I was talking to a few people the other day about the merits of this India v Australia series. In the not too distant past, these two would be going toe to toe as the best two teams in the world. I don't know if they are today.
When I look at both teams, they both have some awesomely crap players. Marcus North is not a test player; neither is Hauritz. McGrath, Warne or Hayden they are not. There are some good journeymen players such as Bollinger and Katich, but they will not be remembered in 30 years as any of the best. Yes, there are some world-class performers in the Australian side, but it's fairly obviously a shadow of the all-conquering side of only a few years ago.
The Indian side is better, and with legends like Dravid and Tendulkar in the top order, they will beat most sides. But the bowling of Sreesanth, Ojha and Zaheer would struggle to worry the Richards, Gooches or Laras in their pomp.
When I look globally, I see plenty of brilliant players in the world's top sides, but I also see JP Duminy, Ian Bell and Dale Richards. Top level cricket isn't what it used to be.
When the Australian side of Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist and Lee were tearing teams apart, they were clearly the best side in the world. Likewise the West Indian side of the 80s, and the England side of the 90s (spot the odd one out...). When sides would play against them, they would need to raise their games in order to compete, and any players not good enough would soon be found out, and taken away from test cricket. Without that sort of dominant team, too many test cricketers are being carried by the performances of their teammates, and racking up far too many test caps. Or grinding out one gritty innings to save their career. (Step forward Mr North).
Sure, everyone who plays test cricket must be half-good. They're probably better than me, and probably better than a few of their club / county / state mates. But are they test-class? Without teams being right at the top of their games, test cricket is suffering. The 2005 Ashes were contested by a team who were rightly regarded as the best in the world (and full of hall of famers), and a side who had built themselves up for that series, giving themselves a chance to overhaul that great side. It led to (perhaps) the best series of all time, with the standard of cricket superb throughout. 2009 was different. Australia were rebuilding having lost loads of players; England were trying to create a team after the loss of the coach and two captains. While the competition of the series was great, the overall quality of the cricket was poor. Yes, England won, so I'm not complaining, but nobody will be watching the 2009 DVD ahead of the 2005 six-disc boxset.
So what's the point of this blog? Basically, I am saying that the overall quality of test cricket is lower than it was a few years ago. We've seen Pakistan collapse for under a hundred three times in a four game series - unthinkable previously. And this week we've seen a player who isn't good enough to be playing in tests make a hundred. For Australia. In India. I'm sure this is a cyclical thing, and in a couple of years better players will be displacing their crap counterparts, and the natural order will be restored. But until then, we're going to have to suffer another few years of Marcus North. And Ian Bell.