sides in the early 2000s was one of the reasons Zimbabwe voluntarily withdrew from Test competition.

This match, against a much weaker side, but one that showed plenty of ability and promise against Australia, will clearly highlight the divide between the bottom and those who might soon find themselves at the bottom. A close and compelling match will do much to encourage a kinder appraisal of future match-ups. A blow out may reinforce the widely held belief that it is a waste of time entertaining the top and bottom. With Bangladesh bridging the gap, the African side might find themselves stranded on the wrong side of the river.

3 TestsAustraliavSouth Africa
Expected MarginAustralia by 89 runs

Home sweet home. In the past couple of years Australia have turned into the worst travellers in world cricket. Their record at home, on bouncing flat tracks that reward batsmen who can pull and cut, and bowlers with pace and patience, is exemplary. South Africa are better suited than most to challenge Australia at home, and have won the series on their last two tours. The challenge for them will be consistently backing up their bowlers with enough runs. Their last series against England was marked by some very high totals and some horrid collapses. Starc in particular is capable of ripping through a lineup and both sides are capable of losing a match in a session.

Some comment has been raised on the choice of Mennie over Bird on batting grounds. There is merit to the argument given how little separates the two players on first class bowling averages, and how vast the gap in lower order runs. The alternative argument, that you should always choose the better bowler regardless of the gap in their bowling, or the runs another contributes with the bat or in the field, would logically mean giving up 20 or 30 runs with the bat for a 1 or 2 run gain with the ball. Good bowlers are far and away the most valuable players in Test cricket, regardless of whether they contribute with the bat, but they need to be obviously better than the alternative. Bird, excellent player as he is, probably isn't, and in any case, there is no guarantee either would get a cap in Perth.

Rankings at 29th October 2016
5.South Africa1113.1
6.New Zealand1009.2
7.Sri Lanka981.7
8.West Indies831.6

16.Papua New Guinea249.9
18.Hong Kong217.0

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 29th October, 2016 17:30:43   [#]