A series that was largely won in the first session. Pakistan went to lunch at 2/50 off 29 overs, but Azhar Ali and Younis Khan halted what had briefly looked like a Johnson-led collapse that would have gifted Australia the best use of conditions and a leg-up. The pace bowlers tired though, Pakistan took full toll, and only Warner's 133, Mitch Marsh's 87 and Steve Smith;s 97 offered the slightest resistance from then on. Younis Khan was immense, and Azhar Ali and Misbah profitted in his shadow.
The bowling was decent from Pakistan but Australia were poor, showing neither improvement with the bat nor greater clarity of selection, from the disastrous tour of India that preceded the Ashes, and indicative of a team that, even more than normal, is a home-track bully.
The first test of this series will go down as a forgotten classic - forgotten already because noone much noticed when it was being played. Zimbabwe's 240 ought to have been higher when so many batsmen got starts, but Shakib tok 6/59, and Panyangara's 5/59 could not prevent a lead of 14 runs to he home side. Taijul Islam's 8/39 set a target of merely 101, made slightly harder by starting at 3/0, and eventually achieved with 3 wickets in hand.
The other tests were also close. But Zimbabwe never quite looked like winning. In the second, Shakib combined 137 with 10/124 for the match, taking the key wicket of Masakadza (158 and 61) in both innings. At tea on day 5 Zimbabwe were 5/117 and a draw looked possible. 11.1 overs later they were all out. The third was a virtual replay, right up to the dramatic collapse on day 5, losing 5/34. A three-nil result was perhaps an unfair reflection of the tightness of the two sides. On the other hand, a Bangladesh side that can take advantage of superior positions is an interesting prospect.
Pakistan started this series as they left the previous, losing only 5 wickets in one of the more comprehensive victories you'll ever see. It was somewhat unexpected then, to see such a close second test, with Pakistan 65 runs from victory and 5 wickets from defeat when stumps were drawn. Latham and Taylor scored tons, matched by Sarfraz Ahmed, while Zulfiqar Babar took 8/233 in 72 overs.
It isn't clear what difference the improvement in the second test meant for the third though. The death of Phillip Hughes in Australia, interrupted Pakistan at 3/281 after day one, and the match turned in ways that seemed largely not to matter. Hafeez was stopped at 197, as Craig took 7/94 in the morning. McCullum (202) and Williamson (192) played the sort of innings that is only possible when you don't care if you are dismissed, and only Asad Shafiq slowed New Zealand on their way to victory. In many ways it was an exhibition match, completed to fulfill commitments, and because cricket was as good a way to mark events as any.
As with the test between Pakistan and New Zealand, the team more mentally attuned will have a significant advantage. Don't assume that will be India though, who have posted their own tributes to Hughes, had their preparation disrupted, and are missing their captain. Australia could be focused, could be distraght and distracted; might be aggressive (though the sledging is likely to be toned down), or could go through the motions. My gut says they'll be the former, mixing bouncers with hook shots and playing hard.
India, whose recent touring record in Australia is poor, and looked hapless towards the end of the English tour, would have looked at Adelaide as their best chance of a win (after, perhaps, Sydney). If they bat well, and preferably second they will have a strong chance of a draw, and perhaps more. But it would be a shock if Australia didn't win.
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 9th December, 2014 00:24:58 [#]