Standard fare

NEW Zealand have just completed a 2-0 annihilation of Bangladesh. Sri Lanka has just finished thrashing the West Indies and is now preparing to do likewise to Zimbabwe. Australia are up 2-0 against South Africa and all indications are that they will win the third Test as well.

A question needs to be asked: is it possible that all these victorious teams are playing good cricket? Or could it be that standards have dropped to the point where the meretricious are now being treated as the magnificent? How many really good players are around, men who could claim that they would be picked for their country in any day and age?

Have a look at the West Indies. Who among the lot inspires confidence? Lara is inconsistent, at best. Hooper's best days are behind him. Jacobs seems to have lost the fighting spirit which he possessed. And the rest of the players would struggle to be 12th man in any West Indies team right up to the mid-1990s.

New Zealand is one team which has a number of average players and also some element of team spirit. They play good cricket at times and fight even if they are about to lose. But their results are erratic at best. And this goes against them.

Much is made of the Australian team. McGrath would probably rate as the best bowler yet he is more or less the equivalent of Curtley Ambrose after the latter's heyday. A number of batsmen who have neither the application nor the talen make a bowler look much better than he is today. Some of the Australian batsmen are good and would command a place in any tem - though they cannot rank with those who wore the green and gold in the early 70s. The Australian is the best of the lot simply because the others are worse.

India and Pakistan are yet another sad set of statistics. Much is made of Tendulkar. Yet when (apart from one one-dayer in Sharjah) has he won a match solely off his own bat? Ganguly is a man of the past and Dravid is again woefully inconsistent. Would Kumble have stood any chance against the likes of Bedi, Prasanna, Chandra or Venkat? Not a chance in hell. Pakistan have far too many internal problems to become anything like the challenge they were when they had Imran Khan at the head.

Sri Lanka have a few good players in Murali, Jayewardene and Atapattu. The story ends there. What happens if Murali is injured? Which bowler will put his hand up? Zimbabwe have gone through such an era of uncertainty that they have changed their captain twice. It wouldn't be doing the team any good. The few good men there are looking to rescue their careers elsewhere.

South Africa have been exposed in Australia. Their weaknesses have been shown up. No question of this team ever claiming to be much more than an average outfit. If they have done well against the other teams, then it is only an indication of the weakness of other teams , not their own strength.

World cricket has descended to these depths because of the excessive number of matches. Even good players cannot keep performing day after day after day and with cricket having become an industry, quality has suffered greatly. Statistics is being used to mask the fact that cricket has sunks to such depths of mediocrity but even statisticians are having a tough time.

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