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Wed Apr 16 20:59:45 SAST 2014

Can Pakistan test the best?

Firdose Moonda | 16 January, 2013 06:230 Comments

"THANKS for coming, New Zealand. Next time you visit please bring your cricket team with you."

Such wisecracks are what Brendon McCullum would have seen if he logged on to social networks or read comments sections on news websites. Given that sportsmen tell us that they don't pay much attention to the media, he probably didn't do either of the above, but he didn't have to.

New Zealand's performances were so sub-standard that McCullum should need no outside source to confirm it. He tried to deflect criticism by referring to how dominant South Africa have become, but he cannot escape how many steps backward New Zealand have taken.

Last year New Zealand inflicted Zimbabwe's heaviest defeat - an innings and 301-run thrashing in Napier. It is not unrealistic to say that if the same Zimbabwean side, which has not played a Test since that loss, were to take on New Zealand tomorrow it would stand a fair chance of winning.

At least, that is how New Zealand looked this time. They also underlined the case for either a double-tiered Test league or a revamped future tours programme. Mismatches are inevitable in sport but if competition can be strengthened it should be.

Look at the two series South Africa played before this one: hard-fought, engaging contests against England and Australia. This one was the complete opposite.

Ten days of cricket was completed in little over six, and the two sides ran their own races. The only positive is that South Africa did not slow down to the pace of their inept opposition.

Other than that, there was only the grim reality that Test cricket remains an elitist sport in which only four teams are playing at an acceptable level at the moment. South Africa, England, Australia and Pakistan are separated by 13 points on the rankings and have been providing quality cricket.

India are next, but their recent run leaves them straddling the line between top tier and bottom. Sri Lanka, West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are in a league of their own - and that is not a compliment.

If drawing a dividing line between them and the rest is not an option then the schedule should be smoothed out so that an equal number of matches is played by all teams and not random fixtures.

New Zealand play mostly two-Test series and, given their standard, any more would be nauseating, but perhaps they need it. Sri Lanka have wormed their way out of playing any Test cricket in 2013. That should not be tolerated. A more regular future tours programme might still result in some one-sided contests but the hope is that consistency in the schedule will bring improvement and, in time, even expansion.

For now, thank goodness, the next team to tour here is Pakistan. Comments such as "The results will depend on which Pakistan turns up" will be made. Not yet, please.

Unpredictability has been replaced with strength of character and form for Misbah-ul-Haq's men. Here's hoping they deliver a better contest.

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