Ratings - December 2007
Russell Degnan

An early start to December, with the India-Pakistan tour following the heels of the Australia and South African summer warm-ups.

Sri Lanka v Australia

Opening Ratings: Aus: 1441.45 Sri: 1100.60
1st Test: Australia by an innings and 140 runs
2nd Test: Australia by 96 runs
Closing Ratings: Aus: 1447.38 Sri: 1095.58

Sri Lankan cricket has been consistent in the past 5 or 6 years. They've been dominant at home - despite a loss to Australia - and weak away - despite wins over England. Their stars are undoubted quality, but until recently the non-Murali section of their bowling line-up hasn't had the fire-power to do much damage. After the World Cup there were hints that this might be changing. Australian pitches are a good leveller in that sense. Fernando and Malinga enjoyed the pace too much; were too short and punished. Maharoof and Vaas were pedestrian, and Murali seems to inspire AUstralian batsmen to prove something. Ignore the small margin in Hobart. It was only that small because Ponting has confidence in his bowlers - not always well placed. The Australian batting abolutely mauled Sri Lanka: 1303 runs for the loss of 11 wickets. Jacques was lucky at times but cashed in. Clarke and Hussey are in superior form, and Symonds and Gilchrist are not players you want to see at 4 for 400. As well as Sangakarra batted in Hobart, and he looked class in both innings, a win there would have been a travesty.

Uncompetitive in the field, the Sri Lankan batting was always going to struggle. They have been over-dependent on Jayawardene and Sangakarra for some time, so it was no surprise to see them bowled out cheaply without the latter, despite Atapattu's efforts. However, they still asked some difficult questions of the Australian bowling lineup. Johnson showed something, despite being impatient. Clark was probably unlucky, not least because he deserves the new ball. MacGill looked second rate, and with an Indian batting lineup shortly to arrive, his test career must be in doubt. The revelation though, 60 tests into a frustrating and unfulfilled career, was Brett Lee: 16 wickets at 17.56. Important wickets too, at key times, combined with tight bowling, especially in Brisbane. A typically expensive and ineffective Lee probably would have meant both tests petered to a draw on flat unforgiving pitches. In the long run, Australia is weaker for losing McGrath and Warne. In the short term, with a firing Lee, they can still boss teams around.

South Africa v New Zealand

Opening Ratings: Saf: 1122.74 NZ: 1065.59
1st Test: South Africa by 358 runs
2nd Test: South Africa by an innings and 59 runs
Closing Ratings: Saf: 1139.37 NZ: 1034.17

Stephen Fleming was always shrewd, and it may be his shrewdest ploy yet to shake off the captaincy when his side was about to go into a serious decline. There are some solid all-rounders in the New Zealand side - Oram, Styris, Vettori - who, as support for an uninjured Bond could, and do, bowl sides out. But the rest of the batting is as inexperienced and untalented as some of the sides Zimbabwe put out before they lost their test status. This was not a pretty series. After conceding over 100 on first innings despite bowling South Africa out for 226, the loss of Bond was the spur for Kallis and Anla to put on 330. Even 46 not out by the new captain couldn't get them to 200 in the second innings. The second test was the same story, except for the bit about bowling out South Africa cheaply, this time New Zealaned conceded 220 to Amla and Kallis, and it was Fleming scoring 54 (their only half century of the series, though Cumming was well set whne he got injured) in a spineless second innings of 136. Steyn was the destoryer, taking 20 wickets at 9.2, but this series bodes ill for New Zealand cricket.

Forthcoming Series:

India (1158.23) v Pakistan (1080.98)- 3 Tests

Yet another series between these two, but disappointingly not the five tests that befit such a contest. India should, after their efforts in England start favourites, but the absence of Sreesanth and RP Singh puts enormous pressure on Zaheer Khan and the spinners. Pakistan are, as ever, enigmas. Much rests on the twin batting talents of Mohammed Yousuf and Younis Khan, and on whether Shoaib Akhtar decides to play (especially without Mohammed Asif). India, at home, would seem to have the edge. Though questions may be asked of their ageing batting lineup and uneven attack, it is hard to see Pakistan makign enough runs to win games.

Sri Lanka (1095.58) v England (1136.24) - 3 Tests

The ratings imply this should be close, as does the English victory in the oneday series that finished before Sri Lanka's whirlwind tour of Australia. However, neither England's batting nor their bowling lacks the bite of a few years ago. This may not matter, if they can contain Sangakarra and Jayawardene, and if their top-order fins some form. But if not, or if the other Sri Lankan batsmen decide to give some much needed support, the improving Sri Lanka will likely roll a weakening England.

West Indies (8th) 833.77
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 597.99

Idle Summers 21st November, 2007 02:36:55   [#]