It is hard to know whether to label this English side as inexperienced - and therefore capable of much more in the future - or under-performing. The core of Cook, Anderson, Broad and Bell (and Trott, in theory), provided a century, a six wicket haul, and a pair to this match - England's biggest contributions, but not sufficient when the players around them were providing 20s and 30s, and the odd wicket amongst a glut of runs. They bat deep, but were bowled out for 257 and 123; they have ample bowlers, but apart from Anderson looked largely toothless, particularly once Bravo and Blackwood settled in the second innings.
Inexperience isn't an excuse, or even a reason for poor performance. A player is either the best available in that role, or they are not. The usual justification for a younger, but inferior player, who will grow and learn, make sense in the context of a domestic club which needs to retain and develop assets, but not a national side. First class cricket ought to be the finishing school for future test performers, yet in the rush to "test" young players, they are put into situations where they are expected to fail, and in which the team fails with them. If England had a few players in the prime of their career it would hardly matter, but it is hard to point to anyone who fits that bill. Even Broad - of the right age - seems to be burnt out from the workload.
The West Indies suffer similarly, but this is partly forced upon them by the absence of quality (available) players in that age group. Bravo, whose 82 anchored the chase, and who, at 26, might just be ready to handle the duel burdens of being the best batsman in a weak side, and the inevitable comparisons to Brian Lara. Blackwood may be several years from a similar leap; but with Chanderpaul on his last legs, and Samuels likely to follow, they represent a hope that victories like this won't be the rarity they have been in the past few years.
Bangladesh need to improve their pitches.
In recent years, presumably (and relatively successfully) in pursuit of draws that would arrest the endless series of home losses, their pitches have been especially slow and easy to bat on. In the first test of this series they survived Pakistan's massive 628 run total thanks to an equally impressive 312 stand between Tamin Iqbal and Imrul Kayes. In the second test, they did not. Their first innings was insufficient to prevent Pakistan racing to create a target, on top of yet another 550 plus total, and they lost on day 4.
Against a team like Australia, whose weakness against spin is glaring, these type of pitches offer their best hope of victory. Against Pakistan, accomplished players on slow pitches, capable of scoring quickly with the bat, and exploiting conditions with the ball, their best outcome is a very tedious draw. Yet, in Australia for the world cup, we saw a Bangladesh attack capable of playing on faster pitches, of exploiting bounce, and (less often) of making runs. Bangladeshi wickets will always be a little slow and take some spin, but lifeless serves only to produce draws and losses. They need to back themselves to bowl out the opposition in home conditions, and produce surfaces that the opposition won't score 500 or 600 plus on.
This series, in the end, showed very little about either side's cricket, as Pakistan were barely challenged with the bat, and trusted on the continuing inconsistencies of Bangladesh to create a win. The ratings gap is still very large, but the talent gap has closed, and Bangladesh will start closing the former, when their players have belief they can win matches.
With only one prior first-class match for Hong Kong, this is a bit of a step into the unknown. They have established themselves as a quality T20 side, and translated that into good ODI performances. But absent three players (though Namibia were missing Williams and Snyman), and with little experience in even two-day cricket, let along four, they were always going to lack the discipline to bat for long periods, and the energy to return for two and three spells. Namibia exploited the latter in their second innings, setting up a target of 302 on the last day perfectly, and but for some runs down the order, Hong Kong would have lost even more heavily.
The African side's challenges will come in the future. They have an admirable record in this competition, and are an outside chance of progressing to the final if things fall their way. Their weakness, as ever, is a lack of a quality fast bowler, and a seemingly endless stream of all-rounders doesn't make up for the absence of someone capable of rolling sides.
New Zealand's rapid rise up the ratings, boasting a form-line more akin to the associates who don't play enough matches to remain stable, has narrowed the gap between these two sides to less than 100 points. But England remain at home, and their record their against New Zealand is fairly overwhelming. This could be a fairly spectacular match, given McCullum's captaincy and his team's aggressive approach to scoring, swing bowling and fielding. The English online commentariat would love to see the same from their side - a source of some ambivalence over both the result and the non-selection of Kevin Pietersen.
Too much has already been written about him, but it is worth dwelling on one essential point. One the English dressing room ought to appreciate. There are really only two questions that need to be answered. Firstly, does Pietersen offer more value than the next best selection, and by how much? The three weakest middle-order batsmen (assuming they don't drop Bell) either bowl or keep. Arguably England have too many bowlers with Mooen Ali at eight, but it isn't a bad thing to get runs from the lower order (with Broad's batting basically non-existent the tail is now achingly long). Do the (at most) 20 runs Pietersen adds make up for the bowling (or the fielding)?
Secondly, do the "trust" issues mean the players around him play worse? And if so, by what amount? Cricket is a very individual game, but if a player can be shown to be having a detrimental effect on those around him, then that is a problem. If he doesn't then the decision smacks of spite and convenience, not sound selection. It isn't clear that any player was performing worse because of Pietersen, though Cook looks a broken man, that is just as likely to be the effect of the incompetence of the ECB hierarchy. Perhaps they field worse when unhappy; perhaps the unhappiness was a broader issue, not least amongst players who've already moved on. Pietersen hasn't ever come across as an inspiring team-mate, and they probably haven't lost much for his absence (all things considered), but the utter disaster of how it was brought about has undoubtedly damaged the ECB, and their relationship with some players (nor were selection and coaching issues limited to just KP). A clean-out would be rather more effective if it started with those wielding the brooms.
A warm-up match in Southampton (of all places, but perhaps the weather will be fine. The relative form lines of these two sides mean this ought to be closer than the ratings suggest. Scotland are in season though, and playing in more familiar conditions. The U.A.E. have performed better than expected in those sort of pace-friendly environments, and would consider themselves well matched against Scotland. Neither side may approach it as more than a warmup for the much more important matches next week, but it will still be worth keeping an eye on.
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 22nd May, 2015 03:57:06 [#]