Test cricket is alive and well

It has been a great few weeks for Test match cricket with series played in South Africa, India, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies.

I thought the India V Australia Test series was great entertainment, not because of what happened to Australia, but because it has seen the re-emergence of India as a force in Test cricket.

And yes, the Aussie’s getting a hammering is always fun, but I don’t believe the result told the whole story.

Even without taking England’s toils in New Zealand into consideration, I don’t think the Ashes in England is the foregone conclusion people seem to already believe it is. Make no mistake the Aussies put up a fight in India, ok, so they may have been outclassed, but they didn’t lie down.

If England are two or three big names short come the Ashes, this could be a lot closer than people think. We have been here before with injured England players, so I am a bit concerned about the injuries to Pietersen and Swann.

All we need is those two to be missing and one of Trott, Cook, Anderson or Prior to be out, and we could be struggling.

The conditions in England will suit the Aussie quicks, and they have some good ones. In the meantime they do need to work on their batting though.

Of the other series…. South Africa showed they are by far the best Test playing nation in the world in hammering Pakistan. While Bangladesh managed to look competitive against Sri Lanka, which is a good sign.  

I don’t think we learnt a great deal about where this West Indies team currently stand in Test cricket, the only thing that this series showed me is that Zimbabwe are miles away from being a competitive outfit.

India look like they are moulding a Duncan Fletcher style side. He has got rid of a lot of the old guard and now has what I would call his team. I think their future is looking brighter.

Are Australia as bad as they are currently made out to be? I don’t think they are. What happened to them in India could have happened to a lot better side than them, I’m still amazed it didn’t happen to England.

New Zealand look to have developed a bit of a backbone since the South Africa series. They were the better side in two of the three Tests against England, but it just goes to show how tough Test cricket is as they couldn’t win either of those two Tests, and subsequently the series.

When you are on top like they were, you need to make it count, and sadly for New Zealand they couldn’t do that. Why? Because they are not good enough.

And as for England. I’m not sure whether to be too worried or not. Is this a wake up call, or are the team really struggling?

I thought Steven Finn could have bowled better. I’m not going to criticise him though because I believe he is a class act who will lead England’s attack for years. At the moment I think he is still really finding his feet at Test level, and he is still learning how to bowl off his new run up.

What’s happened to Stuart Broad? Is he carrying an injury we are not aware of? As he certainly doesn’t look himself too me. That’s why I’m not sure whether he is being nursed through Test matches, or is he just not fit and needs a kick up the backside?

The batsmen played some awful shots in this series, and it’s starting to look fragile again too me. If Cook, Trott or Pietersen don’t score, then we are struggling again.

There is a lot of inexperienced players in the batting line up now. Even with a fully fit squad for the Kiwi tour and the Ashes, there is still going to be two novices in the line up. Just goes to show how we can’t afford too many injuries at the moment.

The good thing about this New Zealand series is that it looks fairly obvious where England went wrong, so it should hopefully not be too difficult to put things right. There is a lot of room for improvement and I hope this series gives England the kick up the – you know what – that they looked like they clearly needed.

The battle for test top spot

Obviously there has been two major test match results over the last 24 hours, not surprisingly England beat Australia, that game was all over after Day 1 really. But down in South Africa there is a real contest is taking place and with India winning the 2nd test to level the series, it has just got really exciting.

Although India are rightly ranked at No.1, there are some doubters out there. To really put the argument to bed they have to go and win (or not lose) test series in places like South Africa and England.

India showed real character and fighting spirit to beat South Africa after losing the toss and having to bat first against Steyn and Morkel in testing conditions, especially after what happened at Centurion last week.

It was no great surprise to see VVS Laxman take the Man of the Match honours, I wrote on Tuesday that if India win the match it would mainly be down to his outstanding contribution.

These are the sort of results teams need to grind out if they want to be Number 1. The obvious problem India have though, is that Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman can’t go on forever. Maybe Dravid could go sooner than the other two, but VVS and Sachin will be impossible to replace.

While India are probably at their peak at the moment. South Africa and England are steadily improving teams with plenty of young talent in them. England’s win over Australia might not have been a surprise to a lot of people, but I think the manner of the victories has been.

England have retained the Ashes with plenty to spare, the pool of talent that the selectors currently have was proven by Stuart Broad’s injury, he hasn’t even been missed. We also have the worlds best player in the dressing room clogging up our batting line up, so there is room for improvement there too.

If England can kick on and build on this success, then there is exciting times ahead, hopefully starting in Sydney next week. It would be a major injustice if Australia win that test and level a series that they have been hammered in. It would also send out a powerful message if England can be ruthless and really put Australia to the sword.

Although I do hope that Australia can become competitive again after Sydney despite currently loving their demise. As a test cricket fan, I think the game is all the better with a strong, competitive Australia.

South Africa also have a relatively young side along with a wealth of experience, it looks to be a very good blend. I get the feeling watching them, that they have got better days ahead as well. They have a strong batting line up and in Steyn and Morkel a decent bowling attack, if they can find some bowlers to complement those two, they really will be a force to be reckoned with.

It will be interesting to see how the 3rd test goes in Cape Town next week, as will the England V India series next summer. At the moment India are top dogs, but with an ageing batting line up and two younger and hungry sides chasing them, it promises to be an exciting battle over the next couple of years for test match supremacy.