STEVE Smith’s men are just one defeat away from becoming the lowest-ranked Australian Test team in almost three decades.
Australia’s nail-biting loss to Bangladesh in Dhaka has seen them nominally slip from fourth to fifth in the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings, which are officially updated at the end of each series.
And another loss to a spirited home side in the second Test next week will see the Aussies drop to sixth, their lowest ranking since 1988.
That 1988 side led by Allan Border is considered one of the weakest in Australian Test history and was labelled as such by the English media when they arrived in the UK for the 1989 Ashes tour, which ultimately turned their fortunes around.
In July 1988, when the Aussies were last ranked sixth, they had won just eight of 43 Tests in the preceding five years, during which time they had lost series at both home and away to England, New Zealand and the West Indies.
They moved up to fifth in August of that year after England were thrashed 4-0 at home by the Windies and their famous Ashes triumph 12 months later started a rapid rise to the top of world cricket in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Smith conceded his young side still had “a long way to go” before they would rise up the rankings again.
“I don’t know if we’re better than that at the moment, that’s a difficult question,” Smith said of Australia’s current ranking.
“I think we’re still a young team, obviously some new players have come in only last year in the summer and some guys are still trying to find their way. We’re a young team and we’re a team that hopefully is going to continue to improve.
“We’ve still got a long way to go to rise up in the rankings and hopefully as a group we can continue to improve and get better.”
While Australia risk sliding to an uncommon low in Bangladesh, they will retain fifth spot with either a win or a draw in Chittagong next week.
And recent history suggests the Aussies could produce a swift change in their ranking with victory in the Magellan Ashes against England this summer.
The Aussies were last ranked fifth in the world following their 2013 Ashes defeat in the UK, after they had gone nine successive Tests without a win. But their subsequent Ashes whitewash on home soil and 2-1 series win in South Africa saw them jump to top spot in May the following year.
And the at-times fickle nature of the ICC’s rankings is underlined by the fact the Aussies were handed the official Test mace as world No.1 a little more than 12 months ago. Their rise to No.1 last year was followed by five successive defeats (to Sri Lanka and South Africa), five straight wins (against South Africa, Pakistan and India) and now three losses and a draw from their past four Tests (against India and Bangladesh).
But despite the ever-changing nature of the official rankings, the Aussies have repeatedly stated their desire to be the No.1 team in the world.
“We want to be No.1 in all three formats across men’s and women’s cricket,” Pat Howard, Cricket Australia’s Executive General Manager of High Performance, said earlier this year when he signed a new two-year contract.
Australia’s men’s team are currently ranked second in one-day internationals and sixth in T20s, while the women’s team hold down the No.1 spot in the women’s rankings, which incorporate Test, ODI and T20 cricket.
The result in Dhaka has also given Bangladesh a massive rankings boost, handing them 10 rankings points and ensuring they stay just ahead of the West Indies, following the Caribbean side’s shock victory against England at Headingley.
CURRENT ICC TEST RANKINGS
(official rankings will be updated at the end of the series)
1) India – 125
2) South Africa – 110
3) England – 102
4) New Zealand – 97
5) Australia – 94
6) Pakistan – 93
7) Sri Lanka – 90
8) Bangladesh – 79
9) West Indies – 79