Australia are a step closer to beginning next summer’s Ashes series as the lower-ranked team after suffering a rankings points drop on the International Cricket Council’s Test charts.
Steve Smith’s side remains in third, behind India and South Africa, after the governing body’s ‘annual update’ shook up each side’s points tallies.
India, having sealed the number one spot after their Border-Gavaskar Trophy series victory over Australia earlier this year, remain Test cricket’s top dog.
The Proteas finished the 2016-17 in second position, some way behind India, but are now just six points behind Virat Kohli’s side after gaining eight ranking points in the update ahead of the 2017-18 season.
And while Australia had been within touching distance of South Africa, they now find themselves 17 points behind them and just one point above fourth-placed England.
Should Joe Root have success in his first two Test series at the helm – against South Africa and West Indies – later this year, England could well overtake Australia by the start of next summer’s Ashes.
Australia’s only other Test assignment before their home season is a proposed tour of Bangladesh, though details of the series are yet to be finalised.
The ICC’s annual update now sees series results from the 2013-14 season as no longer included in the rankings formula, while outcomes from series played in 2015-16 are now weighted at 50 per cent.
New Zealand meanwhile have overtaken Pakistan, with the Black Caps rising to fifth spot and Paksitan falling to sixth despite their historic 2-1 series victory over the Windies to farewell Test legends Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
India pocketed the US $1 million prize cheque that comes with being the top team at the ICC’s April 1 cut-off date earlier this year and are the current holders of the ICC Test mace.