The meaningless familiarity of the contest has obscured what was a genuinely interesting series between two evenly matched sides. The second test pitch was widely panned, but even that game retained some interest until the 4th day; that Raina made a century on debut, whilst coming in four down and 400 runs in arrears seems to have been forgotten entirely. Sri Lanka, for their part, needed to attack earlier and more often, with bat and ball, to force the advantage they'd acquired. Sangakarra's defensive instincts are holding his team back, far more so than his preferred complaint regarding a lack of matches.
The final test was actually a classic, with India demonstrating again, that, under Dhoni, they carry the mentality of a top test side. Ojha and Sehwag provided the impetus, the former sparking a mini-collapse that kept the Sri Lankan score within decent bounds, the latter, first powering India towards a small lead - albeit one they eventually had to grind out via the tail - then picking up key wickets with the ball. Sri Lanka's remarkable collapse on the 4th morning looked like gifting India an easy victory, but Samaraweera - often given short shrift for his 50-plus average - provided a second score of note to set a testing target. Randiv's 5 wickets - an infinitely better game for him than his debut a week earlier - tested the Indian mettle, but he lacked support, particularly from Mendis, Malinga, and his captain.
Like Mark Waugh, Laxman's determination has been overlooked by witnesses to his elegant grace. Elegance is underpinned by time; the ability to score freely in difficult circumstances the same. Laxman might be forever over-shadowed by his contemporaries, but perhaps more than any of them, he can point to innings of substance when it was most required.
Two tests marked by mostly woeful performances by Pakistan. Their bowlers, probably comprising the finest attack in test cricket, have stood valiantly between the abyss that turns a crumbling loss into an abject surrender, undone by shoddy fielding (the reverse of which would have made the games significantly closer) and poor batting. Despite his youth, Aamer has shown the batsmen up as well, batting longer than any team-mate in the first two tests, albeit without scoring many runs. England, for their part, are playing only well enough to win easily, when gifted the game. Morgan and Prior's (gifted) centuries in the first test prevented the scorecard looking embarrassing, but Pakistan's abysmal batting made the runs moot anyway. Similarly, Pietersen and the second test, where Butt's surprising decision to bat first meant the game was effectively over by stumps. The bowling is playing well, but with all eyes now training themselves on the first test in Brisbane, it isn't clear whether destroying a pathetic batting line-up in swinging conditions is an irrelevant side-show, or a portent of things to come.
There is a certain A quality to the game that makes me wonder if it is worth including. Both sides were missing their county players, but the result was probably unaffected, as Ireland's depth and experience shone through. Dockrell will no doubt be the next to cross the Irish Sea, picking up four wickets in the first innings, but barely required in the second. The comprehensive nature of the win means Ireland still have some chance of making the final, but other games have gone against them, and it is likely their inability to close out games earlier in the tournament will prevent them going through.
An eagerly anticipated clash, with the winner almost certain to make the final, and the loser hard-pressed to keep out the lurking Zimbabwe XI. My suspicion, was that Afghanistan would struggle if the ball swung, being unfamiliar with the conditions, but had the bowling to win if the batting held up. Batting first, Afghanistan put a weakened Scottish side - like the teams above, missing their county players - to the sword, running up 435 before unleashing Hamid Hassan. His five wickets and the disciplined bowling of his team-mates left Scotland in tatters, all out 139. A little surprisingly, they chose not to enforce the follow-on, but they should definitely have scored faster and declared earlier than 546 runs in front. Another five-for for Hassan just prevented Scotland from achieving the draw, but Afghanistan should count themselves fortunate, given their defensiveness. Regardless of their result against Kenya, Afghanistan should move through to the final. Scotland will face Zimbabwe in the final game, needing either an outright or (if they are lucky) a first innings win to progress.
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 19th August, 2010 09:55:10 [#]
Ratings - 18th August 2010