In an evenly matched series with two conservative captains it is unsurprising that the final test was a draw, but it was still disappointing that neither side wanted to risk failure on the final day. In like circumstances 50 years ago the tied test could equally have finished as a tame draw, if not for the enterprise shown by both sides. To be fair though, South Africa are less culpable, already deep into the tail, they still managed to accelerate their scoring late on the fourth day, without ever reaching a total they could declare at that wouldn't be considered generous. With eight of the wickets falling to spin, and only Paul Harris to turn to, South Africa could count themselves fortunate that Kallis had provided them with a platform from which to push for victory at all.
A stalemate ensued on the final day, with India unwilling to hit Harris out of the attack - or at least spread his fields to keep the score progressing - and Harris unable to breach impeccable defences. The final result of the series was a fair reflection on the two sides, and reinforced both their respective claims to be rated number one, and their inherent weaknesses: India's lack of bowling depth and occasional (inexplicable) batting collapses; South Africa's dependence on Steyn for inspiration, and mediocre output from some of their side.
India relinquish the number one spot, but will travel to England in their next tour needing only tight results to reclaim it.
There is very little worth saying about the Sydney result. Australia played as a beaten opponent does, always aware that England would strike with the ball, or consolidate with the bat, even when the match position could be read as a position of strength - as 1/105 batting in the first innings, and 5/226 bowling to England were.
For England to be in this position is remarkable, but no more than they deserve. It was a series in which everything went right for one side. England were favoured with injuries, losing only Broad, but had strength in depth and planned for it, while Australia played injured and old players, for whom a long series is difficult. The weather, the wettest summer on the east coast of Australia for decades, favoured the English players, but also reflect a greater technical ability to deal with conditions - a recurring problem for Australia, and one previously solved by having players play county cricket. The toss was rendered irrelevant by England's confidence that they could bowl first, successfully, and force a win from that position.
By the finish, Australia were a rabble, partly because England made them so, and partly because by the time frailties had been recognised in the lineup, the opportunity to rebuild had passed. Back in July, the frustrations of a poor series against Pakistan led me to state that the hubris infecting the side could lead to a flogging, but for the first three tests Australia maintained an equilibrium more in keeping with my first test prediction that the series would be close, but Australia needed to win in Brisbane.
Their ignominious collapse in the last two tests reflects a crisis only if the present denial of circumstances is allowed to persist. Several players, key players, are clearly too soft when attacked intelligently. Like the English team of 06/07, the Australian players seem incapable of thinking for themselves, and are too reliant on process. That can be changed, with the right personnel in the right positions, as England have proven. There are other structural problems with Australian cricket that need addressing, but that can wait. For now, the ratings now put Australia somewhere between an average side and a good one, and England somewhere between a good side and a great one.
The tourists have a depth of bowling talent and youth to carry them forward for several years at least. If word out of county cricket is accurate, then longer than that still. More than any other side in world cricket they have a ruthlessness and belief that great sides need. Whether they can maintain that against tenacious, high-scoring opposition remains to be seen.
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 15th January, 2011 12:49:32 [#]