Cape Town – South Africa suffered a sickening tumble down the Test match rankings table during the local winter … but they could be climbing very powerfully again, come the end of the current summer.
As much as a drawn series in Bangladesh, away hiding from India and home reverse to England last season saw them lose their No 1-status halo – at one stage, during August, they had fallen to No 7 – more recent events will have done wonders for a sharp turnaround.
The resurgent Proteas, currently lying at No 5 (as of November 10, preceding their Hobart heroics), have subsequently beaten New Zealand in a home series, already secured another memorable away triumph over Australia with one Test yet to play, and will be heavy favourites to see off Sri Lanka in a three-Test series on our soil at the height of the local season shortly.
Sri Lanka have only ever lost in four bilateral series staged in South Africa previously.
The Proteas then travel to New Zealand at summer’s end for a further series against the Black Caps, whom they have beaten in each of the last five series, either home or away.
If all goes well over the next few weeks and months -- and certain series results involving other countries help -- they could be either at, or back very close to, premier status by the autumn.
The rankings are reasonably fluid at present, with all of Australia, India and Pakistan having briefly tasted life at the top fairly recently; India hold that status as things stand.
This is the pecking order for the top five, as set a few days ago: India (115 rating points), Pakistan (109), Australia (108), England (105), South Africa (96).
The Proteas are expected to leapfrog Australia if they beat them in the remaining Test at Adelaide from November 24-28 for a 3-0 clean sweep.
Thinking a little further up the line, South Africa also get a chance during the next English summer (four Tests) to avenge their home loss to Alastair Cook and company in 2015/16.
Even though there are other bridges to cross first, they will feel reasonably excited about their ability to prosper in English conditions, given how well they have just played in the damp, cold climes of Hobart, where all of Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada shone with the ball and emerging batsmen like Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma played astutely on the seaming Bellerive Oval track.
Here are the looming Test series challenges for the current top five powers, up until the start of the next season (2017/18) in the southern hemisphere:
India: England (H, currently), Australia (H), Sri Lanka (A)
Pakistan: New Zealand (A), Australia (A), West Indies (A), Bangladesh (A)
Australia: Pakistan (H), India (A), Bangladesh (H)
England: India (A, currently), South Africa (H), West Indies (H)
South Africa: Sri Lanka (H), New Zealand (A), England (A)
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