Sunday, 5 January 2014

In Other Test Matches ...

With the Ashes contest occupying our attention in Australia, other Tests have slipped by without comment, so its time we catch up. As Australia head of to South Africa in five weeks to find out just how good they are - or perhaps how poor England are - it might be a good time to see what the rest of the world has been doing since the last days of November and the fervour of the Gabba.

Pakistan v Sri Lanka started a three Test series in the UAE which will be virtually back-to-back. Thefirst Test ended on the same day as the SCG Test and was drawn, after Sri Lanka recovered from an opening day collapse caused mostly by debutante Bilawal Bhatti, even though Junaid Khan took 5-58. Sri Lanka's new skipper, Angelo Matthews, scored 91. Matthews who took over the captaincy from the legendary Mahela Jayawardene after the 0-3 debacle last summer in Australia. By the end of the second day, Pakistan were 123 ahead with six wickets in hand thanks to a 218 run 4th wicket stand in which Younis Khan and captain Misbah-ul-haq both got hundreds. After waiting 28 innings and almost two and a half years for his fourth Test century (against South Africa in October) Misbah had another five innings later. For the aging Younis, it was his 23rd Test century.

Pakistan collapsed on the third day and then Sri Lanka batted until a declaration just before lunch on the fifth day. Matthews made only his second century in more than fifty innings; the first coming against Australia more than two years ago at the Sinhalese Sports Ground. Dinish Chandimal and Kausal Silve made good but very slow 80's and Prassana and Sangakkara also made half centuries but Sri Lanka never had any other intention than saving the game. Hafeez and Shezad saw out time in a dull draw where the scoring rate stayed at three an over.

Kallis scored a hundred in his last Test
South Africa defeated India in the second Test of their quick, two Test series and won the series 1-0. It's amazing that the number one and two teams in Test cricket go head to head and only two matches are played. Even more incredulous is that South Africa now plays five weeks of domestic one day and T20 games leading up to the first Test against Australia on 12th February at Centurion. What sort of madness could allow such programming. Clearly, short form cricket is dominating South African summers when they would program it in preference to four or five Tests against the number two in the world.

South Africa were the superior side, failing by 8 runs to win a drawn first Test when they still had three wickets up their sleave and the tailenders were scared to get out. Virat Kohli made 119 as India took a first innings lead when Zaheer and Ishant ran through the much vaunted South African batting order. Graeme Smith's 68 was best. Batting a second time, India set South Africa a huge target well beyond the best fourth innings chase, thanks to a Richie Benaud-like 222 run stand between Chet Pujara (153) and Kohli (96) who narrowly missed hundreds in each innings. The Proteas were 4-402 chasing 458 with 13 overs left, when the wickets of AB deVilliers (103), JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis (134) fell quickly and Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander shut up shop. Choke ... you bet.

In an emotion charged second Test - after Jacques Kallis announced it would be his last - India through away a good start to plunge from 1-181 at the end of a rain affected first day and be all out for 334. Steyn took 6-100 as the Indian's crumbled. Everyone got runs as South Africa replied with 500 but it was a six and a half hour farewell century by Kallis that attracted the headlines. The old man of South African cricket, now in his 39th year, was effective but not superb but with only Tendulkar and Ponting ahead of him on the Test run aggregate and this being his 45 hundred, it didn't matter. Jadega took 6-138 of 58 overs in a very tidy display. India collapsed on the last day, Kohli caught behind of the first ball of the day from Steyn and the other overnight batsman, Pujara, losing his off stump in Steyn's next over. Rahane defied the bowlers for three and a half hours but in the end, Smith and Alviro Petersen need only twelve overs to knock of the 59 run target.

Ross Taylor return with three centuries
New Zealand thrashed the West Indies 2-0 in three Tests in the land of the long white cloud in December. There is hardly any need to mention anyone beyond Ross Taylor, Travis Boult and Tim Southee as all three dominated. Taylor, returning to the side after a self imposed withdrawal following his sacking as captain, made nearly 500 hundred runs at half that and the two swing bowlers took more than half of the West Indian wickets to fall.

At Dunedin, Taylor made 217 not out and skipper Brendan McCullum 113 as they added 195 which not only set up a first innings score beyond 600 but represented a metaphorical mending of the issues between them. Boult and Southee routed the West Indies, with only Shiv Chanderpaul - another veteran - who made 76 at uncharacteristically run a ball clip and Darren Bravo, looking like Test batsmen. Following on, Bravo made a wonderful double century with the help of Deonarine and a reinstated Kirk Edwards who had lost his place when England destroyed him in the northern summer of 2012. Darren Sammy hit the ball hard but for three hours and was last man out leaving the West Indies safe, despite a flurry at the end by the Kiwis.

At Wellington, New Zealand won by and innings, making 440 (Taylor 129, Ben Wattling 65) and then rattling through the Windies twice for totals less than 200. Edwards made another fifty in the first innings but Marlon Samuels 60 was their highest score for the match. Boult took 10-80 for the match and was far to good for the men from the Caribbean.

At Hamilton, it was a close game until the last session on day three. The West Indies led narrowly after scoring 367 with centuries from Chanderpaul (his 29th) and Dinesh Ramdin (his third in 18 innings at No 7 and with no note for Viv apparent). New Zealand's reply had pulled up just short, with Taylor (131) making his third hundred in as many matches. Off spinner Narine impressed with 6-91 from 42 well constructed overs. Then, all hell broke lose as the West Indies were all out in a last session that was elongated by half an hour. They made just 103. Neil Wagner and Boult routed the top order and Southee the tail and Kane Williamson made a second fifty for the match as New Zealand won the match after lunch on the following day.