ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

ICC team rankings

The battle for the top Test spot

While Australia have a great recent record, the ICC's ranking system doesn't take into account South Africa's superior overseas performances

S Rajesh

May 2, 2014

Comments: 40 | Text size: A | A

Australia have reclaimed the No. 1 position, but their overseas record, especially in Asia, remains an area where they can improve significantly © Getty Images

For the first time since August 2009, Australia are back on top of the ICC Test rankings. It may only have come about because of the technical adjustment from the ICC's annual updating, but the fact that they were even close enough to the top-ranked team to take advantage of this adjustment says plenty about the improvements they've made since sliding to fifth on the table not so long ago.

The ICC update usually happened on August 1, but since last year the date has been brought forward to May 1, which makes sense given that there's usually a lull in the international calendar during that period, with the England season starting later in the month. Had the adjustment happened in August, South Africa would have got a chance to wrest back the top spot, since they tour Sri Lanka in July (though that would have been a tough ask too, given their poor record in that country of late.)

As it turned out, Australia benefited as their poor results from the 2010-11 period - a 2-0 defeat to India and a 3-1 loss to England - went out of the ranking system, while the 4-0 drubbing in India was reduced to a weighting of 50%. (The time periods for the weightings are as follows: all series that finished between August 1, 2011 and April 30, 2013 got 50% weightings, while all series that finished between May 1, 2013 and April 30, 2014 got 100% weightings.)

As the table below indicates, Australia's 12-7 win-loss record during the first period was the second-best among all teams against the top sides (excluding Tests against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) - they were well below South Africa's 12-2. Pakistan were 7-4 in this time, but three of those wins were against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh; against the better teams they won as many as they lost - they beat England 3-0 but lost by the same margin in South Africa.

However, the biggest difference between South Africa and the other sides was in their overseas results. In the first period, South Africa had a clean 4-0 record, with wins in New Zealand, England and Australia, even as every other team struggled in conditions they weren't familiar with. However, that didn't win South Africa extra points in the ratings, since they don't factor in the venue for a series. Australia, in contrast, only had a 4-5 record, thanks to those four losses in India (though they had a creditable 1-0 series win in Sri Lanka in 2011).

In the last year, Australia have closed the gap thanks to an outstanding Ashes campaign at home, and an even better series in South Africa earlier this year. However, before that they'd lost 3-0 in England, which means their away record is still a less-than-impressive 2-4. Michael Clarke has repeatedly stressed the need for Australia to come up with consistent, winning performances all over the world, and their away record is surely one that needs a lift. The South Africa tour was a huge step, but the series against Pakistan in the UAE later this year will be as big, given their generally poor record in Asia. South Africa haven't played a whole lot away in the last year, but they still managed a drawn series against Pakistan in the UAE. Their big disappointment was at home, but overall since July 2011, they still have a 15-5 win-loss record, which is significantly better than Australia's 19-11. Even allowing for the 50% decay for the first couple of years, they might still feel entitled to the top spot, based on those numbers, and their consistently superior overseas numbers.

The team which lost out the most was India, which dropped from third to fifth. Given their terrible overseas record recently, that seems a fair position for them, but the drop was largely because their wins against Australia, New Zealand and West Indies in 2010-11 went out of the ranking system, while those against New Zealand and Australia at home in 2012-13 dropped in value to 50%. In 2011-12 they had a nightmare period on tours, losing eight on the trot, and while those results will stay in the system for another year, they'll go out in May 2015. That gives India a huge opportunity to improve their ranking if they come up with better results on their tours to England and Australia later this year.

Test results for teams between Jul 21, 2011 and Apr 30, 2013
      v top teams*
Team Matches W/ L Total Tests W/ L Home Tests W/ L Away Tests W/ L
South Africa 19 12/ 2 19 12/ 2 10 8/ 2 9 4/ 0
Australia 24 12/ 7 24 12/ 7 12 8/ 2 12 4/ 5
England 22 9/ 7 22 9/ 7 10 6/ 2 12 3/ 5
Pakistan 15 7/ 4 12 4/ 4 - - 12 4/ 4
India 21 9/ 10 21 9/ 10 13 9/ 2 8 0/ 8
Sri Lanka 21 5/ 9 19 4/ 9 10 3/ 3 9 1/ 6
West Indies 17 7/ 6 11 2/ 6 5 2/ 2 6 0/ 4
New Zealand 18 4/ 9 16 2/ 9 6 0/ 1 10 2/ 8
Test results for teams since May 2013
      v top teams*
Team Matches W/ L Total Tests W/ L Home Tests W/ L Away Tests W/ L
Australia 13 7/ 4 13 7/ 4 5 5/ 0 8 2/ 4
New Zealand 7 3/ 2 7 3/ 2 5 3/ 0 2 0/ 2
India 6 2/ 2 6 2/ 2 2 2/ 0 4 0/ 2
Pakistan 7 3/ 3 5 2/ 2 - - 5 2/ 2
South Africa 7 3/ 3 7 3/ 3 5 2/ 2 2 1/ 1
Sri Lanka 5 2/ 1 3 1/ 1 - - 3 1/ 1
England 12 5/ 5 12 5/ 5 7 5/ 0 5 0/ 5
West Indies 5 0/ 4 5 0/ 4 - - 5 0/ 4
* Excluding Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe

During the entire time since July 21, 2011, which is the period for the current rankings, South Africa have the best win-loss ratio, the best batting average, and the second-best bowling average. Australia pip them on the bowling front, averaging 28.82 to South Africa's 29. Both teams average well over a century per Test, though South Africa are ahead on this count as well - 1.42 to 1.24.

Among the leading batsmen, there are two South African batsmen - Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers - among the top three, though close behind them is Michael Clarke. Those three, along with India's Cheteshwar Pujara, are the only ones to score 1500-plus runs at 60-plus averages during this period.

In the bowling charts, the four best quick bowlers going around now are bunched together at the top - Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris are the only ones to take 75-plus wickets at sub-23 averages during this period. Peter Siddle and Morne Morkel feature a little further down that list, while Nathan Lyon is in the mix too with 112 wickets at 32.99. Trent Boult and Tim Southee have carried New Zealand's attack, while Stuart Broad and James Anderson have been England's best bets, but the three teams from the subcontinent only have a spinner each to represent them - Rangana Herath, Saeed Ajmal and R Ashwin.

Clearly, Australia and South Africa have broken away as the two best teams going around now. Australia have the top spot by a whisker at the moment, but a tough series against Pakistan coming up, while South Africa have an equally tricky assignment in Sri Lanka. For the best teams in the world, these are good opportunities to prove why they are so far ahead of the rest.

Batting and bowling stats versus the top teams since Jul 21, 2011
Team Tests W/ L Bat ave 100s/ 50s Bowl ave
South Africa 26 15/ 5 39.20 37/ 56 29.00
Australia 37 19/ 11 35.75 46/ 86 28.82
England 34 14/ 12 33.13 32/ 77 32.12
Pakistan 17 6/ 6 30.84 18/ 35 32.56
India 27 11/ 12 33.51 29/ 60 36.41
Sri Lanka 22 5/ 10 30.35 17/ 55 36.95
New Zealand 23 5/ 11 27.62 17/ 40 34.33
West Indies 16 2/ 10 28.43 13/ 36 38.16

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 40 
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Posted by Weir on (May 7, 2014, 5:42 GMT)

So a side that was THUMPED 4-0 in India and 3-0 in England in the past 14 months is now number 1. Yeah, whatever.

Posted by Dummy4 on (May 5, 2014, 13:21 GMT)

Yes we lost smith and kallis but there are very good players waiting in the wings to take their places. We just need to re-shuffle our resources. I'm not to worried about the proteas team playing good cricket. Let Aus be no.1 ranked....their supporters need it more to feel good about themselves. Hopefully we have more test cricket in future and at least 3 match series. To me SA and Australia are evenly matched. They produce good test cricket matches. I don't know why some are so worked up about the proteas being able to block out a draw. Do chasing 400plus happen everyday? South Africa won a test series in aus after drawing a game they should have lost. When the chips are down you need heroes to stand up. This is what test cricket is about.

Posted by Rob on (May 4, 2014, 1:28 GMT)

I am an England fan and fail to see the justification of the complaints, Australia just beat SA away surely that determines at the moment they are the best test side, it is relevant. My opinion is India are probably the best side in ODI's and SL in T20's but there is a ranking system in place and it will never please all, when India were ranked No.1 it was apparently spot on. Australia have come a long way in the last couple of years, they prioritized the 2 Ashes series with seeming little commitment to the India test series in India and certainly were weakened in the CT; well done Ozzie

Posted by mahendra on (May 3, 2014, 9:40 GMT)

Australia have been the best test team during the last six months (mainly due to MJ, and if he gets injured they won't be as good) South Africa have been the best test team over the last 4 years . The rankings are flawed.

Posted by ESPN on (May 3, 2014, 7:58 GMT)

Rankings will always be argued upon and debated until the end of time. That is the nature of them and the unfortunate thing about statistics is that they will never be full proof and all encompassing and people can always pick holes in them or interpret them in the way that suits their argument. I personally tend to ignore them and look at the here and now, what the respective sides current form and abilities are and recent results. For me, Australia are undoubtedly the best side right NOW. Their brand of cricket is exciting, dynamic and attacking and they recently put England to the sword (who, let's not forget, were overwhelming favourites before the series) and went to South Africa and fully merited that series win. Improvements can be made and winning in Asia is the next target but right now, they certainly are the in form test team who have outplayed opposition over these past few months. They deserve the accolades that come their way.

Posted by faiz on (May 3, 2014, 7:30 GMT)

what ever the maths or stats may be , but the main thing is who is the best now. for me australia are a better test side than any other at this moment. they can beat any team and have all bases covered as a team.

Posted by Jake on (May 3, 2014, 3:27 GMT)

Australia has played the most entertaining test cricket I've seen recent decades. When Australia were last at number 1 they were very methodical in winning tests. This current test team doesn't contain many all-time greats. They don't play safe. They don't wait for the opposition to make mistakes. They just go hammer and tog from ball one. It's exciting to watch. They chance their arm and give the opposition the opportunity to win by declaring. They will rarely draw a test. Yes, they have lost a lot of tests recently..but they have also won lots, playing this style of cricket. Very refreshing attitude.

Posted by Dummy4 on (May 3, 2014, 1:21 GMT)

This person David Kendix must develop something that also consider changes when are due and show us calculations made. The funny part is even if South Africa win H/L 5/1 will still not get number if Australia H/L 2/0 to Pak

Posted by vaibhav on (May 2, 2014, 23:43 GMT)

@Warm_Coffee, are u serious? Are you still clamoring for granting more tests to Bangladesh? Oh boy you have some nerves, look at its pathetic record and get real.

Posted by Randolph on (May 2, 2014, 17:54 GMT)

A lot of sour grapes here. Really is great to see. Hopefully served wide a large side of humble pie!

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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