TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE sting of SA’s decline as a test team was delivered with a slap on Tuesday when the International Cricket Council released the rankings.
Having been No. 1 as recently as January, SA have crashed to sixth place. That means fifth-placed New Zealand will, technically, start as favourites in their series in SA in August.
But are they really no better than sixth on a ladder of nine sides? That makes them, officially, a below average test team.
These rude realities are confirmation of what cricketminded South Africans have known for months: SA are in decline.
What is selection convenor Linda Zondi, a significant figure in the looming cause of righting what will seem a wrong for many South Africans, going to do?
“We have to accept the fact that the team has been in transition and that we need to give time to the players we have after that process,” Zondi said.
“Hopefully the senior players will take their rightful place in the team and perform after their (off-season) break and hopefully the young players will gel into the side.
“Some of the players we’ve introduced during this transition period have shown good form, players like Stephen Cook, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada.
“But it’s a worry because it’s been a long time since we were No. 6. We need to set the goal of getting back to the top three and then back to No. 1.
“AB (de Villiers) has just come in as captain and he has to build the team. We need to give him a chance. We need to support him and also back the younger players.
“I’m optimistic about the combination of guys we have coming through. So I’m comfortable with where we are – not that I’m happy to stay at No. 6; we need to move up.”
An important factor in that happening is the form and fitness of Faf du Plessis, who was ruled out of the rest of the Indian Premier League last week with a badly broken finger. Would he be in the frame for the matches against the Kiwis?
“He might miss one or two games in the (one-day triangular in) the West Indies (in June) but he will definitely be ready for the New Zealand series,” Zondi said.
Part of the reason for SA’s spiral is that the period used to determine the rankings has changed. So their series victories over England, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in 2012-13 are no longer reflected while their win over West Indies in 2013-14 only counts for half as much as previously.
Instead, SA’s new reality chimes with their series losses to India and England and the drawn rubber against Bangladesh.
With Zimbabwe not on the list because they did not play enough tests during the period under review, the only teams considered worse than SA are Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh.
Yes, you read that correctly.
ICC test team rankings (points in brackets):
1. Australia (118)
2. India (112)
3. Pakistan (111)
4. England (105)
5. New Zealand (98)
6. SA (92)
7. Sri Lanka (88)
8. West Indies (65)
9. Bangladesh (57)