A test reminiscent of Perth 1992/93. There, like here, Australia entered the final test poised on the verge of toppling the number one team, having failed to close a test match in Adelaide - losing then, drawing now. Then Ambrose destroyed Australia, before the batsmen assaulted the Australian bowling - or at least at the time it seemed that way at the time. Here Australia got the first punch in, but after that the script was the same. Steyn is more Marshall than Ambrose but he carries the same menace and fear, and a Perth pitch offering a little bit exposed the soft underbelly of the Australian batting.
I didn't see much of this match, just the highlights, which do scant justice to the efforts of Smith, Amla and de Villiers, nor accurately portray the quality of the Australian attack. Given an opportunity to press the advantage, South Africa managed to produce a higher gear on the second day that Australia couldn't manage throughout the series, and that ultimately decided the series.
In a series dominated by batsmen, Australia will probably be concerned that most of their run-scoring came from Clarke and Hussey, while South Africa's resilience came in large part from the consistency of contributions. Steyn and Morkel headed the wicket-taking, but it was when they took them, rather than how many. South Africa are definitely beatable, but they arent easily beaten, and you cant say the same about their nearest competitors. Their ranking is gradually reflecting the same.
Home advantage being extra significant for both sides notwithstanding, England were rated to win this game and they did. It is a measure of how far and how quickly India has fallen that they aren't expected to win at home, even if England remain a good side. This was a much more even performance from the tourists, and a much more worryign performance from the hosts. From Sehwag's comical runout onwards this innings was a mess. Tendulkar held it together but never really looked comfortable doing so, and 316 never looked like enough if England played reasonably.
Naturally Cook scored a century, and a big one, only ended with an unfortunate (and unusual) runout. This innings displayed a dominance of the bowling that is unusual for Cook, without ever going so far as to suggest he was playing shots on anything other than his terms. Ojha was again the only bowler with any penetration, and the second innings was a strangely predictable shambles, only saved by Ashwin - a player almost certainly a better batsman than bowler. The only surprising aspect was that Anderson and Finn were the primary wicket-takers, as they got their line and length right.
India can still draw this series, and there is no reason why they shouldn't. But they need to fix the basics of their game, their running and catching; their energy and intent; their shot selection and basic discipline while bowling. If they can do that, they will at least be competitive. But after more than a year of performances where they have mostly failed in that task, maybe more is required than a gee-up.
Australia's last visit to Bellerive was something of a disaster, if a greatly entertaining one, but it is hard to see the same happening this time. Sri Lanka have struggled recently; a drawn series at home to New Zealand was the worst of a line of progressively poorer results that have followed the retirements of Murali and Malinga and the ageing of their batting core. The one shining light has been Herath, finally emerging from the shadows. The record of spinners in Australia, from mediocre to great, wrist, finger, left-arm or right, is almost universally terrible. Herath will be very unlikely to buck that trend, and the back-up in pace form is not inspiring.
There is always the outside chance of an Australian collapse and a Sri Lankan master-class, but all the data points to Australia scoring well, if not havily, and Sri Lanka struggling with the bounce and pace of whoever Australia choose to (or are forced to) play. Unsettled is the polite term for Australia's top four, and numerous have been the calls to push Clarke up from where has been scoring prolifically, to a position where has routinely failed. On present form, he probably wouldn't fail, but sorting out a top four from the various contenders would seem a simper strategy. In large part, the half-bowling-not-quite-scoring-runs Watson is the biggest issue, as he hasn't justified a top-order spot, nor really, number six, except as a bowler or some talent, but too few overs. Most likely, those picked will successfully see off the Sri Lankans before setting off another round of criticism when they get to India. In the meantime, let's hope Sri Lanka can be more competitive than their recent record indicates.
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 13th December, 2012 00:33:48 [#]