Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A couple of weeks ago, the possibility of South
Africa rising to No 1 in the Test rankings reasonably early in 2012 seemed a
But thanks to Pakistan’s surge to an unexpected series
victory over currently top-ranked England in the United Arab Emirates with one
match still to play, the Proteas may head to New Zealand shortly in with a
shout at a roughly R1.4-million cash bonanza from the International Cricket
Certainly they will know, before they tackle the Black Caps
in the first of three Tests in Dunedin from March 7 – they play all their
limited-overs fixtures first – whether toppling England from their perch is a
For that to happen, South Africa must hope Pakistan complete
a humiliating clean sweep over England (it is presently 2-0 to them with one
further Test in Dubai to follow from Friday) and then set their sights on
nothing less than a 3-0 outcome themselves when they tackle the Kiwis.
On April 1, the ICC provides US$175 000 to the team heading
the Test rankings, and that could be the Proteas under those circumstances,
difficult though the task obviously remains.
The side in second gets a lesser booty of US$75 000.
With England’s batting, especially, suddenly in some
disarray against a canny, spin-dominated Pakistani attack, memories of their
glorious 4-0 thrashing of India in the last English summer are fading fast, and
players like SA-born Kevin Pietersen – series scores thus far 2, 0, 14 and 1 –
have attracted mounting criticism.
Graeme Smith’s Proteas side again played a curious mix of
rousing and wretched Test cricket in beating Sri Lanka 2-1 at home recently,
and will attempt to find a more consistently clinical touch when they face New
The Black Caps come off some decent results, recent
achievements including a series-squaring victory over Australia in Hobart and
then muscular dismantling of Zimbabwe in Napier last weekend, but they are
still a lowly eighth on the rankings so South Africa ought to start as
reasonably clear favourites.
Their last Test tour of the country in 2003/04 ended in a
1-1 outcome over three Tests.
The top four in the rankings right now are: 1. England
(rating 125); 2. South Africa 117; 3. India 111; 4. Australia 111.