It seems hard to believe that 3 1/2 years ago Dhoni was being lauded by commentators for his aggressive fields and batting, in contrast to the passive Kumble who let tests drift to draws with Indian ascendant. Now, apparently, it is Kumble's fight that is needed to pick India up. Dhoni's passivity in Melbourne and Sydney surely cost them when opportunities to attack presented themselves. the Indian captain can counter that with the undeniable truth that a captain cannot attack with runs leaking to all parts of the ground. The bowlers, similarly, will argue that the fieldsmen cost them more runs than their Australian counterparts.
Australia's batting remains far from strong though, and outside Sydney, India's bowlers have performed well enough. Unlike in England where they were beset by injuries they could call on quality players. Yet they let certain sessions either drift, or be taken away from them. Yadav has plenty of potential, but leaks too many runs, Zaheer needs support from the other end, Ishant a reminder that he hasn't achieved anything of note. Last season, England's gaps in wicket-taking were filled with dry lines and sustained pressure that kept them on top until something happened. In Perth, India chose the worst possible batsman to feed several poor balls an over. Warner's innings was attacking without being foolish, as evidenced by Cowan scoring at nearly a run-a-ball as well. It was incredible hitting, and it effectively finished the game after Australia's earlier dominance with the ball. Without the 150 gifted runs of that session, Australia would have faced a trying 3rd day chase, not won with an innings and some to spare.
Australia might well be asked why they persisted with Johnson for so long. Without his erratic lines the others have looked capable or better in every test. With Cummins, Pattinson and Lyon outside the XI, and the promise of Faulkner and others, it seems unlikely a place can be found for an enigmatic bowler who manages to put it together only one game per season.
A final word on India's batting, which has let them down badly, starting with the openers, and only kept from total collapse by Tendulkar, Dravid (still well below their best) and in Perth, a fortunate Kohli. Kohli made a comment to the effect that they were unlucky coming in and out of sessions. He is right, except the bit about luck. In the 5 overs at the start or end of a session India lost 13/126 in Perth; in the rest of the session, 7/205. Australia, by contrast, made 119/3 and 250/7. It is a statistic that speaks of a lack of either fitness, concentration or effort; and a problem Australia has ruthlessly exploited. Those wickets late in the session did more to hurt India than any single factor in Perth; the heat no doubt takes some blame, as it saps enery and concentration, but players can train for that, and that ultimately, is where India's trouble stem from. Unlike England last summer, they weren't prepared to face the unique tests Australia poses, and they've come up well short. The series moves to Adelaide with India ranked fifth; such is their fall, that they will need a decent performance to stay above Sri Lanka.
A difficult to predict series, with both teams on runs of form that might be luck, but might be indicative that their rating is well under. Although this game is being played on neutral territory, the UAE is expected to suit Pakistan more than England, although (unsurprisingly) the latter have had the more professional build-up. The ICC XI game was an interesting one, slightly contrived to get a result, but far closer to expected - ratings-wise, if England is the baseline, the ICC XI played at the same level as South Africa. England's batting struggled badly in that game, mostly due to uncharacteristically loose shots, although they chased down 261 to win, they'll have to play better against Pakistan, who've recently shown the patience to compile big scores and the skill to defend them.
England's bowling attack has been subject to much speculation, between those who'd prop for Panesar as second spinner, Tremlett or Finn who'll struggle to find the bounce and pace they like, and Onions, back from injury and something of an unknown. Or five bowlers, generally disliked by anyong sensible enough to realise that if you need five bowlers (100+ overs), you almost certainly need an extra batsman too. Not enough tests have been played on the ground for me to guess at what they ought to do; those that have been played here have often been boring draws, and neither batting lineup is likely to collapse and gift victory if that is the case.
If a team does gift victory, it will probably be Pakistan, whose recent strong record is predicated on playing weak teams, and might become very bogged down against a tighter bowling lineup, or be found out as completely ineffective against circumspect batting. If England play anything like their form in the past 12 months they will win comfortably. Pakistan are perfectly capable of achieving the other three results as well.
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 17th January, 2012 15:20:07 [#]