Interesting pitches, interesting matches; Ratings 1st December
Russell Degnan

2nd/3rd TestAustraliavNew Zealand
Expected MarginAustralia by 156 runs
Actual MarginMatch drawn
Australia by 3 wickets
Series rating1203.71019.6

Given there was some talk before the series that New Zealand`s pace attack and Australia`s fragile batting would combine into a potential series loss for the home side, the eventual victory ought to be well regarded. But the shakiness in Adelaide, and the flatness of the pitch in Perth shows that Australia are no closer to resolving their vulnerability away from home. Many recent batsmen (Warner, Clarke, Hussey) sit high in the list of highest average in Australia, but they also top the list of largest difference in home and away performance.

Perth exemplified why this is true, with a pitch so lifeless it destroyed Johnson, probably Starc, and countless balls. As good as Warner, Williamson and Taylor were, and despite the brief window of opportunity for New Zealand, shut by Smith and Voges, this was a dull match.

Johnson though, deserves a brief valediction. At his fastest, and most accurate, a frightening bowler who could destroy a side, not just with good balls, but with anything. Balls batsmen picked up late, and failed to control. With perhaps no better example than the spell against South Africa in Perth in 2008. Yet, as often as not he was a workhorse, bowling more overs than anyone for several years after that promising beginning, and drifting quickly into mediocrity, punctuated by unexpected success. With the right supporting cast, he won many matches for Australia. With a cast of players like himself, Johnson was a liability if things went wrong. Hopefully with Starc, similar in so many ways, they selectors will learn the lessons and keep him fresh and attacking.

After Brisbane and Perth, a typically dead Adelaide track might have drained all life out of the summer, but whether as a fortunate side-effect of the need to pink ball, the lights, or something else, we got a pitch offering swing, seam and a challenge to batsman growing fat off broken bowlers. The ball held up, the night scenery looked brilliant, and the match delivered a tense outcome, as Australia slid home.

New Zealand will point to Lyon`s DRS escape as a turning point, and they might have won without it, but they ought to have pressed home the advantage anyhow. Letting the tail get away after the reprieve (particularly Starc) and scoring just 410 runs despite 16 players making double figures were the primary causes of their defeat. In the end, both teams played roughly to their ratings, with New Zealand continuing a steady rise, and a close series likely when they return home.

2nd/3rd TestIndiavSouth Africa
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 14 runs
Actual MarginMatch drawn
India by 124 runs

There isn`t much to say about the second test, exept to note that it was South Africa`s best batting performance of the three innings, despite being all out for 214, and that only from some magic from AB de Villiers. Four days of rain does tend to lessen the chance of a result.

The third test provided much the same contest between spin and poor batting as the first two tests; not least because the pitches are made to order, a decision I have no problem with in the slightest. The bowler who first took advantage wasn`t even the spinner, as Morkel answered the call to lead the attack, and moved it everywhere taking 3/35 and 3/19. Rabada is a good prospect but Harmer, Tahir and Duminy weren`t able to match Ashwin (5/32 and 7/66), a master of his home pitches.

Unfortunately, the low totals, achieved in conjunction with some terrible shots, particularly on the Indian side, have led many to conclude that the pitch was worse than it was. It turned, but many wickets were taken with those that didn`t, or for attempts to score when patience was required. South Africa`s batting has looked spooked throughout, shorn of easy runs, and forced to work hard, it has perished. It is not the first, but more pitches like both Adelaide and Nagpur are required if batsmen are to relearn the skill of defence, as well as attack.

I-CupU.A.E.vHong Kong
Expected MarginU.A.E. by 99 runs
Actual MarginHong Kong by 276 runs

Rarely can a team have fallen as quickly from a position of strength as the U.A.E. Impressive in the world cup, albeit winless, they have barely been competitive in any match since, and were thrashed by Hong Kong here. Babar Hayat and Tanwir Afzal scored centuries in the first innings to get the score to 378, and the U.A.E. were never close thereafter, falling for 181 in the second innings, fighting back briefly - a collapse of 7/40 by Hong Kong limited the chase to 382 - but losing 5/1 in 2.4 overs to start day four, and subsiding to a huge loss. Hong Kong cricket continues to make great strides, and they will work their way up the rankings on this performance. But the U.A.E. are heading the way of Canada, and it isn`t pretty.

Expected MarginAfghanistan by 183 runs
Actual MarginAfghanistan by 201 runs

The surprising outcoem of this match was that Afghanistan beat their expected win, despite being 151 runs behind on the first innings. A collapse to Vanua for 144, and a century from Dai had the Papuans well set, but the Afghans can score heavily when they get going, and Shahzad and Stanikzai both made tons on their way to 540. The more important innings - at least in the long term - probably came from Hashmatullah Shahidi, who along with Shabir Noori, scored a lot of runs in their 4-day competition, and is the likely future of Afghan batting. His 112 was grinding (214 balls), but they need players like that.

That platform left a big chase, and Vala`s 81 aside, PNG was never close. The worrying player for them is Lega Siaka, who has scored only 106 runs in his last 11 international innings (across all formats). He is a key player, and their most talented future prospect, but they can`t carry him at the top of the order averaging in single figures. Hopefully, soon, he`ll find and correct whatever it is that is causing his form slump.

Rankings at 1st December 2015
1.South Africa1224.4
6.New Zealand1029.2
7.Sri Lanka980.8
8.West Indies859.2

17.Papua New Guinea217.6
18.Hong Kong183.6

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 3rd December, 2015 01:02:25   [#]