Predicting ICC Test Rankings by Start of 2015
After a frenzied period of cricket dominated by the ICC World Twenty20 and the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League, Test cricket will return to the forefront of the sport for the remainder of 2014.
Headlining the schedule is India's visit to England this summer, a tour which represents a defining period for both nations given their indifferent form in white clothing in recent series.
South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will also look to return to winning ways, with all three countries set to embark on promising duels across the remainder of the calendar year.
But how will the ICC Test Rankings stand when 2015 arrives? Can anyone knock Australia off their perch at No. 1?
Using the ICC's Test Rankings Predictor, we've examined the possible outcomes in Test cricket across the rest of 2014 to determine how those rankings could shift.
The results are presented in reverse order across the following slides.
Current Ranking (Rating): 10 (21)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 10 (19)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of the West Indies (2 Tests)
Regardless of results across the remainder of 2014, Bangladesh will remain rooted to the foot of the ICC Test Rankings.
Currently 19 points behind ninth-placed Zimbabwe, even victory in both of their fixtures this year won't be enough to elevate them above their African counterparts.
However, Test cricket's newest outfit may fancy their chances in the West Indies in September, given that the nation claimed its historic first overseas series victory—and first away wins of any kind—in the Caribbean in 2009.
Yet, on that occasion, the West Indies had been severely weakened by the withdrawal of key players.
That is unlikely to be the case this time around: Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Denesh Ramdin, Marlon Samuels and Shane Shillingford are all members of the West Indian Test squad at present.
Consequently, the home side should cruise to a comfortable 2-0 series victory.
Current Ranking (Rating): 9 (40)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 9 (40)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Host South Africa (1 Test)
Zimbabwe will play just the one Test between now and the end of the year, hosting South Africa in an encounter in Harare in early August.
Of course, the troubled nation cannot move from ninth position in the rankings as a result. Additionally, the team's rating won't be hurt even if they do lose heavily as is expected, given that the ICC's points algorithm accounts for an opponent's strength.
From a playing perspective, it's difficult to envisage Zimbabwe maintaining any real resistance against the Proteas. Since 1998, Pakistan (once) is the only country the Zimbabwean outfit have defeated aside from Bangladesh.
That isn't likely to change against the world's No. 2 side this year, particularly considering the dire state of the game in Zimbabwe at present.
8. West Indies
Current Ranking (Rating): 8 (76)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 8 (78)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Host New Zealand (3 Tests), Host Bangladesh (2 Tests), Tour of South Africa (3 Tests)
The West Indies have one of the busier Test schedules for the remainder of 2014, but they are extremely unlikely to move from their current position in eighth.
Currently in the opening stages of their series at home to New Zealand, Denesh Ramdin's side look capable of scrapping a 1-1 draw with the visitors. While New Zealand's impressive campaign against India has elevated the expectations of this Kiwi group, winning Test series overseas has proven to be nigh-on impossible for sides other than Australia across the last 18 months.
Following New Zealand's visit, the Caribbean men will play host to Bangladesh—a series which should present two comfortable victories for the West Indians.
However, the tour to South Africa in December will likely ruin the team's hopes of rising up the rankings, as Hashim Amla's dominant side can be expected to overwhelm their visitors across three Tests.
7. New Zealand
Current Ranking (Rating): 6 (92)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 7 (86)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of the West Indies (3 Tests), Tour of the UAE to play Pakistan (3 Tests)
As previously alluded to, Brendon McCullum's New Zealand are on an upward trajectory following a series victory over India in February.
Alongside McCullum, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson ensure the Kiwis possess a strong middle order, while Trent Boult and Tim Southee have been brilliant with the ball in hand.
Yet, it will be difficult for New Zealand to secure a series victory across the rest of 2014.
On the slow, turning wickets in the Caribbean, Boult and Southee's skills in swing and seam will be largely negated. At the same time, the West Indian spinners will make life difficult for the visitors' batsmen who are more accustomed to quicker bowling.
Consequently, a drawn series would be a good result for New Zealand.
Then comes a visit to neutral turf for three Tests against Pakistan. As seen in this season's Indian Premier League, the conditions in the UAE did yield positive results for the seamers, which will please McCullum's men.
However, Pakistan haven't lost a series in the region since shifting fixtures there from 2010 onwards—a record which includes encounters with Australia, England and South Africa.
Aside from two poor innings against the Sri Lankans (165) and the Proteas (99), Pakistan's maligned batting line-up has also shown improved strength since October.
Therefore, a 2-0 series defeat looks possible for the Kiwis, which will downgrade their rating as 2015 arrives.
6. Sri Lanka
Current Ranking (Rating): 7 (90)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 6 (96)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of England (2 Tests), Host South Africa (2 Tests), Host Pakistan (2 Tests)
Despite sitting behind New Zealand in the ICC's rankings at present, Sri Lanka appear well-placed to move up into sixth by the conclusion of 2014.
Ready to take on England, Angelo Mathews' side arrives in the United Kingdom at an opportune time: The hosts are going through a transitional period, while Sri Lanka will be buoyed by a recent string of positive limited-overs results.
What could have been a lopsided series 18-24 months ago could now be a hotly contested affair. Only the typically green conditions in the early months of the English summer will tip the balance towards the home side.
England to edge the series 1-0 is currently the favourite outcome according to Oddschecker.
Positively for Sri Lanka, the remainder of the nation's Tests will be staged at home. A 1-1 draw with South Africa looks very achievable for Mathews' men, given that the tiny island has proved victorious in four of its last six encounters with the Proteas. South Africa's fast-bowling advantage will also be nullified in the subcontinental conditions.
A subsequent two-match showdown against Pakistan should then result in a series win for Sri Lanka, particularly when one considers their very strong record (three wins, four draws and one loss) at home to the Pakistanis since 2006.
Current Ranking (Rating): 5 (102)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 5 (99)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of England (5 Tests), Tour of Australia (4 Tests)*
The remainder of 2014 will be enthralling viewing with regard to MS Dhoni's Indian team.
So dominant at home, yet so fragile away, India have shown signs that they're finally ready to win a Test on foreign soil for the first time since 2010.
While the team was disappointing in New Zealand in February, it must be remembered that their tour suffered from an extremely short turnaround after the re-shuffle of their visit to South Africa.
And it was during that heavyweight clash with the Proteas—a narrow and nail-biting 1-0 series loss—that India's next wave of talent demonstrated that they are ready to raise the bar.
With the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma quickly emerging as the nation's next prominent batting core, Dhoni's outfit has the capacity to push England in the UK this summer.
Conditions, of course, will hamper their chances of a series victory, and unlike last summer against Australia, it's unlikely that groundsmen will produce dusty, turning wickets for the subcontinental visitors.
However, at both Old Trafford and The Oval—grounds that tend to favour the batsmen—India will like their chances of securing at least one Test victory from the summer.
A hard-fought encounter may just see the hosts scrape past India 2-1, leaving cricket's most powerful nation sitting fifth in the rankings.
*India's tour of Australia is yet to be confirmed and can't currently be included in the ICC's Test Rankings Predictor
Current Ranking (Rating): 4 (103)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 4 (104)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of Sri Lanka (2 Tests), Tour of the UAE to play Australia (2 Tests), Tour of the UAE to play New Zealand (3 Tests)
Pakistan are likely to win only one of their three remaining series this year, but it will be enough to hold off India and maintain their grip on fourth place in the ICC's Test rankings.
As mentioned, Misbah-ul-Haq's side will be hard-pressed to defeat Sri Lanka over two Tests in August, but follow-up series against Australia and New Zealand in the UAE should provide the opportunity for Test victories.
Although Australia will arrive full of confidence in October, Michael Clarke's men could be without the superb Ryan Harris as he continues his recovery from knee surgery, while the selectors may be tempted to tinker with the XI in preparation for the 2015 Ashes series.
Pakistan also proved they could match up with South Africa in the UAE in 2013, recording a 1-1 series draw with the then-world No. 1 outfit. A similar result could pan out against Australia.
Quickly after that series will be a three-match campaign against New Zealand. As already stated, Pakistan are extremely difficult to defeat in the Middle East, and although the Kiwis appear to be climbing, winning on the road is far more strenuous than triumphing at home.
Expect Pakistan to claim a strong series victory to conclude their Test year.
Current Ranking (Rating): 3 (104)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 3 (108)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Host Sri Lanka (2 Tests), Host India (5 Tests)
This summer could perhaps be the most intriguing period in English cricket since the nation returned home from its 5-0 hammering in Australia in 2006-07.
Indeed, there's a feeling of generational change surrounding the current England setup, with the absence of star players such as Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott—as well as the presence of a new head coach in Peter Moores—giving England a distinctly different look.
Yet, despite their embarrassing capitulation in Australia last winter, England look set to enjoy a successful summer over the coming months.
Positively for England, both Sri Lanka and India have appalling records in the UK. In 30 combined Tests since July 1986, the subcontinental nations have won just four matches between them on English soil.
When enduring a period of transition, teams that struggle to adapt to the conditions in England represent the most ideal opponents.
Consequently, expect Alastair Cook's side to grind out two series victories at home between now and late August. Neither will be pretty or comprehensive, but the advantage of playing at home will be decisive for the English against Sri Lanka and India.
2. South Africa
Current Ranking (Rating): 2 (123)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 2 (120)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of Sri Lanka (2 Tests), Tour of Zimbabwe (1 Test), Host the West Indies (3 Tests)
South Africa are another nation currently going through a period of transition, albeit a more minor one.
With Graeme Smith no longer at the helm, Hashim Amla will steer the imposing Proteas from this point forward.
Amla's first challenge will be to guide his team through a two-match series in Sri Lanka, which will prove difficult given the team's lack of world-class spinning options at Test level. While Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander would likely rip apart the Sri Lankan line-up in South Africa, the lifeless pitches regularly presented on the subcontinent will temper many of the visitors' strengths.
A drawn series is on the cards.
However, after their visit to Sri Lanka, Amla and company will be favoured to be triumphant in their remaining four Tests of the year: A one-game stop in Zimbabwe will be routine for South Africa, while the West Indies won't be able to muster a genuine challenge at the end of the year.
Current Ranking (Rating): 1 (123)
Predicted Ranking (Rating): 1 (121)
Scheduled Series in 2014: Tour of the UAE to play Pakistan (2 Tests), Host India (4 Tests)*
Australia's reborn Test team will have enjoyed a significant period of rest when it arrives in the UAE for a two-match encounter with Pakistan in October.
That long lay-off may present problems for Michael Clarke's men in such a short series, as there'll be precious little time to brush away rust against a team with a strong record in the region.
As already alluded to, Australia may also be without Ryan Harris, while the team's selectors may look to experiment with a view to developing a new XI ahead of the 2015 Ashes series.
Therefore, a drawn series in the UAE wouldn't be surprising.
From there, predicting Australia's results for the remainder of the year becomes problematic. As pointed out for India, Australia's four-Test series at home hasn't yet been included in the official ICC programme.
Until India's visit of Australia is declared official, which would open up a range of possibilities, Clarke's bold outfit will remain as the world's No. 1 ranked side when 2015 arrives.
*India's tour of Australia is yet to be confirmed and can't currently be included in the ICC's Test Rankings Predictor
All ranking data provided by the International Cricket Council.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo.