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The resumption of Ashes cricket is drawing nearer and there is a sense of a change in mood: England standing as clear favourites has been eroded somewhat by their tricky build-up and the form of many of the Australia squad. In the Sunday Telegraph, Scyld Berry says that England's batsmen, with the exception of Ian Bell, are beginning to fade which sets up the prospect of a shared series.
Some Australians, emboldened by signs their team have bottomed out, are predicting 3-1 - conceivable, if injury strikes a major England player. For instance, if Alastair Cook broke a finger and Matt Prior had to take over as captain; or if Kevin Pietersen's knees give way again and England lose their capacity to score quickly and give their bowlers extra time; or if James Anderson, heaven forfend, proved mortal at last.
Many England supporters are predicting 3-1 in their favour which, again, is possible if injury intervenes. Australia's batting would be lost without Michael Clarke, whose back ruled him out of the Champions Trophy last summer. Or if Ryan Harris, their attack leader, is injured - and he has managed only 16 Tests in his 34 years - they are down to the reserves of Ben Hilfenhaus and the uncapped Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Michael Vaughan, in his Daily Telegraph column, argues that both Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke have work to do on their captaincy - Clarke needs to win a few Tests and Cook needs to come out of his shell
I will be interested to see Cook in the field in Australia because I think he will have been damaged by what Warne has said. The environment in this England team is to try and improve every day and that means you also have to be open to feedback. If I were Cook and Andy Flower I would be saying: "OK, some of Warney's stuff has been out of order but we could be more proactive and aggressive in the field."
The Brisbane Test will mark the 100th of Kevin Pietersen's England career, a period of time studded with breathtaking batting and a fair few controversies. In the Observer, Vic Marks says that the landmark shows how durable Pietersen has been
Now Pietersen is in the autumn of his career. The body is creaking. When he sets off for that first single it is not only the non-striker who looks on with trepidation; so does the physiotherapist. Often it takes longer for him to acclimatise at the crease. Yet to the Australians he surely remains the most coveted of England wickets in this series.
And in the Daily Mail, current and former team-mates discuss Pietersen's impact
Paul Newman may have played a part in getting the concept of rankings for Test cricket off the ground 18 years ago but he doesn't feel the current system gives an accurate reflection of where teams actually stand. Read more in the Independent on Sunday.
Today's ICC Reliance Test Championship uses a ratings system developed by David Kendix, an actuary and cricket scorer. It is based on some complex calculations, though the basics are not dissimilar to the system that originated from Independent Towers, with results covering a rolling four-year period and taking into account the number of matches and series played.
The current table shows India in the lead, ahead of South Africa and England. However, while India are widely recognised as the world's best one-day side (even if, ironically enough, they lie third in the official ICC one-day rankings behind Australia and Sri Lanka), you might struggle to find neutral observers who regard them as the best Test team.
Shane Warne, writing in the Times, says there is little to choose between what he reckons are the top four teams at the Test level, and gone are the days when there was one team, like the West Indies in the eighties and Australia for much of the noughties, that was miles ahead of the others. The reason, Warne writes, is the lack of match-winning individuals and players whom one could really refer to as "great".
With the ridiculous amount of cricket being played, it is probably time to think of best squads rather than best teams. To be able to field your strongest XI is becoming a luxury and the absence of key players has a serious bearing on results. Ask South Africa, who really missed Dale Steyn against England in Centurion.
If they were the runaway best, they would have beaten England on that pitch in those conditions. I think the West Indies side of the Eighties and Australia in the late Nineties/early 2000s could have won with a day to spare. Without Steyn, the kingpin of the attack, South Africa lacked firepower to finish off the job.
If it happens, the No. 1 ranking for India will no doubt be a historical moment of trumpeting, but it will only be a moment. It is because of the BCCI’s miserable scheduling previously, when there was no IPL to serve as a distraction. Sharda Ugra explains on her blog on the India Today website.
The bigger pity is India’s Test team contains a small but very influential clutch of cricketers who have spent a decade pushing their team forward at home and abroad. Along with Mr T, to have batsmen of the quality of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman play seven Tests in ten months is like limiting an artist’s access to canvas and paint. Or, if artistic metaphors are not your choice, try telling men building a house that their use of brick and cement is being restricted to mood, rather than measure.
Can any team dominate cricket the way West Indies and Australia have done? Test cricket now sits at the mercy of any nation with the required credentials. South Africa occupy top place in the rankings, but it’s a close run thing and Sri Lanka and India are snapping at their heels. And England are still barking, writes Peter Roebuck in the Sportstar.
Of these, India, South Africa and England are the likeliest to take over at the top. The Sri Lankans are adept at living on their wits. Intelligence, originality and imagination are the hallmarks of their cricket. But they are a relatively small cricketing nation and will be hard-pressed to retain their standing. India and South Africa have advanced in step with the nations at large. India has become more confident, ambitious and organised. No longer are occasional triumphs enough, nor is the country prepared to depend upon talent and affection for the game. Domestic cricket is better funded, grounds are improving, wages are higher and the game is open to all comers. Fitness and pace bowling have been emphasised, a combination that has previously held the team back. Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India is poised to take first place in the rankings, a distinction it has never previously attained.
In the same magazine S Ram Mahesh analyses the top five teams in the fray.
With Australia slipping from the top spot in the Test rankings, Anil Kumble believes it will be tough for one team to dominate from here on. Even if that happens, he doubts if it will be for periods of about a decade. The Twenty20 threat to Tests, day-night Test matches are some of the other topics he speaks about during an interview to Lokendra Pratap Sahi in the Telegraph, the Kolkata-based daily.
Is there a lesson to learn from Australia’s fall?
It hasn’t been a sharp fall... The Australians haven’t had great success over the past year-and-a-half or so, which is why it’s such a challenging time for them. You can’t be at the top forever... It’s a cycle... One shouldn’t forget that quite a few teams travel quite a lot nowadays and, so, are more used to playing in conditions overseas... Till a few years back, it was assumed that it would be difficult to beat Australia, that has changed and India took the lead in bringing about that change... We showed the way by beating them in India and winning Tests on Australian soil as well.