There is certainly a lot happening around the cricketing world right now to keep the follower of the game engaged full time.
By Partab Ramchand
There is certainly a lot happening around the cricketing world right now to keep the follower of the game engaged full time. India are touring New Zealand in a bid to win their first Test series after 41 years besides hopefully continuing their roll in limited overs cricket. England are in the midst of an engrossing tussle with a resurgent West Indian side in the Caribbean, Pakistan are hosting Sri Lanka for their first Test in 14 months and Australia and South Africa are about to commence a high-profile grudge series in which the hosts will be keen to prove that their historic triumphs 'Down Under' in both the Tests and the ODIs was not just a flash in the pan.
With the top eight teams competing there is enough to whet the appetite of the cricket fan. All the same I suppose the Australia - South Africa clash must take pride of place in the billing. The teams are ranked No 1 and No 2 in the ICC rankings with the places being interchanged in Tests and ODIs. South Africa will be keen to hold on to their top ranking in the ODIs even as Australia will do all they can to regain the No 1 spot. As far as the Tests are concerned Australia despite their series loss to South Africa are still No 1 but a win for the hosts should see them gallop to the top spot.
The additional point to note is that India are not far behind in both the Tests and ODI rankings but it will take a superhuman effort for them to leap to the coveted spot. New Zealand is a country where they do not have an enviable record and it is unlikely that will perform so well as to leapfrog both Australia and South Africa.
New Zealand and India square off in limited overs matches first while South Africa and Australia have three Tests first up but at the moment the focus is on West Indies' marvelous showing against England. Clear underdogs when the Test series started the colourful Caribbean cricketers have brought back memories of their glorious past in the two matches. In the first Test they shot out England for 51 on their way to a totally unexpected innings victory and in the second after facing defeat squarely in the face they gallantly held on to force a draw to keep their lead in the series. There can be few better sights in world cricket than the West Indians on song and after several setbacks over the years it is heartening to see them coming back into their own.
The two-Test series in Pakistan will no doubt be welcomed by the hosts who have not played the longer version of the game since the tour of India in December 2007 thanks to boycotts by teams citing security concerns in the country. The main focus will be on how the Pakistanis handle any rustiness and Younis Khan who has taken over the leadership from Shoaib Malik has an onerous responsibility. Another cricketer who will be the cynosure will be Mahela Jayawardene who will step down as Sri Lankan captain after the series. The players have made it clear that they would like to give their popular captain a winning send off something that might just be possible given Pakistan's lack of match practice.
One will not be surprised if there is a major shake up in the rankings over the next couple of months. There is very little to separate all the contestants and the unpredictability of ODIs will add spice to the contest. The Tests too promise to be interesting and surprise results cannot be ruled out. After all who could have predicted that long shots West Indies would bowl out hot favourites England for 51?