Dubai - ICC president David Morgan and chief executive Haroon Lorgat, on Wednesday took possession of the ICC Test Championship Mace, signaling the start of the countdown to the top-of-the-table showdown between Australia and South Africa that begins later this month.
The top prize in the game's ultimate format is up for grabs in the three-match series with the winner taking first place on the ladder, securing $175 000 in prize money and giving itself the right to be called the best side in the world.
The ICC will transport the Mace to South Africa in time for Australia's arrival on February 16 and it will be used to promote the upcoming series, and Test cricket, the pinnacle of the game.
And looking ahead to the encounter that begins in Johannesburg on February 26 and also features matches in Durban and Cape Town, Lorgat said: "It really is a great time for international cricket. We've got Australia and South Africa going head-to-head for the leadership of the championship table, India not far behind and Sri Lanka and England also keen to have a say in affairs too.
"We've seen some superb Test cricket over the past few months with Australia in India, England in India and South Africa in Australia and this return series promises more of the same.
"It's another great opportunity for the two teams and the game as a whole to remind everyone why Test cricket is so special.
"It's ultra-competitive at the top end of the table and with some superb ODI action taking place at the moment too, that means people will be following and talking about the sport for all the right reasons."
The Mace was created in May 2001 for the leading Test side and has been held by Australia for all but five months (January - May 2003) of its existence.
South Africa was the side that snatched it away, albeit briefly, and Graeme Smith's side has an opportunity to do that again in the upcoming series.
The Mace was produced by Crown Jeweller Asprey & Garrard, which was commissioned to make a distinctive prize designed to stand out from other cricket trophies.
It produced a 90-centimetre silver and gold-plated trophy based on a cricket stump as its shank topped by an orb that represents the cricket world - both geographically and through the inclusion of the emblems of the 10 ICC full members to have played Test cricket.
The stump and the orb combine to portray the Mace, regarded as a symbol of authority and prestige. This is regarded as an appropriate combination given the rich history of Test cricket and its image as the most traditional and purest form of the game.
The Mace sits on a wooden base with a silver-plated plaque in front with room for engravings of the sides to hold it.
The Mace was valued at £30 000 in 2001 and automatically passes from one team to another as results confirm a change of leadership in the championship table.