After letting the West Indies off the hook in the first test there was no reprieve in the two following. The West Indies were as abject as they were in India second time around, with Trent Boult taking 10/80 and a ridiculously good catch to go with Taylor's 129 and Southee's 5/82. The West Indies lasted just 105 overs in the match, with the last 5 wickets falling for 11 and 29 in each innings, from an unimpressive base.
The third test was a better effort at first. Chanderpaul (122*) keeps going on, even as his last contemporaries retire en masse; with support from Ramdin (107) and some late order hitting. But Taylor (131) countered even if New Zealand conceded an 18 run lead before Boult (4/23) went to work, knocking over the West Indies inside a session to leave an easy chase.
After years of improvement the Caribbean side has in a few months slipped back to below a young New Zealand side that is finding its feet. Taylor and Boult were immense in this series, where they were far and away the better side. In the opposition, Chanderpaul remains the only reliable rock in an inconsistent lineup whose best bowler has been reported for throwing. For the entire time-line of this blog we've been hoping the West Indies were finding some form and talent. But the repeated false dawns have worn me down. Penniless and seemingly not caring if they win or lose; things are bleak in West Indies cricket right now.
Perth tests in the heat are always fun as a slightly over-watered, disappointingly slow road transforms into something fast and bouncy and then cracks like the San Andreas. Australia won the toss again, and that certainly helped - mentally at least, as the cracks caused no dismissals - but England look mentally shot regardless. After Smith, Haddin and the tail's rescue act allowed Australia to post a respectable total from flaky beginnings, the Australians did no more than bowl in the right spots for long periods, waiting for the little poke and mental lapses that invariably come in hot weather.
England completely wilted from thereon, facing a large deficit, a rampaging Warner and Watson, and with no Broad - injured by Johnson's wicket yorker - they did well to post 353 on the back of Stokes's 120, especially after losing Cook to the ball of the summer from Harris first up. It was though, an inevitable result. Even on top, the English team lacks the spark to take advantage, and the batting is making so many mistakes they are near unrecognisable from the side that rose to number one a few years ago. A tour too far for many, perhaps, if the glut of retirements is any sign.
Australia have their own problems: the batting is still flaky and could easily collapse and gift the last two tests on less favourable pitches; their best players are not young, though there seem to be replacements; and their home form bears no resemblance to what they do when they leave these shores. Right now though, they've completed an unlikely turnaround and romped to Ashes victory, moving back to second in the ratings in the process, albeit by a meaningless amount.
It was seemingly inevitable that in the leadup to this match the focus would be on the Indian batting. Shorn of Tendulkar, what stood out most was not the weight of runs missing but matches. Most of the top order had no real experience anywhere outside India, let alone South Africa with its swing and movement. But the new breed are quality, make no mistake. The early highlight of this match was watching Kohli and Pujara surviving Steyn, Morkel and Philander through the first two sessions. They did so, though Pujara was needlessly runout with Kohli going on to 119, and in doing so they set up the contest that followed.
The surprise in this match was the form of Ishant Sharma, whose burst with Mohammed Shami reduced South Africa to 6/146, although Philander brought them back level with 59. It was less of a surprise to see Pujara (153) and Kohli (96) plunder in the second innings. Morkel's injury was very damaging because Kallis is not a sufficient replacement. With Tahir struggling, Duminy bowling nude nuts, the next best option seemed to be de Villier's filth. South Africa didn't get to where they are without being a good fighting team though. The eventual target of 458 was probably where Dhoni would have declared, and ought to have been sufficient, on a pitch that offered enough to the bowling to keep them interested, and the batsmen cautious.
Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers played as well as any pair might in the circumstances, consolidating, then as the Indian bowlers noticeably tired, accelerated until they needed just 66 in the final hour, with wickets in hand. Which they proceeded to throw away. A lazy dab from de Villiers, a loose drive from Duminy and at the death, a crazy runout from du Plessis left a rampaging Philander and a nervous Steyn to determine the fate of an amazing match.
They chose a stalemate. Dhoni had Shami bowl short, Steyn demured. Singles were refused. The game ebbed away.
At some point in every match nearing time, unless it comes down to 1 wicket in hand, 2 runs remaining and only a single ball - which has never happened - one team must play for the draw. The question is when. There wasn't much - if any - batting in the shed, and they rightly feared three quick wickets. But they also needed only 16 in three overs. South Africa blinked too soon. Dhoni wasn't chasing the match, just hoping. They were close enough to take those singles, see if Dhoni wanted to bring the field in; and have a shot from the beginning of the last over. What if, what if. It haunts everyone who plays sport, and that's the scenario the South Africans will dream about for the rest of their lives. Notwithstanding that they remain firm favourites for the next test and the series; they'll always wonder what might have been.
Afghanistan's recent form saw them enter this match as the slightly higher rated team, but Ireland at full strength is the slightly better side and they proved as much in a close and entertaining contest. Dawlat Zadran (4/44) provided the first blows, rolling Ireland for 187 before a riposte from an unexpected corner in Mooney (5/45) got Ireland a 5 run lead. The bulk of the runs in the third innings came from Ed Joyce (78) and Niall O'Brien (87) setting an improbable but not impossible 347 to win on a pitch starting to turn. Dockrell (3/58) might have expected to be the key, and he took the important wickets in the top order that finally tipped the match Ireland's way. But it was Mooney (5/36) again, who ripped through the tail leaving Rahmat Shah (86 not out) stranded, and sealing Ireland's third trophy of the year.
The future of the I-Cup - as in most things associate related - is now somewhat uncertain. It appears to be on, but not until 2014, and with an unknown number of teams. This tournament lagged, notwithstanding that the round-robin format adds meaning, the absence of the best players uncomfortably often, and the clear gap from top to bottom need to be addressed. Ireland and Afghanstan are closer in ratings to New Zealand and West Indies than to the lower ranked sides here, but we must live with this ridiculous divide a (long) while longer.
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 26th December, 2013 09:11:24 [#]