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Australia and India are clearly the two best Test teams

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Expert
6th January, 2020
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Australia and India are now clearly the two best Test teams in the world, with New Zealand having been exposed by the Aussies and South Africa mired in an extended form trough.

The Aussies have completed a 3-0 demolition of New Zealand, who entered that series as the number two ranked side in the world and exited it with their reputation dented.

The new ICC Test rankings have India (120 points) miles ahead of Australia (108), New Zealand (105), South Africa (102) and fifth-ranked England (102). That’s a fair reflection of the true standings of those teams right now.

India defeated Australia last summer – a loss that stung the Aussies, who have since gone on a rip, with a 9-2 win-loss record.

Australia are, quite obviously, a vastly superior side when they have star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner in their line-up.

In Australia’s last 30 Tests featuring both Smith and Warner, the side has a commanding win-loss record of 20-9. The emergence of Marnus Labuschagne as a bona fide Test star – now the fourth-ranked batsman in the world – means Australia’s top four is easily stronger than any other side bar India.

Combined with owning the world’s best attack – equal to India’s – and an improving middle order, Australia have suddenly separated themselves from the pack.

Pat Cummins of Australia walks from the field at the end of the days play

(Paul Kane – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

New Zealand were dismantled by Australia in this series. On paper the Kiwis have a formidable line-up, with a host of batsmen who own fine Test records, and a trio of highly-regarded quicks in Neil Wagner, Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

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But the harsh reality for the Kiwis is that, for a long while now, they’ve excelled at beating poor to middling sides but have consistently failed against the strongest teams.

Stretching back to late 2013, NZ have an excellent 27-17 win-loss record in Tests. Yet they have a horrendous record against the three strongest teams of that period – India, SA and Australia – winning just one of 18 Tests.

I’m going to repeat that again – one win from 18 Tests.

That doesn’t render all their other successes irrelevant, as the Kiwis have produced some fine performances in places like the UAE and Sri Lanka. But it makes it inarguable that when the really big series arrive, NZ consistently flop.

They, quite clearly, are not on the same level as Australia – let alone India, who are comfortably the world’s best Test team.

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Behind that trio of sides are South Africa and England, both of whom are at their lowest ebbs in the past 15 years. Since beating Australia 3-1 almost two years ago, SA have been devastated by Kolpak defections and a string of key retirements, with star seamer Vernon Philander the next to go after the current series with England.

SA look certain to lose the ongoing second Test against England. That will mean that since that series against Australia, they have a shocking win-loss record of 4-8.

As openers Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar have laboured during that period, SA have relied on keeper-batsman Quinton de Kock and captain Faf du Plessis, who can’t be far from retirement either, turning 36 in a few months.

With Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott and Duanne Olivier gone, and Philander departing soon, a lot more pressure is being placed on gun quick Kagiso Rabada.

Meanwhile, spinner Keshav Maharaj is in a long-form slump. In his last 12 Tests, Maharaj has averaged a whopping 45 with the ball. So, all of a sudden, South Africa’s long-fearsome attack is not nearly as potent. SA remain a dangerous Test team, but their batting is far more vulnerable than it used to be and their attack has been eroded.

Then there’s England, who haven’t looked so fragile since the early 2000s. They have only one batsman who averages over 40 in Tests, and that man Joe Root has averaged only 38 in his past 30 matches. With the ball, England are effective at home but struggle for impact away.

England captain Joe Root.

England captain Joe Root is going through an extended lean patch. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

England were smashed 4-0 on their last tours of Australia and India, were easily defeated in New Zealand recently, were beaten 2-0 by the lowly West Indies a year ago, and were bowled out for 85 by minnows Ireland six months ago.

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Meanwhile, none of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh or the West Indies are close to becoming a top Test team. That leaves India and Australia as quite clearly the two best Test sides.

Now Australia have to prove they deserve their number two ICC ranking. Their next three confirmed series are big ones – away to Bangladesh, home to India and away to SA.

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This Australian side looks well capable of winning all three of those series. Of course, an injury here or there and form slumps for key players and it could all fall apart for Australia instead.

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Right now, though, Australia look stronger than they’ve been for a decade. With all of their most important players bar Warner young enough to continue for at least three or four more years, they could be entering a golden era.