Losing before you begin; Ratings 26th December
Russell Degnan

4th TestIndiavSouth Africa
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 10 runs
Actual MarginIndia by 337 runs
Series rating1329.01044.5

To the extent that the position of teams on my personal rankings is an interesting subplot, the finale to the South African innings threw one up when they finished a mere 8 runs short of maintaining their number one ranking. Had they known and cared, the 5/7 they lost in the final 4 overs of the match might have mattered. As it was, the now familiar script, of a terrible collapse, offset by some decent pace bowling (this time from Abbott) and comparatively ineffective part-time and full-time spin.

The comparison is, perhaps, unfair. Ashwin and Jadeja are well suited to the conditions, and took full advantage, taking 54 wickets between them at 11. The extent of their dominance is best seen in the batting averages where only de Villiers (36.85) averaged over 20 for South Africa. By contrast, Rahane, perhaps one of my favourite young cricketers, with his engaged attitude and intelligent play, showed his class as well, scoring the only two centuries of the series in the final test.

South Africa`s extraordinary 143 over attempt to salvage a draw was admirable, but ultimately they fell well short, owing to their failures earlier in the match; and their total, of only 143, meant that even that level of focus, shorn of shots, would not have changed the series. They lead into their next series against England with many questions over their batting, and the feeling that an era has passed.

2 TestsNew ZealandvSri Lanka
Expected MarginNew Zealand by 74 runs
Actual MarginNew Zealand by 122 runs
New Zealand by 5 wickets
Series rating1123.9888.3

New Zealand showed two sides to their game in this series. In the first, on the back of Guptill`s 156 and Williamson`s 88, they accelerated the first innings and declaring aggressively in the second. Batting 50 overs fewer than Sri Lanka in the match mattered when there were fewer than 50 overs left in the fifth day at the moment of victory, and other sides would have missed the opportunity. In the second, the efforts of Chameera (5/47) left them chasing the game from a 55 run deficit. But the tail ground out 59 extra runs from 5/168 and 47 crucial runs from 5/142 in the chase - by contrast, Sri Lanka lost 5/33 in their first innings and 5/23 in their second. Sri Lanka really ought to have put more pressure on than they did, but they struggle with that, away from home, and Williamson`s ton was sufficient to turn a low scoring match.

New Zealand continue to impress, and a weak series by England in South Africa could see them enter the top-5 for the first time since 2003. Sri Lanka continue their slow decline, no doubt hastened by the retirement of Sangakarra; their lowest ranking since 1999. They have a long way to fall to the West Indies and the teams below, and there was some promise in this performance. But their inability to score more than 300, and the relative innocuity of their pace attack limits their options for winning matches. Herath aside, and then only at home, Sri Lanka don`t have anyone who`ll take a game away in a couple of sessions. And that makes for a rocky path to victory.

1st TestAustraliavWest Indies
Expected MarginAustralia by 223 runs
Actual MarginAustralia by an innings and 212 runs

Jason Holder is a very admirable cricketer. A potentially brilliant one, who ought to be given every opportunity to do so, but is instead saddled as the captain of a team that barely fits the description. Like Darren Sammy before him, he is their best performing bowler, but not a very dangerous one, and a useful batsman, but not capable of playing as a batsman alone (even for this team). Sammy, at least by dint of experience, managed to wrangle the best out of some of his players. Holder appears to be fighting a losing battle to keep his team from arching their necks towards the BBL and joining their countrymen. On the basis of this test, they`d be better off doing so, and abandoning the series to a team that did care.

Holder bowled neat lines, but Voges and Marsh were untroubled in their epic partnership of 449, and he had practically no support. Similarly, Bravo, and Brathwaite can both bat, and proved it, but got 55 runs from the rest of the top-6 combined, over two innings. Australia played well, and managed in the process, to put aside the expectations of an easy victory, and make it happen. Whether Boxing Day can provide some impetus for a better West Indies performance, and even a contest remains to be seen. The rated performance of the West Indies in Hobart would put them 12th on the rankings, and that might be generous. That`s a big hole to climb out of, and a lot to burden a young player with, if Holder is to motivate them to at least look like they are trying.

4 TestsSouth AfricavEngland
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 108 runs

It will be a sweet homecoming for South Africa, having come away from India having failed to come to terms with the spinning wickets that nullified their pace advantage. Yet, England, even potentially without Anderson, have their own pace bowlers who can offer some danger, and the turmoil in the South African batting order remains. The feeling is that this is a series between two flawed, and possibly limited sides, reasonably well matched, with the English rising, and the South Africans falling. The ratings though, project that into the future, and the home advantage, such as it is, ought to be enough for South Africa to win, perhaps comfortably, against a side that remains young, but for a few stalwarts. Steyn`s return will make a huge difference, and expect South Africa to win, but not always have it their own way.

Rankings at 26th December 2015
2.South Africa1204.7
6.New Zealand1048.5
7.Sri Lanka969.4
8.West Indies841.8

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.

Idle Summers 25th December, 2015 23:32:19   [#] [0 comments] 

Women`s WT20 Qualifiers; Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

Thailand played host to the women`s world T20 qualifiers, with Ireland winning the final over Bangladesh and qualifying for the main event. (2:10) Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) joins Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) to discuss that tournament, the Afghanistan-PNG I-Cup match (8:13), the WCL matches between Hong Kong and UAE (12:27), and PNG and Nepal (14:23), plus the other (fairly pointless T20 matches in the UAE (17:26), and the Gulf T20 Cup (19:42). We begin the podcast with some thoughts on Raymond van Schoor, who passed away unexpectedly after suffering a stroke on the field. And there is news from Nepal, with their long-time coach, Dassanayake, has moved on (20:54), from Hong Kong who`ve had their Mission Road ground approved (23:21), the UAE`s plans to professionalise cricket (27:04), and from the ICC (and other`s) wandering into US cricket (28:43).

Direct Download Running Time 38min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate and affiliate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men`s women`s, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Idle Summers 10th December, 2015 18:33:04   [#] [0 comments] 

Interesting pitches, interesting matches; Ratings 1st December
Russell Degnan

2nd/3rd TestAustraliavNew Zealand
Expected MarginAustralia by 156 runs
Actual MarginMatch drawn
Australia by 3 wickets
Series rating1203.71019.6

Given there was some talk before the series that New Zealand`s pace attack and Australia`s fragile batting would combine into a potential series loss for the home side, the eventual victory ought to be well regarded. But the shakiness in Adelaide, and the flatness of the pitch in Perth shows that Australia are no closer to resolving their vulnerability away from home. Many recent batsmen (Warner, Clarke, Hussey) sit high in the list of highest average in Australia, but they also top the list of largest difference in home and away performance.

Perth exemplified why this is true, with a pitch so lifeless it destroyed Johnson, probably Starc, and countless balls. As good as Warner, Williamson and Taylor were, and despite the brief window of opportunity for New Zealand, shut by Smith and Voges, this was a dull match.

Johnson though, deserves a brief valediction. At his fastest, and most accurate, a frightening bowler who could destroy a side, not just with good balls, but with anything. Balls batsmen picked up late, and failed to control. With perhaps no better example than the spell against South Africa in Perth in 2008. Yet, as often as not he was a workhorse, bowling more overs than anyone for several years after that promising beginning, and drifting quickly into mediocrity, punctuated by unexpected success. With the right supporting cast, he won many matches for Australia. With a cast of players like himself, Johnson was a liability if things went wrong. Hopefully with Starc, similar in so many ways, they selectors will learn the lessons and keep him fresh and attacking.

After Brisbane and Perth, a typically dead Adelaide track might have drained all life out of the summer, but whether as a fortunate side-effect of the need to pink ball, the lights, or something else, we got a pitch offering swing, seam and a challenge to batsman growing fat off broken bowlers. The ball held up, the night scenery looked brilliant, and the match delivered a tense outcome, as Australia slid home.

New Zealand will point to Lyon`s DRS escape as a turning point, and they might have won without it, but they ought to have pressed home the advantage anyhow. Letting the tail get away after the reprieve (particularly Starc) and scoring just 410 runs despite 16 players making double figures were the primary causes of their defeat. In the end, both teams played roughly to their ratings, with New Zealand continuing a steady rise, and a close series likely when they return home.

2nd/3rd TestIndiavSouth Africa
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 14 runs
Actual MarginMatch drawn
India by 124 runs

There isn`t much to say about the second test, exept to note that it was South Africa`s best batting performance of the three innings, despite being all out for 214, and that only from some magic from AB de Villiers. Four days of rain does tend to lessen the chance of a result.

The third test provided much the same contest between spin and poor batting as the first two tests; not least because the pitches are made to order, a decision I have no problem with in the slightest. The bowler who first took advantage wasn`t even the spinner, as Morkel answered the call to lead the attack, and moved it everywhere taking 3/35 and 3/19. Rabada is a good prospect but Harmer, Tahir and Duminy weren`t able to match Ashwin (5/32 and 7/66), a master of his home pitches.

Unfortunately, the low totals, achieved in conjunction with some terrible shots, particularly on the Indian side, have led many to conclude that the pitch was worse than it was. It turned, but many wickets were taken with those that didn`t, or for attempts to score when patience was required. South Africa`s batting has looked spooked throughout, shorn of easy runs, and forced to work hard, it has perished. It is not the first, but more pitches like both Adelaide and Nagpur are required if batsmen are to relearn the skill of defence, as well as attack.

I-CupU.A.E.vHong Kong
Expected MarginU.A.E. by 99 runs
Actual MarginHong Kong by 276 runs

Rarely can a team have fallen as quickly from a position of strength as the U.A.E. Impressive in the world cup, albeit winless, they have barely been competitive in any match since, and were thrashed by Hong Kong here. Babar Hayat and Tanwir Afzal scored centuries in the first innings to get the score to 378, and the U.A.E. were never close thereafter, falling for 181 in the second innings, fighting back briefly - a collapse of 7/40 by Hong Kong limited the chase to 382 - but losing 5/1 in 2.4 overs to start day four, and subsiding to a huge loss. Hong Kong cricket continues to make great strides, and they will work their way up the rankings on this performance. But the U.A.E. are heading the way of Canada, and it isn`t pretty.

Expected MarginAfghanistan by 183 runs
Actual MarginAfghanistan by 201 runs

The surprising outcoem of this match was that Afghanistan beat their expected win, despite being 151 runs behind on the first innings. A collapse to Vanua for 144, and a century from Dai had the Papuans well set, but the Afghans can score heavily when they get going, and Shahzad and Stanikzai both made tons on their way to 540. The more important innings - at least in the long term - probably came from Hashmatullah Shahidi, who along with Shabir Noori, scored a lot of runs in their 4-day competition, and is the likely future of Afghan batting. His 112 was grinding (214 balls), but they need players like that.

That platform left a big chase, and Vala`s 81 aside, PNG was never close. The worrying player for them is Lega Siaka, who has scored only 106 runs in his last 11 international innings (across all formats). He is a key player, and their most talented future prospect, but they can`t carry him at the top of the order averaging in single figures. Hopefully, soon, he`ll find and correct whatever it is that is causing his form slump.

Rankings at 1st December 2015
1.South Africa1224.4
6.New Zealand1029.2
7.Sri Lanka980.8
8.West Indies859.2

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.

Idle Summers 3rd December, 2015 01:02:25   [#] [0 comments]