To the extent that the position of teams on my personal rankings is an interesting subplot, the finale to the South African innings threw one up when they finished a mere 8 runs short of maintaining their number one ranking. Had they known and cared, the 5/7 they lost in the final 4 overs of the match might have mattered. As it was, the now familiar script, of a terrible collapse, offset by some decent pace bowling (this time from Abbott) and comparatively ineffective part-time and full-time spin.
The comparison is, perhaps, unfair. Ashwin and Jadeja are well suited to the conditions, and took full advantage, taking 54 wickets between them at 11. The extent of their dominance is best seen in the batting averages where only de Villiers (36.85) averaged over 20 for South Africa. By contrast, Rahane, perhaps one of my favourite young cricketers, with his engaged attitude and intelligent play, showed his class as well, scoring the only two centuries of the series in the final test.
South Africa`s extraordinary 143 over attempt to salvage a draw was admirable, but ultimately they fell well short, owing to their failures earlier in the match; and their total, of only 143, meant that even that level of focus, shorn of shots, would not have changed the series. They lead into their next series against England with many questions over their batting, and the feeling that an era has passed.
New Zealand showed two sides to their game in this series. In the first, on the back of Guptill`s 156 and Williamson`s 88, they accelerated the first innings and declaring aggressively in the second. Batting 50 overs fewer than Sri Lanka in the match mattered when there were fewer than 50 overs left in the fifth day at the moment of victory, and other sides would have missed the opportunity. In the second, the efforts of Chameera (5/47) left them chasing the game from a 55 run deficit. But the tail ground out 59 extra runs from 5/168 and 47 crucial runs from 5/142 in the chase - by contrast, Sri Lanka lost 5/33 in their first innings and 5/23 in their second. Sri Lanka really ought to have put more pressure on than they did, but they struggle with that, away from home, and Williamson`s ton was sufficient to turn a low scoring match.
New Zealand continue to impress, and a weak series by England in South Africa could see them enter the top-5 for the first time since 2003. Sri Lanka continue their slow decline, no doubt hastened by the retirement of Sangakarra; their lowest ranking since 1999. They have a long way to fall to the West Indies and the teams below, and there was some promise in this performance. But their inability to score more than 300, and the relative innocuity of their pace attack limits their options for winning matches. Herath aside, and then only at home, Sri Lanka don`t have anyone who`ll take a game away in a couple of sessions. And that makes for a rocky path to victory.
Jason Holder is a very admirable cricketer. A potentially brilliant one, who ought to be given every opportunity to do so, but is instead saddled as the captain of a team that barely fits the description. Like Darren Sammy before him, he is their best performing bowler, but not a very dangerous one, and a useful batsman, but not capable of playing as a batsman alone (even for this team). Sammy, at least by dint of experience, managed to wrangle the best out of some of his players. Holder appears to be fighting a losing battle to keep his team from arching their necks towards the BBL and joining their countrymen. On the basis of this test, they`d be better off doing so, and abandoning the series to a team that did care.
Holder bowled neat lines, but Voges and Marsh were untroubled in their epic partnership of 449, and he had practically no support. Similarly, Bravo, and Brathwaite can both bat, and proved it, but got 55 runs from the rest of the top-6 combined, over two innings. Australia played well, and managed in the process, to put aside the expectations of an easy victory, and make it happen. Whether Boxing Day can provide some impetus for a better West Indies performance, and even a contest remains to be seen. The rated performance of the West Indies in Hobart would put them 12th on the rankings, and that might be generous. That`s a big hole to climb out of, and a lot to burden a young player with, if Holder is to motivate them to at least look like they are trying.
It will be a sweet homecoming for South Africa, having come away from India having failed to come to terms with the spinning wickets that nullified their pace advantage. Yet, England, even potentially without Anderson, have their own pace bowlers who can offer some danger, and the turmoil in the South African batting order remains. The feeling is that this is a series between two flawed, and possibly limited sides, reasonably well matched, with the English rising, and the South Africans falling. The ratings though, project that into the future, and the home advantage, such as it is, ought to be enough for South Africa to win, perhaps comfortably, against a side that remains young, but for a few stalwarts. Steyn`s return will make a huge difference, and expect South Africa to win, but not always have it their own way.
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 25th December, 2015 23:32:19 [#]