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By Partab Ramchand
Even in these hectic days of choked schedules and rushed short tours what is happening right now is something quite unique. All ten full members of the ICC are in action either playing Twenty20, Fifty50 or Test cricket. New Zealand are touring Zimbabwe, England are in India, South Africa are hosting Australia and West Indies are having a mixed time in Bangladesh while in the UAE we have the contest between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is supposedly Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan but since Pakistan is out of bounds for teams following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 it is being held at a neutral venue.
In this flurry of activity the average cricket fan has his hands full. It is difficult to keep a tab on every match, on every series. Also the charge that there is too much cricket being played these days is given further ammunition by these simultaneous contests. But then the inveterate follower of the game can never complain that his plate is full though it is arguable whether he will be able to observe closely the events of all five contests.
There is little doubt however that from an international angle the Australia – South Africa series will garner most interest. The teams have some of the greatest players in world cricket and matches between the two countries have almost always produced engaging, high calibre quality contests. Who can forget Johannesburg in 2006 when they put together 872 runs with South Africa chasing down 434 with one wicket and one ball to spare or the pulsating tie in the 1999 World Cup – two of the greatest ODIs of all time. The fare has been no less exciting in Tests. The two teams are again evenly matched and the high ICC rankings they occupy in both Tests and ODIs add spice to the flavour.
I am sure the India – England series is also being followed closely. For one thing it is being touted about as a ``revenge’’ series following the debacle the Indians suffered in England going down in all formats. India in India is a very different proposition as all teams have discovered – the only touring side to win a Test series in this country in the last decade has been Australia in 2004 – and the Englishmen too are discovering the truth associated with this fact. It doesn’t matter that key players are missing on both sides; we have seen some highly skilled performances particularly from the Indians who have already wrapped up the ODI series.
Pakistan against Sri Lanka can also be considered fairly high profile. It is ostensibly a contest between two evenly matched sides as ratified by the ICC Test rankings which have both contestants close together somewhere in the middle. The fact that it is being held in the UAE doesn’t take any sheen from it. On the contrary it adds to the value for neutral venues in Tests are pretty rare.
The two low key contests would appear to be New Zealand vs Zimbabwe and West Indies vs Bangladesh. In the ODI rankings the four teams bring up the rear among Test playing nations while Zimbabwe are not even ranked in the Test positions not having played enough matches. Still New Zealand should carry too many guns for Zimbabwe while Bangladesh at home can be a tricky proposition as the West Indies have discovered.
The fact of that matter is whether they are leading teams, middling sides or squads bringing up the rear there is always the opportunity for all the contestants to improve their rankings – or in the case of England and Australia to lose their No 1 slots in the two formats. In any case whatever the merits and demerits of the IPL and the Champions League and the teams participating in the tournaments a true contest will always be one that pits one nation’s team against another. To that extent the current feverish activity is welcome. And the non stop schedule is likely to continue what with every country involved in contests at home and away for the rest of the season. Actually of course there is no season now for cricket; plainly put it is round the year.