It is worth starting with the pitch. For many years Brisbane basked in the reflected glory of Australia's great players, offering bounce and pace to McGrath and others, bounce and some turn to Warne, and a flat surface for the Australian top-order. It had a reputation for fairness and offering a little to everyone. At the other end of the ledger, were often test cricket's weakest batting lineups, and often most limited bowlers. In the past two decades it gave a lot to Australia, and nothing to New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (sans Sangakarra), who sustained twelve losses in thirteen games. Australia averaged over 50 per wicket in the past two decades, but layed South Africa and India only twice, both draws, along with two more against England. Against decent lineups, without two of the game's greatest bowlers, Brisbane's result pitch has been a road. To be fair, this game might have produced a result, without the rain, that further delayed the drying process, and negated Australia's final push for victory. But then Australia were playing against ten men, at least one of whom was superflously included as a fourth seamer, any tactical merits of which were negated by batting first. With Adelaide and Perth to come - both notoriously flat unless the heat bakes and crumbles the surface, which won't happen in late November - we might be looking at a rather tedious series.
Unless one side collapses, that is. Steyn can take wickets anywhere, when the mood strikes, and Australia's top order still hinted at vulnerability, despite Cowan's century, and Clarke's remarkable dominance. Serveral of the bowlers failed ot help themselves, bowling no-balls, and costing themselves vital break-throughs. The umpiring referral of these is an abomination, not least because the so-called "technology" being used is decades old, but only recently implemented. If the ICC was serious about removing incorrect calls it would invest in technology that made the calls automatically, and informed the central umpire. Tennis has had no issue doing so on lets and faults - though even they implemented a half-baked review system. Cricket ought to do the same.
A final non-cricketing note on crowds. The first day was unexpectedly good, although given this was the first non-English marquee side to play the Gabba, it ought to have been. English writers harp on them, but several differences are worth noting. Australian crowds can afford to be fickle; the grounds are never full, so patrons can choose which day they attend - or not attend, if they'd planned to go on Saturday. Tickets are not cheap, but they aren't so outrageous they won't choose to go home (or to the beach) before play ends, which leaves large areas of the stands empty for periods. And finally, the catchment for Brisbane (around three million) is a tenth of English grounds, where distances are shorter to travel. 45 thousand across four days is not a great crowd, by any means. The MCG will cater for 160 thousand for a lesser team, albeit during holidays, and a slightly larger population. But with such vast grounds, weekday games, and such an unattractive setting - not the seating, which is awesome, but the food and drink - at prices that mitigate against attending multiple days, it is inevitable that the last couple of days are played to empty grounds. Cricket Australia seems comfortable with highly differential pricing that reserves the best seats for a few patrons, and a largely empty ground. I don't doubt they've done the figures. Crowd sizes have been fairly consistent the past decade. It would be nice if they were bigger, but there is no easy solution.
The crowd in Dhaka looked, by contrast, to be healthy, or at least noisy. Bangladesh may be looking on this match as another missed opportunity. 245 is a difficult target, but not ungettable, even on a turning pitch - and in any case, they were undone by the pace and bounce of Tino Best and some poor shots. Conversely, when the opposition declares at 4/527, you don't really deserve to win, evne if they have collapsed from 1/209 to 273 all out on the fourth day. Better then to focus on a few positives. their batsmen worked hard throughout the first innings, although none went on the way Chanderpaul did for the West Indies, they had six scores over 40 and three over 89. Sohag Gazi survived Gayle's comtempt to take 9/219 for the match, taking some pressure off Shakib, who struggled with the ball, and needs relief from carrying all aspects of the side. And they seem to have dropped only the one catch, which compares favourably with the 45.6% Charles Davis recorded them putting down last year. They still need to improve their fielding, because they leak too many runs, which allows the opposition more time to attack them, and the chases harder. But they've had worse results and their rating continues to improve.
For the West Indies, who just missed their margin of victory, and for a period looked like losing the match, this was another sign of increasing resilience. Neither Gayle nor Samuels performed, but Powell made twin tons, and got support from Chanderpaul, Ramdin and Bravo. The wickets were shared, which is also a good sign. Sammy will hopefully think better of declaring before he's had a slog, and as usual they suffered a lot from a couple of poor hours. They can afford to do that against Bangladesh, but they'll be made to pay against better sides, and almost were here. A win for the West Indies, but not a good one.
Five players dominated this game. For India it was Sehwag, who brutalised the English bowling on the first morning; Pujara whose double ton was a master-class in working the ball; and Ojha, whose consistency of line and length and willingness to flight the ball got just reward. England's mistakes were many in combating those three. Except Anderson and Swann, who took five wickets, they bowled too short and too straight, allowing the easy runs that you cannot afford in India. Against the spinners they poked forward and waited, even to flighted balls, allowing Ojha and Ashwin to control the parameters of flight and turn that would bring them undone. The exceptions were Cook and Prior, who scored significantly more than half of England's runs, eschewed the straight drive, and either waited on the back foot, or stepped well out to the flighted ball to nullify the spin. Cook's twin innings were both majestic and futile in the same manner as his coach's efforts here a decade ago.
England's dilemna is that their best outside bowling options are to replace one or both of Broad or Bresnan for Finn or Panesar. With the batting already a little flaky, losing another 20 runs with the bat (and more again in the field) might seem injudicious. But if either can keep the runs down, they'll make that back even if they don't take wickets. Whether Finn - who can be erratic, but ought to be more dangerous from his extra pace and natural bounce - or Panesar - whose accuracy tends towards a repeatability that hasn't taken many wickets against good batting - can make up for that batting shortfall with the ball is doubtful. India's pacemen, particularly Yadav, were very good, taking wickets at vital junctures and getting the old ball to reverse swing. The best performing sides in India in recent years - South Africa and Australia - have done so led by pace attacks, but demonstrated patience. Unless Dhoni gets the dust-bowl he is apparently hankering afer in Mumbai, the best bet is to focus on the fundamentals that England, only 12 months ago, were very good at. Not that any of that will matter if their middle order continues to put down roots at the crease.
England carrying so many players somewhat masked the same problem in the Indian side. They got relatively few runs from their lower order, and let Cook and Prior score heavily. That happens in India, and Dhoni is very patient to the point of being inactive. Nevertheless, they need more from Ashwin, and the clouds continue to hang over Gambhir and Tendulkar. I won't err into saying England can only get better, and the next match tighter, as England can certainly get worse, and India can certainly get better. But there is a lot of cricket left in this series, and lots of room for change.
Bless New Zealand, whose incompetent batting allowed space to write this review between tests. This was a low scoring match, played on a typically spin-friendly Sri Lankan wicket, immediately putting New Zealand at a big disadvantage. Herath (11/108) took full advantage, particularly amongst the lower order, and Southee's bets efforts torestore parity were undone by Jayawardene and Mathews 156 run partnership. New Zealand managed an interesting record in their second innings, making the fewest runs of any side where 8 or more batsmen made double figures. Several batsmen might count themselves unlucky in the second innings, but it was their inability to score freely that haunted them. Their top order struggled throughout to score at more than 2 an over, allowing Sri Lanka to dictate play. New Zealand's rating thus continues to slip downwards, likely to drop below 850 for the first time in fifteen years, if not lower. Sri Lanka maintain their reasonable home record, but it seems a long time since they played games anywhere else. Even compared to West Indies versus Bangladesh, this series seems an after-thought, with neither side having much to prove, or to offer.
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 20th November, 2012 17:03:55 [#]