Seems hard to believe I referred to the first test scorecard as odd. For roughly two and a half days India completely bossed this game, with Sharma (6/51) and Mohammed Shami (4/70) rolling through New Zealand for 192 in 53 overs on day 1; and first Dhawan (98) then Rahane (118) and Dhoni (68) carving up the New Zealand bowling (at 4.26 rpo no less) to give them a lead of 246. It is hard to fathom there has ever been a more impressive comeback than the one McCullum (302) and Watling (124) produced from 5/94. By the time their 352 run record 6th wicket partnership of 352 ended on day 4 the match had tilted back in New Zealand's favour. Neesham (124*) took full advantage of the exhausted bowling, shepherding his captain to New Zealand's first triple ton, and a declaration - late, admittedly, but understandably with a series lead - that might have produced a win but for Kohli's 105 not out that steadied India's ship.
New Zealand come away as series victors, and their reputation as an emerging side further enhanced, though their rating only sees a marginal improvement because the matches were expected to be relatively close. India, now without an overseas win in three years, demonstrated here both the potential to be a very good side, and a chronic inability to seize the match when it has presented itself. Much of the criticism has been lain on Dhoni's captaincy - so refreshing when he took the reigns, and now so stale. McCullum, by contrast, is a natural, both on the field and with the bat, where his 535 runs over 887 balls shattered his previous reputation for poorly judged shot-selection.
As numerous commentators noted: we've seen this script before. Put in, the pitch green and lively, and already showing signs of playing up and down, Australia collapsed to 4/98, the eternally frustrated talent of Sean Marsh and the emerging grit of Steve Smith the last of the recognised batsmen. Both scored tons; Mitchell Johnson made a little hay; and the score reached 397.
The second ball Mitchell Johnson bowled to Graeme Smith rose sharply; his hands protected his face but not his wicket; and it was all down-hill from there. AB de Villiers sparkling 91 aside, the South African batsmen looked like sitting ducks; even Amla and Duminy, who got in, were found out by Siddle and Lyon - there being no respite. The follow-on was passed, but that was irrelevant; that Warner would score a ton was not inevitable - he was dropped three time after all - but we've seen this all summer, the failure of the batting and the inherent tiredness that comes from such short turn-arounds crushing any chance of a comeback. Doolan, as he did in both innings, looked composed in making 89, and the declaration came quickly and aggressively.
The pitch was, by this stage, not one you'd want to face Johnson on, but Smith's decision to bowl wasn't a factor in the loss: being bowled out for just over 200 twice made the defeat inevitable. Australia had everything fall their way, from Doolan's brilliant catches, to the chaos of Morkel's runout when he was outfoxed by Lyon in the manner of a schoolboy. Except for de Villiers, and perhaps Amla, South Africa's batting looked uncertain and panicked against Johnson; if his form continues, it will take a monumental effort for Steyn, Philander and Morkel to make sufficient in-roads to make a contest of this series. They can, because Australia's batting remains questionable, but they'll need support, in the field, and on the scoreboard; that didn't materialise at all in Centurion.
Australia's form right now is so strong they can retake the number one rating with a decent victory in Port Elizabeth. After the result in the first test, you'd not deny them either.
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 18th February, 2014 23:53:52 [#]