There is not much left to say about this series, particularly so far removed from its end. India gave the impression for much of this match - and indeed for the painful 3 weeks of one-dayers that followed - that they'd rather be elsewhere. That happens sometimes, teams beaten before they walk onto the park, and, injured, depleted and harried, only Dravid and an unlikely partnership between Tendulkar and Mishra kept the scorecard respectable.
There is, however, one remarkable addendum to England's season. The ratings are fairly accurate, it is possible for a team to be over- or under-rated, and for the combination to inflate a team's series rating a little. But only very special teams win as well as England won this series. In fact, over 4 or more tests, only four prior teams have got a series rating better than 1480:
South Africa 1969/70 vs. Australia: 1482.15912210745
That is good company to be keeping. It is extraordinary company to be beating by a margin.
Looking back, Zimbabwe just never scored enough runs. But for 150 overs it seemed like they were. Mawoyo's epic 163 not out, carrying his bat for 5 sessions as Zimbabwe made their way to 412 was the most impressive knock by a Zimbabwean since Flower retired, grinding down his opponents with the same determination Zimbabwe had used to overcome Bangladesh in their previous test. Pakistan are a better side than that though, first containing Zimbabwe with 4 wickets from Saeed Ajmal and Aizaz Cheema, then with Younis Khan back in the side and setting down roots, grinding out a lead, albeit helped by some uncharacteristically sloppy fielding.
A draw in the offing, but needing to survive at least 3 sessions, Zimbabwe failed badly in the second innings, only Taibu offered resistance to the spinners, and Price will regret that but for some poor cricket earlier he'd have had a good chance to rolling Pakistan on the final day. Ultimately the result was not far from what you'd expect, but Zimbabwe are competitive, even if a win is unlikely against the middle tier of nations. That is an important start.
Namibia had a lot to prove in this match, having been unfairly kept out of the last I-Cup despite being the finalist the previous edition, and as winners of the I-Shield. Ireland were below strength but still formidable and the game developed into a tense tussle, the Irish eventually prevailing early on day 4. Dockrell was the difference, taking 8/112 for the match, and scoring 53 in support of the unbeaten White (123*). He was equalled in his efforts by Viljoen (7/127, 0 and 87), opening the bowling and batting at 3 but depth and experience told for the Irish in the final reckoning.
There was a Netherlands vs Kenya match before this game, abandoned without a ball bowled; the sort of conditions that will haunt all the main European associates if my experience is relevant. Having suffered from the rain in the previous I-Cup Ireland made sure there were no such issues against an abject Canada. Dismissing Stirling for a brutal 107 (121) gave only brief respite before O'Brien smashed 79 off 59 balls while Cusack, no wallflower, made 81 (127). Bizarrely, having dismissed Ireland quickly at the start of day 2, Canada proceeded to out-pace Ireland, without the successful innings building, bar young Gunasakera 66 (71). van der Merwe took 5, but it was reckless batting, later scorned by their opponents, even if Rizwan Cheema's insane 97 off 45 balls with 10 sixes would have entertained those in attendance. All over inside two days, a good win for Ireland, but even though the injection of youth is welcome, Canada must marry that to common sense cricket lest they continue to drift backwards compared to the other associates.
Rain prevented Sri Lanka suffering the same mauling Australia and India suffered when they crossed swords with England, but hasn't hidden their lack of penetration since Muralitharan retired. Rain again came to play in this series, as it has in the past, and only the first test, played on a testing pitch - though hardly the minefield the ICC cited them for - came to a conclusion. Whatever, the good batsmen flourished well enough, Hussey scored 95 to give Australia a competitive total, made to look brilliant by, unexpectedly, Lyon (5/34) and Watson (3/11), so often dangerous in the right conditions. Australia made an attempt to lose from an impregnible position, collapsing again to 6/112 and 7/130, though Clarke played well for his 60, and the bowlers added some ultimately valuable runs. For a while Jayawardene and Matthews looked an outside chance of making an unbelievable chase, such was their control, but Harris prevailed, and the rest of the team produced only 50 runs between them.
Australia left off where they began in the second test, but rain and a flat pitch prevented them pressing the advantage; while they managed to extract themselves from a diffcult position in the third. A one-nil series win is nevertheless an impressive result for the visitors, even if it comes with caveats. Lyon and Copeland had impressive debuts, but ended the series without impressive averages as the broad but flaky shoulders of Harris and Watson shouldered the load. Carrying Johnson is increasongly problematic. Likewise, Hussey was immense, making two tons and two 90s in 5 knocks, and Clarke, Marsh and Hughes all made important runs, but Ponting continues his rut.
For Sri Lanka, the performance of Herath (16w @ 23.0) and the increasingly impressive Mathews (274r @ 91.3) were the only real bright spots in a series they would have expected to win. The batting still rests largely on the shoulders of the aging Sangakarra and Jayawardene, and the bowling looks threadbare as they rebuild. Having punched above their weight for the past decade they look like they'll struggle for a while now.
Close to full strength, last year's finalists ultimately lacked the firepower to see off Namibia in another interesting game. Flannigan (102) and Coetzer (62) anchored the Scottish innings of 350, Viljoen again opening and taking 5 wickets before heading out to open the batting. In reply, 4 players got to 38, but none got past 51, as Haq took 6/32. That left Scotland free to set a target, a task they arguably took too long in achieving, declaring at 5/296 383 in front, with a Mommsen century. An epic 63 not out off 225 balls from Ya France, and a breezy 88 from Snyman was enough to achieve the draw. Namibia's only 3 points from 2 games, but having played two of the best sides they'll be confident of improving.
A somewhat surprising result, but one Afghanistan escaped from with a draw thanks to the batting of Mohammad Nabi (117 and 35 off 153). The UAE's experienced lower-middle order piled on the runs without anyone scoring a ton, to get to 462, a score Afghanistan should have matched after Nabi and 19 yo. Javed Ahmadi (80) got the score to 3/256. Arshad Ali took 6/45 however to give them a 134 run lead and plenty of time to capitalise. Bizarrely, after a great start, UAE both collapsed and dithered over doing so, taking 28 overs to score their last 40 runs against Mirwais Ashraf, which with Afghanistan still 232 runs behind and 7 wickets down at the close was unnecessarily slow. Nevertheless, the fighting qualities of the Afghans, who faced out another 44 overs after going 6 down must be admired, and the opportunity was lost for the Emirates nation.
I have no idea what to make of these two teams. The ratings say it should be close, and it may well be (notwithstanding the beat-down being applied in the first test), but it is never so easy. Pakistan's selection policy is so random as to make the ratings meaningless from one test to the next. They seem to have a reasonable side, but they are prone to collapse still, and their bowling has an unknown quality to it. Sri Lanka, likewise, look to be drifting backwards, but they've played so many rain-affected tests it is yet to be reflected in the ratings. Pakistan probably ought to win, as a side trying to win is undoubtedly superior to the opposite. Even if they are missing some quality talent, they have never lacked for replacements. If Pakistan's batting fragility returns Sri Lanka have the batting to take a win, and a draw is always on the cards with stacked lineups. Pakistan's bowling to be the difference, however.
This is a series Bangladesh ought to target for a win, but also one they are still likely not to. They can ill afford the sort of political ruptures that saw Shaqib al Hasan stripped of the captaincy. Regardless of the weak result in Zimbabwe, and his innate negativity he is their talisman and was gradually extracting better performances from his team-mates. The West Indies have their own political problems, but played quite well at home against India, even if they had nothing to show for it. They ought to be too good for Bangladesh, though as often seems to be the case these days, games are likely to be decided by one individual performance - the batsman who goes on, or the bowler who induces a collapse - as by the collective efforts of two fragile teams.
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 October, 2011 08:53:49 [#]