Australia rise to world No.1

Michael Clarke's men on top of the world

Australia has risen back to the top of world cricket to reclaim the world's No.1 Test ranking for the first time in nearly five years.

Australia captain Michael Clarke said it was a fair reward for the team's performances after a summer where they inflicted not only a 5-0 whitewash on England – just the third Ashes whitewash in history – but beat previous world No.1 side South Africa 2-1 on their home soil.

"I think it's just reward for the hard work we've put in over the past two years," Clarke told "This team has certainly been through some tough times. There's memories stuck in my head from the criticism we copped after the Indian tour when we lost 4-0 and we were named the worst team to ever tour India.

"When things like that are said about the team as a player you take it personally but I can guarantee you as captain it breaks your heart so that's always tough to hear.

"But through tours like that and the tough times, it's allowed the players to become so strong a group and to work exceptionally hard to get this result.

"For me, as captain, No.1 was my goal. I said from day one – I think we were third or fourth when I took over from Ricky – and then I know we got to fifth after losing in India. My goal never changed, I wanted to help this team get back to being the No.1 team in the world and I know the players were exactly the same."

Quick Single: Twitter reaction

It is the first time Australia has been the world No.1 Test team since August 2009. Australia's ODI squad is also ranked the world's best, while the George Bailey-led Twenty20 team sits sixth.

The Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars are ranked second in Tests but claim top spot for ODIs and T20s, a position they reinforced after their third successive World T20 victory in Bangladesh.

It ticks off two of the main points of the Australian Team Performance Review chaired by Don Argus, and handed down in August 2011, which put a four-year timeline on regaining the No.1 rankings in all three formats.

"The challenge ahead will be to create sustained success – to ensure Australia’s performances remain at the top of the international game for years to come," said Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland.

"We believe we are putting in place the foundations to make that happen.  We are committed to doing everything we can to achieve continuous improvement."

Quick Single: Clarke overcomes shoulder injury

The challenge for the players now, said Clarke, was to retain the ranking with Test series against Pakistan, India, West Indies and England looming over the next 15 months.

"I've heard it a number of times when I played with a great Australian team: It's hard to get to No.1 but it's even harder to stay there," Australia's skipper said.

"I think that's our greatest challenge now. That's why I have so much respect for that Australian team I walked into as a young player – they were No.1 team in the world for a long period of time.

"We've worked hard to get here and we'll have to work even harder to stay here now."

Australia's first opportunity to turn out as the world's No.1 team comes in October when Clarke and co will don the Baggy Green in two Tests against Pakistan in the UAE. The deposed champions, South Africa, face Zimbabwe in their next Test outing in August.

"Our form away from home hasn't been something we've been proud of over the past four or five years," said Clarke.

"Fortunately we've been able to turn that around in South Africa recently. The UAE is going to be another tough challenge for us.

"Our goal is certainly to stay No.1 for as long as we possibly can. It's hard, we're playing against some tough opposition in some tough conditions."

How the rankings are calculated

The ICC's Test team rankings formula works on a rolling, weighted four-year cycle. Rankings are updated after each series, but each may points accrued four years ago drop off. Points gained in the year prior to August 2011 drop off from the rankings calculation from today, which is how Australia has regained the No.1 position – and South Africa lose it – without a ball being bowled.

The May 1 cut-off means Australia's forgettable 1-3 Ashes series reverse and a 0-2 loss in India, as well as a drawn series with Pakistan, no longer count.

South Africa drops points gained for a 1-1 result at home against India while they also beat the West Indies 2-0 away.

The annual update also means points gained in 2012-13 are now less significant. Under the ICC's formula, matches in the first two years of the cycle count as half, while full points carry forward for two years.

Australia's journey back to the top

The ranking change has capped a year in which Australia's Test fortunes took a remarkable about face.

Australia lost at home to South Africa to being the 2012-13 summer, then beat Sri Lanka 3-0, the Sydney Test celebrating the retirement of Michael Hussey.

The team then suffered a disastrous 0-4 defeat at the hands of India, with the nadir coming with the 'homework' saga that saw four players suspended. One of them – Shane Watson – was then made captain for the final Test when Clarke was ruled out with a back injury.

That resulted in Mickey Arthur being sacked and replaced by Darren Lehmann after the Champions Trophy and just ahead of the Ashes series.

Australia lost that series 0-3, but showed signs of rejuvenation.

As Lehmann's leadership took root, Australia's confidence grew and the joy returned to their cricket. It resulted, of course, in a rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson unleashing a barrage of short-pitched thunderbolts at England as Australia swept away the tourists.

That aggressive brand of cricket saw them arrive on South African shores and, even with plenty of forewarning, the Proteas were unable to resist and fell in much the same manner as England in the first Test in Centurion.

Befitting a side ranked No.1, South Africa fought back in Port Elizabeth, and looked set to hold on for a draw in Cape Town until Ryan Harris memorably hauled his creaking knee to the crease in an epic final spell to take two wickets that secured a series victory.