South Africa moves above England in Test standings
LONDON: South Africa have moved above England in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test Championship standings on the eve of their four-match series.
Graeme Smith's men will head into Thursday's opener at Lord's in second place in the Reliance Mobile table with England, who had been third, now in fourth place. India have dropped one place from second to third.
The annual update discards series concluded before August 1 2005 and that benefits South Africa because their recent fine form is included while losing series against Sri Lanka, India and England no longer have an effect.
This latest table also takes account of the recent decision to change England's win by forfeit against Pakistan at The Oval in 2006 into a draw.
South Africa remain 23 points behind clear leaders Australia and a drawn series or better against England would see them stay in second spot.
A 4-0 whitewash for England would see them go second with India third and South Africa fourth.
Were Michael Vaughan's team to win 2-0, 3-1 or 3-0, that would leave India
second, but see England go third, with South Africa fourth.
England and South Africa are closely matched in the player rankings, reflecting the tight nature of their contest since the Proteas' return to international cricket in the 1990s.
Both teams have two batsmen inside the top 20 with Jacques Kallis (sixth) and Smith (12th) keeping company with England's Kevin Pietersen (10th) and Andrew Strauss (16th).
It is a similar story just beyond the elite where England are represented by Alastair Cook (21st), Paul Collingwood (24th) and captain Michael Vaughan (30th) while AB de Villiers (25th), Hashim Amla (26th) and Neil McKenzie (32nd) are South Africa's three next best batsmen.
In the bowling stakes, England have four men in the rankings but South Africa have the best ranked players of the two sides.
South Africa quick Dale Steyn is close to toppling Muttiah Muralitharan at the head of the bowling standings. He starts the England series just five points behind the extraordinary Sri Lanka off-spinner.
And in fifth place is Makhaya Ntini, another member of South Africa's pace attack. Ntini, who has 344 Test wickets, is currently 16th in the list of all-time Test wicket-takers with Australia pace great Dennis Lillee's 355 wickets now in his sights.
England have four bowlers inside the top twenty - Ryan Sidebottom is sixth, spinner Monty Panesar 11th and Matthew Hoggard - out of the side since being dropped after the first Test away to New Zealand in 16th position.
All-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who hasn't played Test cricket in over a year because of ankle and side injuries but who could feature in the second match of the South Africa series at Headingley next week, is still in 19th spot.
Kallis has retained his place as the world's leading all-rounder with Flintoff third. New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori is in second place.