And so there you have it. South Africa are the new number one Test side in the world. England fought hard on the final day, but they were always the side on the backfoot, and Proteas only had to hold their nerves to attain their deserved numero uno ranking. With the latest shift in rankings, South Africa have become the third team to hold the number one position in Tests in the last 12 months. It was only last season, that England snatched away the crown from the Indians, and have now let it go.
In the end, South Africa won rather comprehensively -- 2-0, making one wonder how the number one team in the world can be beaten with such ease. Well, the fact, is that, like India, England too achieved the rankings primarily based on their performances at home, against teams that were weaker than them in given conditions. Accordingly, they easily got the better of India and West Indies. Yes, they did register the Ashes triumph against Australia away from home territory. Then again, England are very much familiar with the conditions in the Kangaroo-land, having toured there so frequently.
The real test for the Englishmen was against Pakistan in the UAE. It was here that their star players needed to show their true colours. Instead, they succumbed to an embarrassing 3-0 loss, unable to cope up with the Pakistani spinners, and in the process proved that they weren’t the best team in the world even though the rankings said otherwise. England managed to save some face in Sri Lanka thanks to Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann, but there too were always playing catch-up as opposed to dominating. And now, losing to South Africans at home, effectively means that they just weren’t good enough to stay on top for long enough.
There’s a lot of similarity in the manner both India and England rose to great heights, and then fell inexplicably. During the period they were dominant, both teams played most of their games either at home or in nearby countries, in conditions they were well accustomed to. However, unlike the Australian side of the late 90’s and 2000’s, they did not have the wherewithal to succeed in varied conditions. Hence, India crumbled in Australia and England, while the latter themselves had a torrid time in the UAE. It shouldn’t be surprising then that the number one ranking has changed hands so often ever since Australia relinquished the throne.
The situation isn’t too different with the new Test number one South Africa. Unlike, England and India, they have to perform in all conditions against all opponents. Their biggest test will be against the spinners on sub-continent conditions. South Africans have generally struggled against spin, but over the years their performance in spin-friendly conditions has definitely improved. Whether it has improved well enough for them to remain the top team in the world, only time will tell.
--By A Cricket Analyst