The cricketing events in the past few weeks have been rather intriguing.
Bangladesh, after one of the landmark home series against Australia, huffed and puffed their way to finish second best in the treacherous land of South Africa. And at the same time, Sri Lanka, having been trounced 0-3 by India at home, bounced back to beat Pakistan 2-0 in the latter’s adopted home of UAE.
These lead to a mixed bag of indicators.
In Bangladesh’s case, it is more than abundantly clear that their encouraging shows at home notwithstanding, the tigers lose all their ferocity as soon as the action shifts abroad.
True, Shakib Al Hasan had withdrawn from the tour, and Tamim Iqbal was not available for the second Test. But then, South Africa were without Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, and even Morne Morkel played in only one of the two Tests. In spite of that, if a team wants to field first on winning the toss on rather normal Test wickets, it speaks volumes about the lack of confidence in its own batting line up.
The decisions were not based on strengths of the team or even strength of the opposition. They were simply taken due to an enormous conviction in their own weakness, in other words ‘fear’. It is true that Bangladesh have come a long way from being just a pushover in world cricket, but their progress is still a product of a few individuals. Take away Shakib and the team is back to being a ragged outfit. Pull out Tamim too and it topples all by itself.
In retrospect, the team that drew against Australians at home was a vastly different one, now totally undone by alien conditions and lack of the star performers.
However, if we look at the Sri Lankans on the other hand, it has been an incredible story. They had been blown away 0-3 at home against India. And then they outplayed Pakistan in two incredible Test matches away from home.
They did not perform at a constant high though, and that is what makes the triumphs stand out. In the first Test, they were bowled out for 138 in the second innings and successfully defended a target of 136. Thanks mainly to that phenomenal performer named Rangana Herath. And in the second Test, they fell for 96 in the second innings, and undid more or less all the advantage gained through a 220-run lead. And then through the designs of Dilruwan Perera, along with two finishing blows by Herath, they stopped Pakistan 68 runs short.
Having been whitewashed at home, they went abroad and whitewashed Pakistan in their adopted land.
As already mentioned, if one looks at these results in the aftermath of what took place in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh not too long ago, one is foxed with numerous mixed signals about the health of the different teams. The fluctuations are curious, and teams seem to blow hot and cold at the drop of a proverbial hat.
Perhaps when the West Indies play in Zimbabwe, after a rather encouraging performance in England, we will be treated to a similar inconsistency of results.
One of the logical explanations is that every side in the current scenario, perhaps apart from England and India, are going through major states of flux.
Bangladesh is busy coming through the ranks, but have miles to go before they can be taken seriously away from home. Sri Lanka is in the process of serious rebuilding after the retirement of several stalwarts. Even the encouraging performances of these two teams had a lot to do with the less than ideal composition and preparation of Australia amidst all its payment fiasco, and the perennial volatility that is the signature of the Pakistan side.
And although it does not come across as blatantly, even South Africa, plagued by injury, AB de Villiers and kolpak problems, is hardly a side of steady fortunes and solidity.
In these circumstances, it is really difficult to infer a lot from the results, or to evaluate the merits and demerits of the different sides and conclude about their respective strengths and weaknesses at home and away. There is just too much volatility in world cricket to do any analysis with any degree of certainty.
However, this unpredictability also has its own charms. One can definitely look forward to the destinies of these sides with plenty of interest.