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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Test Cricket never had it so good

The last few years has seen Australia dominate the test scene like never before. That was not, however, the case this year. They have come down a notch, from a great team to a good team. This has made the race to the top quite interesting. South Africa and India are the other 2 teams that showed this year that they can give a good fight to the Aussies in all conditions.

The year started for the Aussies with a hard-fought series-win against the Indians at home. This year, both of them played 7 matches (home and away) - three of them being won by the Indians and the sole victory coming for Australia in the controversial New Year Test at Sydney. West Indies proved to be easy meat for the Aussies, which actually masked the deficiencies that were creeping into the Australian XI. The bowling seems to be the weakest link, with Brett Lee nowhere near his fiery form. Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark tried their best to lift their attack but not with success. The two matches where an Aussie bowler picked eight wickets (Jason Krejza and Mitchell Johnson), ended with losses - this only showed how the bowlers had to toil without any effective supporting cast. New Zealand, with their depleted team, was another team that was effectively sidelined by Australia, giving another false sense of hope. South Africa, with their historic chase at Perth, showed that there is still a long way for Australia to regain their past glory. Even though the Aussies can still come back in the series and win it, things are not the same for them. The retirements of Glen Mcgrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist has left a big gaping hole in the Aussie lineup, which is felt by the team like never before. The batsmen have managed to contribute as much as possible, but not the way they used to decimate the opposition earlier. Matthew Hayden's loss of form, coupled with Ricky Ponting's erratic form has meant that the middle order has been exposed more often than not. The spin-attack is unsettled (the selectors moving from Jason Krejza to Nathan Hauritz without much success). Shane Watson is still not sure when he will play his next test, even though he is much better than the regular pace bowlers who are given chances every test.

India, on the other hand, lost to Sri Lanka away (1-2), thanks to a memorable performance by the spin duo (Ajantha Mendis and Muralidharan). Their Senior batsmen suffered a rare lapse of form at the same time, to give the series victory. South Africa visited the Indians and managed to come away with a creditable series draw, thanks to the heroics of their batsmen and Dale Steyn. Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly retired by the end of the Australia series, that was convincingly won by the Indians 2-0 (avoiding defeats by playing for draws in the other two tests). The Indians have definitely defined the blueprint to beat the top-ranked team with a mix of strike bowlers and batting supremos. England came to India after the disastrous terror events in Mumbai and lost the two-test series to the Indians. The Indians chased the fifth-highest score in fourth innings in Chennai to win the test against England. That would have given the Indians further confidence in the coming year. The team under MS Dhoni, would be put into test against the Kiwis away from home. Also, the retirements of the seniors like Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar will test the replacements (though from the talks, it looks likely that only one of the trio might retire). The spin department is one that might give problems as Harbhajan Singh seems to be still a long away from donning the mantle of a spearhead.

South Africa's numbers this year look inflated due to 6 wins (in as many matches) against the Windies and Bangladesh. A series win in England and a respectable draw in India, has ensured that their confidence has gone only northward. This has definitely resulted in their good showing in Australia. The bowling attack seems to be good with Steyn and Ntini. The support cast seems to be erratic, with Morkel and Harris providing support on and off. Kallis has proved to be the all-rounder who can definitely impact the overall performance of the team. Greame Smith and Hashim Amla have proved to be the pivot around which the team revolves.

Overall, these three teams are in the reckoning for the ultimate ranking in Test Cricket. The coming year will show that the one who has a solid bowling attack, will be the one who will stay longer at the top. Who will it be?
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