Season Review: 2008-2009
There is always a small pause in the test schedule in September, so, late or not, now is the right time to assess the last 12 months. It also saves me the trouble of extensive series reviews, given they aren't going to happen.
1st: Australia 1219.51 -127.84
A mammoth season, 17 games, 12 of them away to quality sides, 10 of them against teams pushing for the top ranking. A losing record in those circumstances is perhaps unsurprising, but for a team bred on success, this was a bad year, and the ranking drop reflected that. Injuries and loss of form in key players (most notably in Hayden, Hussey, Lee and Clark) haunted the team, and the inexperience and inconsistency typical of a young team stood out. On no less than four occasions good positions were squandered, in Bangalore and Cardiff for costly and series defining draws, and in Perth and Melbourne for soul-destroying losses.
On the other hand, the team that toured South Africa came back with a win and first place in the rankings restored. Johnson proved he could be deadly (if horribly inconsistent), Hughes his potential (if some way off in the future), Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Watson, McDonald and Hauritz as workmanlike but valuable contributors, and Clarke as capable of carrying the batting in times of strife. The loss in the Ashes was a horrible come-down, but the side has potential, and won't stray far from top spot.
2nd: South Africa 1217.08 +13.69
A topsy-turvy year. They played, almost exclusively, Australia. In a striking resemblance to how their foe used to play them, they turned horrible positions around to win the first two tests, before losing the dead rubber in a tight but meaningless draw, to gift Australia their first home series loss since 1992-93. An astonishing performance, but one diminished by the subsequent home loss as their batting fell to pieces in the first two tests. Their youthful team is exceptionally good, but they aren't able (yet) to draw on that strength when required, which would push them ahead of their rivals.
3rd: India 1182.48 +60.51
The stand-out improver of the past year, with a loss-less season across nine games, mainly through their superlative batting that was both aggressive enough to set up wins, and consistent enough to ensure draws when things went awry. There were moments of trouble, against all three of their oppositions, and they ultimately only won a single game more than they drew, which reflects poorly on their bowling (and their home pitches). But their batting has never been stronger, with Gambhir providing the perfect foil to Sehwag's fireworks, and Dhoni the aggressive intent missing from Kumble's captaincy. They might yet take the number one spot before the bating greats retire for good.
4th: Sri Lanka 1129.44 +23.63
Somehow third in the official rankings, but not here, not for flogging New Zealand and Bangladesh, or even overhauling Pakistan across four games, not when their only victories came at home. Sri Lanka are the new India, with four outstanding batsmen in Sangakarra, Jayawardene, Dilshan and Samaraweera, dependent on their spinners, exceptional at home, dismal away, and rarely playing with sufficient intent. The talent is there, even in the fast bowling ranks to do more, but the absence of longer, more meaningful, series hurts their chances of really proving themselves in all conditions.
5th: England 1104.09 -2.37
What to make of England's year? An honourable defeat to India, unable to bowl them out for 387 in the first test, with a draw in the second; but then an inexplicable defeat to the West Indies, with an astonishing collapse for 51 in the first test followed by a succession of draws thanks to lifeless pitches, unplayable surfaces, and spineless captaincy. Yet all that will be forgotten because they won the Ashes, turning three Australian collapses into two victories, and, when the Australian batting did fire, holding out for a draw. Strauss's batting aside, this English side isn't a patch on the 2005 edition, an observation best demonstrated by noting that the consistent but mediocre Cook was their second highest run-getter, and Graeme Swann their highest wicket-taker. The emergence of Broad as an all-rounder and Anderson as a leader bodes well for England, but they continue to give off the aura of a team of journeymen. The South African tour will be very revealing, about both teams.
6th: Pakistan 1073.6 -7.10
An odd year for Pakistan, they played five games, all against Sri Lanka, one of which finished in the most tedious of draws, one finished in a draw when both teams should have backed themselves for victory, two saw them collapse in horrible fashion to lose (once while chasing just 168), and the other guaranteed their home games will be played elsewhere for some time to come. Younis Khan aside, they feature barely at all in the list of run or wicket takers, and saw little change in their ranking. Such is life, one suspects, for a Pakistani cricketer. It should be little surprise that so many of the saw fit to play in the ICL.
7th: New Zealand 945.38 -67.44
After Australia, the worst ranking collapse this year, but from a much higher base. New Zealand played more teams than anyone this year, hosting West Indies and India, and touring Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Yet in 11 games they registered just one win, and a relatively fortuitous victory at that, as Vettori single-handedly pulled a match out from under Bangladesh's nose. Yet, despite looking out-classed n most of their games, the emergence of Ryder, Taylor, Flynn and Guptill with the bat bodes well for a side that has long struggled at the top level. Like Pakistan, New Zealand are a somewhat marginalised team, easily led towards the riches of T20 domestic leagues, and desperately needing more consistent competition.
8th: West Indies 931.79 +15.32
After years of going backwards, the West Indies took one step forward this year, beating England at home (albeit with plenty of luck), but two big leaps backwards, looking hopeless when asked to follow up in the English spring, and then disintegrating (again) into a pay dispute that resulted in a loss to Bangladesh. Like New Zealand, they lack bowling depth, have inconsistent batsmen, and would rather be playing T20 (and in Dwayne Bravo's case, he was). If you ever wonder why people despair for the future of test cricket, point them at the West Indies.
9th: Bangladesh 571.38 +51.77
All it takes is one player to set things right. If New Zealand are a one man band, Bangladesh are a one man orchestra. Sure they are still rubbish, but this is a team moving forward, which is more than can be said for their cellar dwelling rivals. Shakib al Hasan's reputation as a good all-rounder grossly under-estimates his bowling too. Only Mitchell Johnson even came close to him this year, and at a far inferior average: 45 wickets in 8 games at 23.17 with five 5-fors is outstanding, especially when you're only getting one time out in the field in most games. His team still struggled at times, there is a huge gap in abilities between the top five and the bottom; the batting is still weak and prone to rashness, but the change in atitude is palpable, and that counts for a lot.
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24th November, 2009 20:33:04