There are two things one can take away from the Australia-New Zealand Test series, even though it is not yet over, and the third and final match remains to be played in Sydney early next year.
One, the rankings system that the International Cricket Conference uses is out of sync with reality; if Australia, ranked fifth, can beat second-ranked New Zealand with so much ease, then whatever decides those rankings needs sore re-examination.
The second, and probably more interesting, revelation has been the exposure of Steve Smith’s vulnerability to good short-pitched bowling. Smith has been called many things since he started to accumulate runs, and is now often likened to the late Sir Donald Bradman.
But his inability to play short stuff was demonstrated by New Zealander Neil Wagner, the only one of the four New Zealand pacemen (ok, medium-pacers, none of them can be classified fast) who uses the bouncer intelligently. Wagner dismissed Smith in both innings, with a beauty of a snorter at the face accounting for him in the first innings.
In the second innings, again it was a ball that was just above hip level that got Smith; he tried to paddle it around but lost control and was caught backward of square leg.
This method of packing off Smith cannot be used in the shorter forms of the game, as there are strict limits on short-pitched bowling, and anyone who persists will be called for wides, then warned and finally stopped from bowling. The short form of the game is all about making runs and the ICC wants to keep it that way, with the balance favouring batsmen.
And Smith does not have to play against the Australian bowlers; they form the best pace attack globally and he could be troubled by the likes of James Pattinson and Patrick Cummings if he were to face them. The rest of the fast bowling fraternity, to the degree it exists now, would have taken note, however, and one is pretty sure that India’s Jasprit Bumrah will test him when next they meet in a Test.
Australia are not scheduled to play any more Tests until next summer; there are four tours planned but all are only for playing the shorter forms of the game. India are due to visit next summer and hence one will not see Smith tested in this way until then.
That the ICC’s ranking is a mess is hardly news. The organisation does little that can be called sensible and once put in place a system for determining the change in playing conditions in the event of rain. Designed by the late Richie Benaud, it was used in the 1992 World Cup and the level of ridiculousness was shown by the fact that South Africa was, at one stage in the semi-finals, required to make 22 runs off one ball to win. This happened after rain interrupted the game.