Ratings - November 2006
Still no games in the past couple of months, but several series have started while I dithered.
Pakistan (1119.07) v West Indies (832.00) - 3 Tests.
Unfortunately I missed the start of the series, though subsequent events have only emphasised what I would have said in my preview. In previous months I've noted that the West Indies have been on the improve. Depsite being a complete waste of time, the Champions Trophy may indicate the same thing. Test matches are a different matter entirely though. The West Indies seem to have combined the away record of India with the erraticism of Pakistan. Individual brilliance abounds, but it is over-shadowed by patches of undisciplined bowling and catastrophic collapses. The first test drew this out precisely, and the second may yet as well. Pakistan, for their part, showed against England they are an incomplete team - particularly without Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif - overly dependent on the sublime talents of their middle order for runs, and prone to bad ways when chasing wickets. Pakistan would be hugely disappointed to lose though. The West Indies may be on the improve, but they are still not much good.
Australia (1379.29) v England (1223.68) - 5 Tests.
Speculation on this series started pretty much from the moment the 2005 series ended. To say the Australian team wants to win the Ashes back is to grossly understate their approach. After several years of stability, numerous players have been discarded or blooded, before ultimately winding up with much the same side as last year. Martyn, probably unlucky to cop the blame for a collective failure of the entire middle order, has settled back into the No. 4 position, albeit with question marks over his temperament still. Hussey has replaced Katich, and couldn't have done better, while Clarke is lucky to see Watson injured. For the bowling, the injury to Watson complicates selection when it seemed that selecting a luxury in MacGill, Johnson or Tait would be possible. Clark becomes the favoured option, as cover for McGrath, but tomorrow may tell a different story.
For England, the past 18 months has been trying, but also promising. Long-term injuries to Vaughan, Simon Jones, Giles and Flintoff weakened the side. Although Bell came back from the traumas inflicted by Warne, and the introduction of Cook, Panesar were successes, others have question marks over their head. Geraint Jones was dropped, then recalled, despite having done nothign to merit it, neither Anderson nor Mahmood have stepped up, and the loss of Trescothick leaves a hole in the slips coordon as well as the top order. Concerns about the batting depth seem to drive both Jones and Giles selection, highlighting further the pressure on Flintoff to fulfill both aspects of his all-rounder role. A long tail awaits if Flintoff goes back to averaging a mere 30 with the bat; a sub-par bowling performance would shoulder Harmison and Hoggard with wicket-taking burdens ill suited to their penchant for cameos.
For me this series hangs on the English batting. The Australian top-order will not be constrained indefintely. Even in England it scored consistently, if not highly, and there are several batsmen waiting in the wings if the ones chosen cannot do their job. The English lineup is inexperienced, untested in Australian conditions, and having to overcome a determined and focused team. Someone has to score, and score big; no more than a few fifties from the top-order will expose the tail and potentially shatter England's Ashes defence.
The Australian bowling must show much greater discipline than they did in 2005. Easy runs suit the English. Grinding cricket in the sub-continent exposed their flaws. Brett Lee seemed to finally understand this glaringly simple concept last summer. It remains to be seen whether he can maintain it while Pietersen and Flintoff are trying to smite the ball into the grandstand. Sometime tomorrow we'll find out. It promises to be an interesting day.
India (3rd) 1123.44
Sri Lanka (5th) 1113.00
South Africa (6th) 1075.57
New Zealand (7th) 1028.9
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 598.51
23rd November, 2006 01:49:35