Something to prove; ratings 20th July
Russell Degnan

1st TestEnglandvPakistan
Expected MarginEngland by 48 runs
Actual MarginPakistan by 75 runs

Chris Woakes might console himself that the only player in test history to end up on the losing side with more wickets and more runs to his name was Hugh Trumble. But whereas Trumble was undone by the blistering hitting of Jessop, Woakes fate has more similarities with the last Englishman to take 11 wickets with fewer concessions than Woakes: Nick Cook. Also against Pakistan, and also undone by a leg-spinner, then Abdul Qadir, now Yasir Shah. Yasir Shah's 6/72 in England's first innings undid the work of the bowling on the opening day, and meant England were always unlikely to stage a comeback.

Pakistan were hardly dominant, with only Misbah and Shafiq passing fifty, and leaving a chaseable target in the fourth innings, but the combination of tight bowling and poor shots from England meant that the total was never challenged. England's batting depth was a major boon in South Africa, and it certainly wasn't detrimental here - if anything, it prevented a massive loss - but the selectors face a conundrum over whether a potential replacement bowler for Moeen Ali would add more than they lose in the batting. Likewise, with Anderson and Stokes to return, will they be better to replace Finn and Ball - further strengthening their weak batting - or Vince or Ballance. The former seems wiser, given they lose very little with the ball and none of the potential replacement batsmen seem capable of the type of innings they need. The feeling that a side is stronger with specialists has heavy sway though, even if those specialists aren't as good at their specialty as those they replace.

Pakistan have fewer selection questions, even if their performance could be much improved upon. They inch past India in the rankings, with the possibility of catching Australia (or dropping down to sixth) by series end as most of the full members are out on the field in the next month.

4 TestsWest IndiesvIndia
Expected MarginIndia by 106 runs

The least interesting of the trio of series being played this week, and the longest, which doesn't bode well if the West Indies play to recent form, and India decide to flex their muscles. India won their last away series in Sri Lanka, and their last tour to the West Indies in 2011, but their record of one win and fifteen losses in between times is reminiscent of the bad old days of Indian tours. The West Indies drawn series with England last year and the proliferation of draws in the last two tours by India indicate that they are capable of grinding out a result. Perhaps therefore, the most interesting element to watch of this match-up is the level of assertiveness by Kohli and his compatriots. As favourites, they ought to show the same aggression they do at home, but switching tacks outside your comfort zone is harder, and not always successful.

3 TestsSri LankavAustralia
Expected MarginAustralia by 94 runs

Australia's tours to Sri Lanka often seem to arrive at the beginning of a captaincy, or in a moment when the side is about to swing into change. Warne's arrival in 1992 and the end of the team that won back the Ashes, the last pre-Gilchrist tour that presaged the aggression of the Waugh years, the start of the golden run of Ponting in 2004, and the first series for Clarke in 2011. Here too, changes might be in the mix. Although Australia have found their way to the top of the rankings, it is a placeholder for a better team. The team that toured England last year is largely gone, with Harris, Watson, Johnson, Haddin and Clarke all making way. The next wave of batsmen are dominating the Shield scoring, and the bodies of the young pacemen are reaching maturity.

We won't learn if Australia is about to embark on a golden age against a weakened Sri Lanka, but we will get hints to who might be involved, and whose careers are imperilled by the talent at home. Herath awaits to test the skills of a team that has been more catastrophically bad than troubled by spin in recent years. Lyon has not always taken the lead in conditions that ought to be to his liking, but must do so here, or likewise, face threats from Zampa and others. It is a series Australia ought to win, and comfortably, but like those tours of the past, one that they won't have all their own way, and will be fascinating for it.

Rankings at 20th July 2016
5.South Africa1121.5
6.New Zealand1024.9
7.Sri Lanka941.5
8.West Indies848.1

17.Papua New Guinea228.1
19.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 20th July, 2016 14:29:56   [#]