Australia boasts the leading Test run-scorer and wicket-taker of 2017 but the team’s quest for the number one world ranking will continue beyond the upcoming tour of South Africa.
Steve Smith last year added six more tons to the case he is building to be the nation’s best batsman since Don Bradman, scoring a world-best 1,305 runs at 76.76.
Nathan Lyon’s career-best form was also well rewarded in 2017, when he collected a world-best 63 scalps at 23.55.
Australia slipped to fifth on the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings last year but is set to clamber over England and into third spot when the charts are updated after the Ashes.
ICC Test rankings
(last updated December 28, 2017)
Cricket Australia has made no secret of prioritising Test performances over other formats, wanting Smith’s XI to become — at least according to the ICC’s table — the best Test side in the world.
It is why some players and coaching staff will head to South Africa early and skip the upcoming Twenty20 tri-series, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Australia faces the second-placed Proteas in a four-Test series that starts on March 1 in Durban.
Even if Australia crushes the hosts 4-0 in that contest they won’t be able to overtake world number one India in the ICC’s rankings.
Every nation in the world struggles to win Tests overseas, with this year’s tours of South Africa and the United Arab Emirates to give Smith a better idea of how talented his team is.
Australia is due to face Pakistan in a short Test series later this year. It then hosts India in 2018-19 and travels to England for the 2019 Ashes.
2017’s leading Test run-scorers
- Steve Smith (AUS) – 1,305 at 76.76
- Cheteshwar Pujara (IND) – 1,140 at 67.05
- Dean Elgar (SAF) – 1,128 at 53.71
- Virat Kohli (IND) 1,059 at 75.64
“I’d like to hope this team can keep growing, keep getting better and keep working our way up the rankings,” Smith said last month.
“We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Smith and Lyon were part of Australian outfits that briefly occupied number one spot on the ICC’s table in 2014 and 2016.
2017’s leading wicket-takers
- Nathan Lyon (AUS) – 63 at 23.55
- Kagiso Rabada (SAF) – 57 at 20.28
- Ravichandran Ashwin (IND) – 56 at 27.58
- James Anderson (ENG) – 55 at 17.58
Smith has a vice-like hold on top spot on the ICC’s batting charts, with India skipper Virat Kohli some 54 points below him in second place.
Smith has 947 points in the ICC’s latest update, leaving him 14 points below Don Bradman on the all-time rankings list.
The classy right-hander ticked past 1,000 runs for a fourth consecutive calendar year, becoming only the second batsman in history along with Australia’s Matthew Hayden to achieve the feat when he plundered England’s attack in Perth.