A side slowly inching their way back up, versus one slowly moving backwards. For the past half decade this should have been an easy victory for England, but perhaps not. Whether England's own internal turmoil will affect their performance is unknown. What is known is that the players that, only three years ago presaged a bright future, are struggling to live up to that potential. Outside of Pietersen, Strauss and Flintoff, the batsmen too rarely make good runs when they need to, nor the bowlers wickets. While they have given a good account of themselves at times - even in India - their struggles last year against New Zealand are probably a better guide to this series.
Unfortunately for the West Indies they are no different, and probably worse. Outside of Chanderpaul, the batting is either terrible, or frustratingly inconsistent (Sarwan an Gayle). A collapse always seems to loom, and the bowling, while occasionally threatening, is mediocre and too quick to concede runs. The West Indies have had some very good days at home over the past few seasons, but they've never strung enough together to win matches, and series. On that alone, England should win this, but old school fans of West Indies cricket can still hope that this is the series where it all clicks.
An unusual feeling for Australia, being the first series since 1994/95 that Australia aren't expected to win. South Africa are in the enviable position of having too many players to play, with Duminy and Prince needing to slot in, and possibly McKenzie to miss out. Their bowling is equally well placed after a storming one-day victory, and they go in as firm favourites. Nevertheless, they weren't completely dominant in the series in Australia, and will need to keep winning crucial moments to get up.
Australia, having won the final game, and shorn of experienced but woefully out of form "passengers" in Lee, Hayden and Symonds, should be more dangerous than their current one-day form suggests. Much rests on the performances of the young and unknown: Hughes, slotted straight into the top of the order; McDonald or North at six; Siddle, Bollinger and Hilfenhaus (choose two) with the ball; and 36 year old Bryce McGain attempting to exploit old frailties with leg-spin. Hauritz may yet play as well, but with a bowling attack as inexperienced as any to play in the past two decades, Australia will continue to struggle to win key passages of play in the field. The new era in Australian cricket effectively starts now, and this series promises much as a contest, as entertainment, and as fodder for journalists.
The ratings may indicate a Pakistani triumph. However, in their first test series in over a year, missing a number of key players, and playing against a side that defeated them handily in the one-day series, Pakistan should be slight under-dogs. Conversely, Sri Lanka are not a deep side, and have consistently failed away from home in recent years. It is, in other words, a series between two evenly matched and flawed teams. In a better world it would last more than a fortnight.
A series being given surprising importance by India, who, by rights, should win easily, but, on record, could turn out to be embarrassing. New Zealand have a young side, but one that is starting to come together, with several batsmen showing the grit and technique needed to succeed. The bowling is still weak, but at home, and given the carnage they wrecked in Brisbane against Australia, India's batting will need to be watchful. Much will depend on two things: the Indian top order, with Gambhir, Dravid and Tendulkar the technicians capable of consistently playing New Zealand out of any game; and the weather, which may contrive to prevent any play, and any result. It is very hard to see New Zealand playing consistently enough across five days to win games, nor bat long enough to draw them without the weather intervening, but unlike the recent past, they'll put up a fight.
Idle Summers 5th February, 2009 12:03:49 [#]
Ratings - February 2009
Ratings - February 2009