It’s been awhile since I had a post about cricket. There have been some unusual happenings recently and the good news is that it does not involve cheating or other bad behavior by players but instead is about the game itself. It used to be that national Test cricket teams had periods of dominance of a few years when a good crop of players matured together and then went into a slump as those players retired and new ones entered who had yet to find their feet. But now teams lurch from looking dominant in one series to looking awful in the very next one and then bouncing back again, all within a period of months.
The Sri Lankan team is a good example of this. After tying a Test series in the West Indies last June, they convincingly swept a Test series back home against South Africa in July. They then went into a deep slump and were thoroughly trounced by England in November, New Zealand in December, and Australia in January of this year. They went on a tour of South Africa this month and another trouncing was expected because South Africa is tough to beat at home and indeed England and Australia are the only teams to have ever beaten them there. But in a highly improbable turn of events, Sri Lanka swept the two match series against a team that was considered far superior in pretty much every area of the game. In the first Test, they even had one of the greatest comeback wins in Test history. The South African captain Faf du Plessis was extremely gracious in defeat, even though it must have come as a shock to him and his team.
But other teams are going through similar variability. In the case of England, after they trounced Sri Lanka and India, they lost to a weaker West Indies team, all within the space of less than a year.
Australia has usually fielded strong teams but the suspension of their captain and vice captain for a year following a cheating scandal has resulted in them looking shaky, losing badly to South Africa, Pakistan, and India before beating Sri Lanka when the latter was going through its awful phase.
South Africa has been strong for the past two years, beating all the teams they met but improbably losing only to Sri Lanka both at home and away.
The Pakistan team has long been notoriously unpredictable, looking like world-beaters in one match to awful in the very next. You never know with them what to expect.
West Indies seems to be finally finding its feet. After losing to India and Bangladesh, they unexpectedly beat England.
New Zealand has been the exception to this variability and been the most consistently good recently, winning all their series against West Indies, England, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
India usually fields good teams. Apart from losses to England and South Africa last year, they have won every series for the last four years and currently they, along with New Zealand, look like the best teams. Currently India is deservedly ranked #1, followed by New Zealand, then South Africa, with Australia and England tied for fourth place.
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, relative newcomers to the Test scene, have shown that they can win against the more established teams.
All this variability is good for the game. It makes every Test match an exciting one.