If any two days epitomised the malaise that England has found themselves in through this tour, it was the last two days of the Melbourne test. An inferior side finding themselves ahead is not an unusual occurrence in test cricket, nor is it a surprise when the match turns against them. But to have it turn so quickly - from effectively 116 in front with two innings to play to an 8 wicket defeat - can only happen when either a great side starts rolling or one gives up the fight. Australia are not a great side. England's fourth day efforts, with a few exceptions, were of a side that didn't think they could defend 230, even on a slow pitch, even when it was the second highest total of the match.
That's all a bit sad, for the series as a contest, and for the players in the English side who are dropping into retirement - or at least the end of their English careers - at an alarming rate. Whereas the previously fragile Australian bowling lineup remains well rested, courtesy of short English innings and periodically decent Australian batting, the English unit looks exhausted. Broad's injury clearly didn't help him, as his pace was below par, and while Anderson was better, there was no support forthcoming from Bresnan or Panesar. The good work in the first innings was undone by Haddin (again) and then Lyon. Pietersen and Cook both batted well, but the latter hasn't managed to go on, and the former gave up his wicket trying to score quickly as Johnson went through the tail.
Rogers 177 runs for the match represented 41% of Australia's total, which shows both how important his two knocks - one slow, the other aggressive - were, and how little was needed from the Australian batsmen. If catches had been held on the final morning this match might have been the most interesting Melbourne test in many years. But they weren't, and no-one was surprised they weren't. It is difficult to see England picking themselves up for Sydney.
If ever a match demonstrated the benefits of bowling first on flattish wickets this was it. Plagued by bad light and rain despite the high summer scheduling; India looked to be set for a comfortable draw having reached stumps on day one at 1/181. On day two Dale Steyn (6/100) decided to turn up. India capitulated. On day three and four Kallis (115) and Steyn (44), as night-watchman, gave South Africa a platform to make quick runs and then turn the screws. They did both, with good bowling supported by the odd bad decision and poor shot accounting for the Indian lineup by tea on day five, and the chase duly knocked off without incident.
Steyn's nine wickets in the match pushed him to 350 for his career. His career strike-rate is ridiculous, but it his ability to force dismissals from nowhere and spark collapses that makes him remarkable. Kallis exits the test arena as perhaps the most consistently useful player in history. But South Africa's ascent to their current rating - and they are approaching a level few teams have matched - is down to Steyn's ability to shift matches. India will be moderately pleased with their performance in this series, having been in both games, and beaten by a better side. As always, their pace bowling lacks the necessary punch and they leak runs at an alarming rate - although the influx of youth has improved the fielding. Their last tour of England exposed them in all disciplines; and it will be fascinating to see if that is still the case.
A low key series given the others going on. Pakistan are heavy favourites for this on the ratings even without the home-advantage that they have in the UAE. The caveat, as always, is that this is a side that managed to lose to Zimbabwe and beat South Africa in consecutive tests. Sri Lanka, by contrast, might need to be reminded of the laws at the longest format, the bulk of their recent series being cancelled for more lucrative ODIs. The form they do have isn't strong either, still reliant on the ever-present duo of Jayawardene and Sangakarra for runs and still missing Murali and Vaas for wickets. Three tests offers plenty of scope to see if Sri Lanka are heading back to New Zealand and the West Indies, or clinging to the teams above. The most recent evidence suggests the former, but they need the latter if they are to maintain even perfunctory tours of the bigger nations.
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 31st December, 2013 21:26:24 [#]