A dead rubber, between a dispirited and deeply negative opponent, and an Australian side that, if nothing else, can still kick a team when its down. Things may have been different if Ponting's reckless pull shot on nought had not gone to ground, but Australia's summer is best summarised as mediocre cricket against two sides eager to self-destruct. For Pakistan, inexperienced and still feeling their way back into the test arena, this series will hopefully be a learning experience. Their talent is being squandered on daft dismissals, poor fielding and negative cricket. Test cricket is about patience and consistency of performance, and Pakistan have neither.
Perhaps the big winner from this series will be England, now likely to face the same aging and brittle batting line-up that failed so badly last year. With both sides playing with one eye on the Ashes, the failure of Australia's selectors to redress glaring problems could haunt them badly come December.
South Africa might breathe a sigh of relief that, finally, their bowling breached the English defences. They'll feel, having failed twice to close out games, that the 1-1 scoreline isn't reflective of their dominance over-all. There is, however, a reason that chess puzzles focus on the end-game. South Africa should look take a hard look at the composition of their side, which, talented as it is, isn't getting the results it might. The batsmen are too often getting out for middling scores and scoring slowly when big tons and attack are required. The bowling is good, but they seem to play within themselves, going through the motions waiting for something to happen. Great sides make something happen.
England too, should look at their side. The number 3 position is still problematic, and only the grit of Collingwood and Bell in the middle order prevented this series being a sound defeat. The bowling too is weak, lacking the power to prize out wickets on unhelpful decks, and, much as Swann has been a revelation, he, like his fellow trundlers, averages on the wrong side of 30. They showed strength of character, however, and for that alone will feel they have got something out of this series.
The rise and rise of Bangladesh. Those who remember the seemingly endless string of innings defeats will know what I am talking about. A ratings system, like mine, that focuses on the margin of defeat can't help but note that Bangladesh are accelerating towards a respectable rating under Shakib Al Hasan. Sure, their batsmen still play pathetic shots - none more so than Mohammad Ashraful - but their captain believes in them, vowing, to the general mirth of reporters, to push for an unlikely victory chasing 415, and via a brilliant century by Mushfiqur Rahim, continuing to go for the win even when all seemed lost. Perhaps noone cares, but my mirth was there when the arrogantly proclaimed number 1 team in the world failed, by just 2 runs, to defend that spot under my system. No doubt they will get it back, but it remains a disputed title, mathematically, not emphatically the case.
Despite easing to victory, India have their worries. Their batting failed here, Tendulkar and Gambhir aside. Perhaps it was arrogance (certainly on Sehwag's part), and can be discarded as such, but a similar performance against South Africa in a month would see them lose. Bangladesh still search for that elusive big name win, but it gets closer, as the consistency of their performances improves, so too do their chances of achieving it.
With neither side playing very often, the predicted closeness of this match is probably worthless, but likely accurate. The U.A.E. defeated reigning I-Cup finalist Namibia in their last match and are likely better than their rating reflects. Uganda, I know little about, except that their players like defecting, and they are regarded as an emerging nation with some reasonable results to show for it.
An intriguing match-up between the best team amongst the associates and the fastest improver. Ireland will be slightly under-strength, suffering from recent retirements, injuries and English defections, but have Niall O'Brien and Porterfield. They will also be keen, having drawn their previous games and in need of a win. Afghanistan are quickly proving their mettle, having drawn with Zimbabwe and beaten the Netherlands by a single wicket. The neutral Sri Lankan wicket should nevertheless favour the Afghans. With the ratings unable to adequately reflect sides that play so rarely expect a surprise.
Also an intriguing game, between the top two sides on the table. Kenya have fallen in recent years, their best players aging or retired, and the youth not up to the same standard. Nevertheless, while Scotland might count themselves fortunate to have scraped a win and draw to date, Kenya annihilated Canada and were not out of it when the game ended against the Irish. Tikolo remains the key, given his ability to hit big hundreds (a rarity at this level) and take crucial wickets. If he is in form, at home, Kenya should win.
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 21st January, 2010 13:18:48 [#]