2012 Review

The year-end essay 1

South Africa's ascent, India's tailspin

The current Test No. 1 side has something other teams from the country have lacked: an air of invincibility and ruthlessness

Sambit Bal

January 3, 2013

Comments: 57 | Text size: A | A

Hashim Amla puts one way on the leg side, Australia A v South Africans, Sydney, 2nd day, November 3, 2012
Hashim Amla: brings Asian artistry to the traditionally muscular style of South African batsmanship © Getty Images

Cricket stepped gingerly into the new year with familiar anxieties and concerns. The year gone by wasn't a dreadful one by any means, and looking purely at results it threw up several interesting outcomes. South Africa wrested the Test crown from England in their backyard, West Indies waltzed to the World Twenty20 title, and England finished their year with their first series win in India in 28 years, achieving it with an ease that startled cricket fans in both countries. But scratch the surface and you have an unremarkable and unfulfilling year. Sport can't be measured merely by results.

The quality that was missing was what true lovers of the game yearn for and what makes following sport such a rewarding and uplifting experience: the contest. The quality of cricket often ranged between middling and mediocre. It is often true that superior teams don't allow their opponents to play at their best, but far too often in the recent past, matches have been lost as much they have been won, and it has made watching cricket a dull, unattractive experience. Beyond base nationalistic pleasure, what joy can be derived from witnessing the annihilation of the meek?

I watched Michael Clarke score a triple-hundred in the first Test of the year and for three quarters of the innings he seemed to be battling only his own boredom - such was the feebleness of the Indians on the field. In the manner in which Australia have swatted away the subcontinental teams this year - 9-0 their record reads over Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan in the last three summers - it would seem the old swagger is back in Australian cricket. Indeed, they were, quite incredibly, only a Test win away from regaining the No. 1 rank at one point.

The truth is that they are now carrying their weakest top order since Allan Border started rebuilding the team in the early '80s, they have no world-class spinner, and their pace attack, though it bubbles with talent and promise, is also highly brittle. That Phil Hughes, who had to be, in the words of the chairman of selectors, protected from South Africa, has now taken Ricky Ponting's old position will tell you that there is no surplus in Australia batting stocks at the moment.

England staged a stunning rally after losing four successive Tests in the subcontinent to win three of the next five, but they were godawful against Pakistan in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In Tests at home between India's last two series against England, R Ashwin (40 wickets in five Tests at 18.50) and Pragyan Ohja (33 wickets in five Tests at 22.90) evoked, in terms of figures, the great tradition of Indian spin bowling, but they were so ineffective otherwise that it is impossible to judge how much the English batsmen had really improved since their amateur production in the Middle East.

As ever, the bigger problems lay off the field. It has become routine and tedious to say this, but cricket continued to suffer from the indifference, incompetence and lack of a common vision among its custodians.

The ICC will soon have a new structure - an all-powerful chairman and a ceremonial president, but the ICC board has opted to ignore the recommendations of the Woolf Commission, appointed by its activist former CEO, who did himself and the ICC no favours by jetting around the world and serenading the media as if that was the most important item on his job description.

Of course a few of the recommendations - which included some of the Full Members giving up their place on the ICC board - were utopian, but the ICC has been among the most dysfunctional governing bodies in world sport, and at a time when cricket desperately needs a steadying hand to balance itself across different formats, it needs its leaders to think global and think ahead. The current structure of the ICC board, where each member protects the interests of his home nation, is designed to focus on the narrow and the immediate.

India have fallen harder and deeper than even the most pessimistic forecasts predicted. To be outspun at home must rank among the most humiliating chapters in the history of Indian Test cricket

Spectator burnout is the biggest challenge for cricket. T20 has managed to attract new audiences but they are fickle. Entertainment is what draws them and their connection to the game is tenuous. IPL 5 was a huge success in terms of audience response, but crowds have been thin at the Big Bash this year. More worryingly, Test attendances in Australia were thinner this season than they were the last, and ODIs between India and Pakistan didn't sell out.

It can be argued that the Tests in Australia suffered from bad weather and faulty scheduling. South Africa, the bigger draw, refused to tour in the second half, preferring to play a T20 match at home on Boxing Day instead, and Sri Lanka were poor opponents at the business end of the summer. Pakistan caught the Indian fans in a bad mood perhaps: the series began a few days after India had lost their first home Test series in eight years, and lost to England at home for the first time in 28 years.

But clearly the audiences are sending a message. It's an obvious one. They want more quality and less quantity.

South Africa: an Australian attitude
That South Africa should end the year as the No. 1 Test nation is not a surprise. The surprise is that it took them so long to get there. They have been consistently excellent over a number of years, winning matches and series all around the world, rarely embarrassing themselves in defeats, and with a core group of players who have been together for a long time. Yet they have always seemed to lack that little bit, that intangible extra, that goes into the making of champions. They have been solid but never spectacular, resourceful but not imaginative, gritty but rarely daring.

Did anything change in 2012? Perhaps nothing dramatic. But in Perth, in three hours of spellbinding batting, they revealed an ability to seize the moment and turn it their way with such force as to reduce their opponents to bystanders. In the age of T20, a scoring rate of seven an over isn't outlandish, but to watch two batsmen gallop away at that rate in Test cricket against a sharpish bowling attack on a quick pitch was breathtaking. With contrasting styles - Hashim Amla wielding a wand and Graeme Smith a pickaxe - they mounted an assault that would have reminded the Australian fans of their own team in its pomp.

One image stays imprinted in the mind: Amla fetching a ball wide of the pads and hitting it through midwicket - a skilful stroke, but one he plays regularly. The difference this time is that there are no stumps behind him. He has moved so wide that he is in the line of the bowler and first slip. That one image said everything that was to be said about the South African approach that afternoon. It had the air of invincibility.

It was more spectacular still, given what had gone before. Australia had had the better of the draw in the first Test, and South Africa had batted out of their skin to save the second. Midway through the first day in Perth, they had been in danger of being dismissed for under 150. But from there, like a canny boxer who first spars his opponent to weariness and knows when to raise his game for the knockout, they went for the kill with mechanical and ruthless efficiency. With their recently acquired Test crown at stake, it was a commanding performance.

There has been much disquiet about affirmative action in their cricket, but South Africa are clearly reaping the dividends of the rich variety their nation offers. It's plausible that both Amla and Vernon Philander wouldn't have broken through without the pressure there has been to include coloured cricketers in the team, and South Africa would be a much poorer team without them. They give the side the sort of variety earlier South African teams lacked. Supple, delicate and wristy, Amla brings Asian artistry to the traditionally muscular style of South African batsmanship, and Philander's subtle and skilful manipulation of the seam presents a different challenge from Dale Steyn's high-velocity swing and Morne Morkel's hustling, menacing bounce.

This was said about England after the 2011 summer, but South Africa look destined to stay at the top longer than the two previous occupants. England will challenge them and in Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar they have the two top-class spinners that South Africa lack. But South Africa currently have the strongest all-condition batting line-up in the world, and the best fast-bowling attack, and Smith, though he has given up leadership in the shorter formats, still has the zest for Test captaincy. No one would grudge them a long stay at the top.

India: plumbing the depths
India have fallen harder and deeper than even the most pessimistic forecasts predicted. But what will probably have hurt Indian cricket fans most is that their team was caught in a web designed for their opponents: to be outspun at home must rank among the most humiliating chapters in the history of Indian Test cricket.

To those who have been following Indian cricket closely it won't have come as a huge surprise. To start with, Swann and Panesar are among the three best Test spinners in the world today, and they were up against the weakest batting line-up India have put up in a home season in the last dozen-odd years.

Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in the England dressing room, India v England, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 4th day, Monday, November 26, 2012
England's only edge over South Africa is in that they have two world-class spinners © Twitter

The depressing thing is that India seems to have simply stopped producing world-class Test spinners. And it hasn't happened overnight. The most instructive aspect of it is that Swann and Panesar are classical spinners in the Indian mould. They bowl no mystery balls. The only tricks they rely on are the old-fashioned ones: drift, turn, change of pace and variations of flight. They bowl side-on, pivot their bodies around their front legs, and use their bowling shoulders to give the ball a rip. Their technical superiority over Ashwin and Ojha was, for Indians, embarrassingly palpable.

It is perhaps an outcome of their environment. Swann and Panesar have had to work hard to get the ball to turn on the less responsive wickets of England, whereas the Indian spinners have tended to rely on the surface to do the job for them. The skills the Indians have developed have more to do with restriction. Ashwin is a product of T20 cricket, where his assortment of variations is handy to keep sloggers in check. For an Indian spin bowler with classical skills and action, you have to travel back to the early '80s, when Maninder Singh and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan shone bright but brief.

India beat England at their own game in 2007, when their batsmen batted better in English conditions, and their quick bowlers seamed and swung the ball more skilfully. There might be hope for India if they - and that includes the spinners of the land and the administrators - have been stung enough by this defeat. Aspiring to quick IPL riches is the biggest disincentive against learning the traditional craft of spin bowling. At the moment Indian spin bowling is going in the same direction that West Indian fast bowling did a few years ago.

Pakistan: making the most of their chances
Even though the intensity has dimmed over the years, there is always something in the air when India and Pakistan play cricket. But so arbitrary and so random has their latest series been that it has hardly stirred an emotion. It can be argued that resuming the relationship is a worthy act in itself, but could time not have been found for three Tests instead of an unfulfilling combination of T20s and ODIs?

That Pakistan played only six Tests last year must count as one of cricket's misfortunes. Even Panesar, who hardly ever features in an England XI outside the subcontinent, played as many. England played 15 Tests, and only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe played fewer than Pakistan. They were seen much oftener in the shorter formats (18 ODIs and 16 T20s) but the most exciting aspects of Pakistan cricket find their best showcase in Tests.

Despite his team having played so little, Saeed Ajmal was joint seventh on the Test wicket-takers' list in 2012. And watching Junaid Khan swirl the ball both ways in Chennai brought as much joy as it did a lament for what might have been. Despite losing two of their finest bowlers to the spot-fixing scandal, despite being off the international map for long periods of time, and despite being often maladministered, Pakistan's bowlers continue to uphold one of the finest traditions in the game. Cricket owes them the responsibility of providing a stage.

Read part two here

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by saimrasheed on (January 6, 2013, 3:57 GMT)

it is very sad to know that pak have v few tests in 2012.so want more tests than t20.

Posted by Simoc on (January 5, 2013, 5:41 GMT)

A nice summation of the year by Bal. SA are the best team by a mile and it is silly comparing different eras. Even so they compare ok against anyone. We'll have to see if they can replace Kaillis and others when the time comes in, a few years. Australia have a way to go but are on the right track. I don't expect they'll win the coming Ashes series 8-0.

Posted by harshthakor on (January 5, 2013, 5:11 GMT)

I also congragulate Pakistan for their spectacular 3-0 series win against the then test champions England .It proved their reserves of outstanding talent .

Posted by harshthakor on (January 5, 2013, 5:10 GMT)

Let us bless South Africa to retain it's place at the top of test cricket with greater authority.They thoroughly deserve the 1st place .Their series triumph in England last summer was arguably the best since their return to the International arena.Subsequently England beat India on their home soil that justifies South Africa's achievement.In the last series in Australia they were unable to live upto that form til their spectacular triumph in Perth.This side has more mental resilience than any of the past South African teams and are a more cohesive unit than those sides,even if the past top Proteas teams possessed more talent.

Posted by   on (January 5, 2013, 2:14 GMT)

Excellent appraisal though I would argue, that more important than the performance in Perth, was Faf Du Plessis' incredible marathon effort in Adelaide. At the end of the fourth day Morne Morkel was interviewed and said something that turned out to be very prophetic. After getting beaten up by the Aussies into the fourth day, with rescue all but impossible, he said the Saffers know how to fightback. There was something in the way he said it. That was the moment. The tipping point. And like Tom Watson, the guy who finished second for years is well forged to stay first for a few years. SA found their vasbyt. Finally.

Posted by Yakka-04 on (January 5, 2013, 0:11 GMT)

It will take something special to beat them as they have players who are at peak of their game and been around for a while together. They should make the most of this situation as they have been blessed with a good even thorough side over the last 5-10 years. they have to make the most of these players while they are there. It will be very hard for them to stay on top over the next couple of years as some of there players will start entering the other phase of their life's and retirement looms. This is their chance and I believe with the talent they have they have not done enough in the other formats of the game to get the trophies in. World Cup, 20 over matches they should start winning these tournaments before their opportunity goes as now is their time to do it. I think Australia and England are coming fast and if the Aussies get a settled and experienced side, then they will do exactly that. SA have to go for the kill every game every format cause they have the guns to do it.

Posted by SJinUS on (January 4, 2013, 18:47 GMT)

India has really hit a rock bottom in years! Gone are the people with excellent individual stats helping the team afloat in test rankings. When you look at the individual rankings for test it's obvious. Not even one player is there in the top 10 test performers (Ojha just got there by fluke). The selectors should realize that this is the sign for them to completely revamp the current team. Batting was our only strength and that is GONE! Even though it is a team game, we need individuals who can be relied. Not one is there now and we will not win any test without the individuals stepping up. The captain, coach, team management all deserve to be fired and has to start afresh. Nurture better bowlers - pace and spin alike. The situation calls for a complete make and extreme makeover. Stop focusing on twenty 20s which is a fluke game anyway. True cricket fans are terribly disappointed!! Fire all under performing captain and players.

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 15:03 GMT)

Yakka-04 - I have never said they should be bracketed in the same breath as the greatest teams to walk this earth - however they are the best team over the last 5-6 years that is born out by their results! what they have achieved in the last 5-6 years no other current team can boast their record - you say teams are weaker now than 5 years ago yet SA where still beating them five years ago? you say they arent dominant enough and play for draws yet in the last 21 series they have won 14 drawn 6 and lost 1 compare that to the great Windies of the 80's who between 01/01/1980 and 01/01/1990 played 20 series won 14 drew 5 lost 1 doesnt seem so bad does it really?

Personally they have a way to go untill they are talked about with the greatest teams (if they ever get those heights) but for now they are the best going and it will take something special to beat them

Posted by QingdaoXI on (January 4, 2013, 13:45 GMT)

India has 27 number of domestic teams, that is a concern that we are not getting quality players, as most of the batsmen score more vs weak teams and improve there averages. India should reduce the number of teams Say only: Mumbai, West India, North India, Delhi, Central India, East India, South India, Railways and Services. As number of teams will be reduced Railways and Services team will become stronger due to import of good cricketers. As there will be only 9 domestic teams, we will get all good players playing into one team and so scoring runs will be tougher and taking wicket too so those who will perform, will definitively deserve to play for India and most important people like Jadeja will not hit 3 triple centuries.

Posted by Yakka-04 on (January 4, 2013, 13:25 GMT)

Keith Waters, 57 test, won 30, just over 50 percent. the other 50 percent loose or draw. Good teams win generally 80% or more matches and by a very large margin. SA are winning games which they should as the opposition now days are no where near as good as over 5 years ago. Aussies are rebuilding, Indians are in a transition, paki's are on a rise but not strong by any means, only England are a genuine threat and I think they have learnt a lot from the last series against SA. They will be much better in the next series definitely. SA are very good against weak team, good against average team and if they played against teams of the old Australian or the West Indies caliber, I don't think SA would stand much of a chance. They have some good players but to be number 1 by miles and consistently, they have to smash teams regularly and with ease. 30 wins, 12 losses and 15 draws says a good team but not a great team.

Posted by bkempster on (January 4, 2013, 11:40 GMT)

OK - let's have a 2-tier test championship then; relegation and promotion after home and away 5-test series over 2 years. You can"t bemoan the standard of play when the best sides stuff the worst sides; the only ones at fault for that happening are the administrators who force the poor sides (India, West Indies, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh) to play the sides streets ahead of them. South Africa, England, Pakistan and Australia all deserve to be playing 5-test series against each other; the many of the rest can barely manage a FULL 5-day game, let alone compete in a 3-test series. Overseeing and consultation to local administration ought to be coming under the radar of the ICC, but can you imagine them saying to the BCCI "Look guys, here's how we think you could perhaps do things a little bit better to make you more competitive....."?

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 10:36 GMT)

@Yakka-04 - what is a red flag? also the suggestion that SA would struggle against very good opposition ? with 1 series loss out of 21 suggests that they dont struggle against anyone. Think you need to revisit your studying of SA cricket since 2007 they have won 30 out of the 57 tests only lost 12 to give them a WL ratio 0f 2.5 in the same period no other team has a WL more than 2 - how is that more defensive than the other teams? if you break down the recent concluded Aus series you will see that the first time SA had a full team for the whole match they smashed the Aussies by over 300 runs

"How to defeat South Africa: Put world cup in the tournament title" - brilliant comment gave me a good laugh -pity its true though

Posted by Taha_Farrukh on (January 4, 2013, 10:33 GMT)

it is now proven......india play more matches then other's and loss so many.... they have plan to play more matches try to busy their team.....they have plan to get long break to Pakistan so that they can't play cricket even in UAE...... and you people will see....it will proves India cricket will destroy cause of IPL..... the time will come India will only play and organized IPL I, IPL II, IPL III in a same year....

Posted by Neuen on (January 4, 2013, 10:05 GMT)

Affirmative action is reverse racism. Simple. How can anyone say racism is a good thing?

Posted by Vabzinator on (January 4, 2013, 9:41 GMT)

We all keep saying the B.C.C.I needs to get their head in and doing something about the critical situation of the team both batting and bowling. BUT is the BCCI ever going to respond in a strict way? I don;t think so. \

There is a final ODI match against Pakistan. It's a perfect chance for the selectors to introduce two new batsmen as openers as of Gambhir and Sehwag. Or even introduce new bowler just to expose them Internationally. But NO! THat is JUST not going to happen is it!

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 8:17 GMT)

@zoiderbergsclaw Australia lost a bowler to injury on an usually consistent Adelaide wicket. That was probably the worst wicket this season - it actually appeared to be easier to bat on days 4 and 5! Whether or not Australia could have still bowled SA out is one thing, but certainly the toll on the bowlers would have been lessened and Australia would have come into Perth with a more settled side, with the batsmen not under so much pressure given the new look of the bowlers. I don't begrudge SA being no 1, but Aus are certainly no 2. Time will tell how the team will cope sans Ponting and Hussey though. At least the bowling cupboard is well stocked for the next decade. The only worry there is mid-game injuries, as occured in Adelaide and Hobart.

Posted by SamRoy on (January 4, 2013, 7:46 GMT)

England can become best team (or at least as good as SA) if they take some bold decisions. First drop Bell, Bresnan and Broad. Though Bell is an extremely pretty player give him a tough situation and quality bowling and he will fail. Broad and Bresnan though have good career figures doesn't mean that they are all that good. I mean when Ishant Sharma looks more threatening than you most of the time I will not pick you in my team unless there is a real darth of fast bowlers in the country and also they cannot pretend to be all-rounders. Bring in Root,Compton,Bairstow, Finn, Woakes (closer to an all-rounder and better bowler than Broad, Bresnan), Onions and Panesar.

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 2:06 GMT)

They've yet to win any major tournament (like ever) so we will have to wait and see how long they remain on top. I do think they will destroy Pakistan at their homeground, though.

Posted by BnH1985Fan on (January 4, 2013, 1:11 GMT)

while t20 and odi are important forms, to me test cricket is the ultimate. here's a suggestion no one will pay heed to -- every so often, perhaps annually or bi-annually, only a select set of teams should be allowed to play tests for the upcoming period. this way, teams like BD, NZ, India and SL will really have to work hard to qualify. i am appalled at the quality of cricket from these 4; seems like they are diluting what should otherwise be gripping

Posted by   on (January 4, 2013, 0:59 GMT)

C'mon Samit Bal - what does South Africa has that India and other teams don't have? How about Bowling, Batting and Fielding for a start??

Posted by Yakka-04 on (January 4, 2013, 0:41 GMT)

South Africa loosing only 1 series out of the last 21. any team that plays more for draw then win will generally not loose many series. Look at there last 21 series closely and any one can tell that they show the red flag far to easily and go for a draw. Against very good opposition, SA will struggle. Aussies are no where as good as the SA team on paper but they dominated for majority of the test series.

Posted by philander50 on (January 4, 2013, 0:28 GMT)

Incredible, some of these aussies really have a selective memory @ RoJayao ok so yes australia nearly scored 500 runs in 1 day fantastic but on day 5 of the second test all australia had to do was get 6 wickets to win the match and couldn't do it, how did south africa become numer 1 by default when they beat england or were they the more dominant side through the series.

Posted by whoster on (January 3, 2013, 19:28 GMT)

South Africa are definitely the team to beat. Apart from being weak in the spin department, no other side has such quality with bat and ball. Australia are virtually guaranteed to struggle losing both Ponting and Hussey in quick succession. Only Michael Clarke and Shane Watson have their place cemented in the side, and unless 4-5 other players really step up, little chance of regaining the Ashes in England. If Steve Finn stays fit, England's attack will look a lot more dangerous. The batsmen got plenty of runs in India, so they should be pretty confident.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 19:18 GMT)

@Rohit Shiralkar : Who cares how much t20 cricket you(india) won?

Posted by LazloWoodbine on (January 3, 2013, 18:11 GMT)

To all he whining Aussie fans who bleat on about their alleged dominance in the recent Test series, I invite you to look in the record books of ANY sport and show me a column next to wins/losses that covers that topic.... You lost, boys, and that is truly all that matters to almost everyone but you....

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 17:31 GMT)

Hang on Sambit, before you and your co-writers (Sharda Ugra in particular) go overboard with India-bashing, lets look at some facts shall we. After the loss to Australia in Australia in the test and ODI series, India's record in international cricket until the England home test series reads:

- won 2 out of 3 ODIs in the Asia Cup - thrashed Sri Lanka 4-1 in Sri Lanka in ODIs and 1-0 in the T20 - won 4 out of 5 games in the T20 world cup - clean swept New Zealand 2-0 in home tests

So basically, two bad series in a year against two top teams and you forget everything else that happened? Ok, maybe an average year for Indian cricket, but how on Earth is this "plumbing depths"?

Posted by Captainman on (January 3, 2013, 17:06 GMT)

@Mohammad Arsalan:- What are you though? maybe you should be playing for the International team since you know what you're saying.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 15:57 GMT)

The Professionals / The Top Dogs : SA & ENG The Fighters / Teams in Transitions : PAK & AUS The Sliders / The Over-Hyped : SL & IND The Has-beens / The Might have beens : WI & NZ The No-wheres / The medicores : BD & ZIM

Posted by Beertjie on (January 3, 2013, 15:33 GMT)

@DeckChairand6pack on (January 03 2013, 13:12 PM GMT) Like so many Saffers you are on the "this team is the real deal." I've posted before that I think they'll last longer than India and England as #1. However, instead of repeating myself, for the benefit of my critic @SA_Scot on (January 03 2013, 11:10 AM GMT) I'll rebut: While you're going back to the past 10 years and mentioning Harris why not add Boje and the win in India in 2000? Btw Australia won there in 04; so what? We're in 13 and England just beat them, Where are their threatening spinners now? But recent history proves the charge that Tahir is not international class, and just how much of a match winner is Peterson? It's not I but you who is "stuck in the past mate!" The main reason for their eventual fall which has only indirectly been addressed echoes Sambit's reference to "solid but never spectacular, resourceful but not imaginative, gritty but rarely daring": their negative mindset leading them firstly to play for a draw

Posted by C.A-SA1987 on (January 3, 2013, 14:58 GMT)

I dont mind having a laugh at Jonesy2, because he appears to have a sense of humour.

The other aussie fans though... Wow, you guys just cant accept defeat. As South Africans, we have endured more beatings at your hand over the years than anyone else, yet we will always give respect where due.

But you guys just cant seem to let go. WE BEAT YOU... AGAIN... IN YOUR BACKYARD... AGAIN!!!!

Deal with it... and good luck replacing Ponting and Hussey.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 14:38 GMT)

Australia looks the most promising in the future while India looks the weakest of the top lot. India had all the time in the world when they were doing well abroad and inside a few years back to build new spinners, new pacers etc. But they havent. This is why I maintain that a Pakistan win would hammer the nail so hard that India will be hurt, and hurt very bad, leading to the only thing that improves a nation > CHANGE

Posted by JG2704 on (January 3, 2013, 14:33 GMT)

@Ahmed Hussain -TBH Zimbabwe are pretty much a one off example and maybe to a degree Bangladesh. I'm not sure who Zimbabwe played but if they had won that match they would have climbed the points table. The rankings are pretty fair IMO and the ranking points are calculated by the full points total divided by the number of games played - IE you have a total of 2000 ranking points from 20 games your ranking would be 100 points.If you win all your games it becomes very beneficial but if you lose many games you drop points so it's unlike football where you don't get minus points.Also you have some coming on here saying certain teams benefit by playing easier teams. Again not necessarily as while you may be less likely to lose you wouldn't for example get as many points from beating NZ or WI as you would from beating Aus or SA. Eng's poor form shows that playing more losing games is a hinderance as in Aug 2012 they were on 125 and now are on 118 which would have been lower pre India

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 13:15 GMT)

seriously India should look beyond Ashwin, Sehwag & Gambhir. Ashwin is a bowler who retains his place in the side on the basis of his bowling.We hear;if Sehwag fires he will demolish any opponent.True; but if he fires once in 15 innings then he's surely a gone case.Gambhir has taken his place for granted & is not learning from his mistakes.He has 2 100+ scores in last 2 years in ODI's & Sehwag has 3 in last 3 years.Cut down the meaningless matches; like out of blue ODI's vs SL or play the fringe players in those games as they will have the hunger to perform.Unless the selectors are ruthless; we wont see results. If Ganguly can be dropped; these are mere mortals.

Posted by DeckChairand6pack on (January 3, 2013, 13:12 GMT)

Not sure about South Africa having an Australian attitude. Think they have a South African attitude. Perhaps Australia have a South African attitude. Great to see them taking top spot and the writer's assessment that the only surprise was that it has taken them this long to do so is spot on. Australia choked when they had us on the ropes (twice) and shot their bolt in the 2nd test. They had nothing left in the tank. South Africa spotted this and put them to the sword good and proper. They probably wouldn't have been able to do that 10 or even 5 years ago but this team is the real deal. Go Proteas!

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 12:35 GMT)

@ RoJayao think you need a reality check - Australia choked and couldnt finish SA off not Smith being feeble more Aus being chockers !!!! as for Australia 5 years ago demolishing this Team maybe but the SA team of 43 years ago would have demolished them lol what a childish argument obviously leaving aside the SA team of 2008 beat Aus in Aus Oooops!

SA have only lost 1 series out of the last 21 no other team in world cricket at the moment can boast that record perhaps time to actually ackmowledge how good this team really is oh and lets not forget it been at least 6 years since SA lost an away series another incredible achievement

Posted by SA_Scot on (January 3, 2013, 11:10 GMT)

@Beertjie, Thank for the congratulations ;-). *Well done SA, but the absence of any threatening spinner will bite them seriously on spinning wickets*..

I find this a bit mind boggling, considering South Africa have done particularly well in India, for instance, over the past 10 years playing a rather stoic spinner in Paul Harris.How many teams have *dominated* in India over the past 20 years....did the Mighty Australia do it??

SA have Peterson AND Tahir to call on, and both are pretty decent. Duminy and Faf are just fill-ins, they will NEVER be selected as sole spinners, you're stuck in the past mate!

And yes, picking the *right* team in Home conditions would put ANY team under pressure, not just SA....sounds like a strange comment. If South Africa pick the *right* team in away conditions they also would do well :-).

The question is whether other countries have a *right* team of players to select.

Some on beertjie, where is this cynicism of yours coming from?!

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 9:58 GMT)

By the way, how is it that when Australia are unlucky, all their fans come out in full force whining about how they dominated (but failed to win), and were so unlucky. But what about the many more times when South Africa were unlucky, having drawn a Test series where we dominated with innings victories. On these occasions the same Australian fans cry "chokers". Say that to yourselves now

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 9:51 GMT)

Looking at the comments, I see that Aussies are STILL bitter that they choked at home in the series against SA

Posted by Beertjie on (January 3, 2013, 9:46 GMT)

Well done SA, but the absence of any threatening spinner will bite them seriously on spinning wickets. Like Australia they have to rely on reverse swingers then or people bowling cutters. The comments about their negative mindset is even more telling. When England were forced to become attacking they seriously threatened SA. However that doesn't come easy to either country. Find the right team in the suitable home conditions and SA will falter - not crumble - but definitely lose. This 7-man batting tactic is to prepare themselves for post Kallis when someone will need to pick up the slack, probably Faf + JP as their spin option together with 4 quicks. Plan properly and they will fall even before Kaiis retires (after WC 2015).

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 9:30 GMT)

@Manoj Damani Well played Sir ..well played :)

Posted by RoJayao on (January 3, 2013, 9:02 GMT)

Hmmm reasonable summation, though talking about SAs destruction in Perth in such glowing terms it'd be worth noting that it only came after Australia did the same and more to supposedly the best attack in world cricket! Nearly 500 runs in a day in Adelaide should've certainly cured your "unremarkable" blues! And David Baker, Australia DID do all the running because SA were limp and their captain Smith feeble. The result came down to a couple of remarkable efforts by a debutante. My, your ability to ignore reality and look only at a result is Indian like, we'll done! Hey BTW SA fans, how'd your spinner go?? Hahahaha no.1 team sure, best team only by default. Australia from 5 years ago would've demolished your feeble band. World cricket very weak at the moment

Posted by ansram on (January 3, 2013, 8:33 GMT)

The downfall of India's spin fortress was the biggest story for 2012. Visitors would now come to India with a lot of confidence. India tag "tigers at home and lambs abroad" is now getting challenged.

After Harbhajan, who is now a spent force, India are yet to see real spin talent emerge. The new spinners are designed to succeed in T20 but they will be taken to the cleaners in test matches. Ojha is probably the best of the lot. Ashwin has been terribly disapponting.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

@jonesy2 - It's you that is delusional.

10-12 days of complete and utter Aussie dominance. Really? 1st test was a wash and SA were a player short. 2nd test SA did well to escape no argument but the last 4 sessions of play were not Aussie dominance.

3rd Test - Aus well beaten

Score 1-0. No asterisks.

If you dominate for 10-12 days you will win a 3 test series easily

Posted by Yakka-04 on (January 3, 2013, 7:43 GMT)

what needs to be remembered is that South Africa were absolutely dominated by the average Aussies for majority of the series, in both the first and second test, SA was only trying to save the matches while the Aussies were going for the kill. Only bad luck stopped Australia from crushing them. If you look at the series as a whole, Australia were much better the the SA team. SA hardly loose because they play more cautiously and more often then not they try to draw then loose while the Aussies always go for the win. SA is not as dominant if you study them carefully. They rank no where near really dominant teams like the Aussies, West Indies of the past. If a team generally has a good game against them, they don't win but go for a draw. THEY ARE GOOD BUT NOT GREAT. A dominant number 1 team is miles ahead of the second best. Aussies are not so far behind the South African's and England are on par with the SA team.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 7:38 GMT)

just followed the 2nd odi Indo-Pak....looks like Pak will score 350 and get India all out for 250....nice start to 2013 India....lol To think that India would have been No.1 ODI side in ICC table if 3-0, it looks laughable and unrealistic now..

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 7:19 GMT)

How to defeat South Africa: Put world cup in the tournament title.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 6:18 GMT)

My comments never make it to this site...Am I so controversial ? I think not.The downfall of India is due to a variety of factors..As an Indian I expect little to change as long as we have moronic BCCI heads, Selection Committee, fawning over non-performing captains like MSD...the list goes on...MSD playing favorites to CSK players is disgusting.....I feel bad for deserving players like Manoj Tiwary, Rahane, etc. kick the behinds of Rohit, Jadeja..etc. perhaps for good..Also, why are all our promising bowlers like Varun, Umesh, Rahul Sharma always "injured"? Unimaginative captaincy from MSD..he is too dumb to even think of good excuses now.

Posted by Starboomber on (January 3, 2013, 6:16 GMT)

Jonesy.. Jonesy.. what do you have to show for the dominance..LOL

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 6:01 GMT)

@jonesy2 Complete and utter Aussie dominance? Haha, You've got to be kidding me? If it were so complete and utter, surely they would have won at least one of them. They couldn't. And that about sums it up. Australia, for all their so called 'dominance' lacked any ideas on how to win a test match. South Africa, when it mattered most, showed ruthlessly why they are the number one side in the world.

Posted by EJ72 on (January 3, 2013, 5:59 GMT)

@jonesy2 I think the point being made was was more in the analogy of the boxer who absorbs pressure and knows when to strike decisively. For sure Aus had the ascendancy for most of the tour... but obviously didn't strike at the right time. In years gone by Ponting always used to talk about seizing "key" moments and I think that was the point being made.

Posted by jonesy2 on (January 3, 2013, 5:28 GMT)

hahaha south africa have one good period of batting in the whole australia series and thats the only thing that gets remembered? not the other 10-12 days of complete and utter aussie dominance. delusional.

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 4:56 GMT)

indian team needs to get rid of duncan fletcher and have dhoni just captain odis and t-20 and need a different test captain gambhir sehwag should be dropped and other people should be given a chance umesh yadav,bhuvneshwar kumar and varun aaron should be future bowlers for india

Posted by   on (January 3, 2013, 4:40 GMT)

Sambit, was expecting a better analysis on Pakistan. You seem to have just rushed over them.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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