Dubai: South Africa batsman Hashim Amla has an opportunity to claim the number-one ranking on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Player Rankings for Test batsmen for the first time in his career when he takes to the field against Pakistan in the first Test of the three-match series in Johannesburg from Thursday.
Amla is currently just one ratings point behind Australia's number-one ranked Michael Clarke, and he leads third-ranked Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies by seven points.
While a strong performance will put Amla ahead of the Australian, a failure can potentially drop him in the player rankings, which will next be updated at the conclusion of the Johannesburg Test.
Apart from Amla, a number of players will be aiming to make upward movements. These include team-mate AB de Villiers (sixth), Jacques Kallis (seventh), Younus Khan (ninth), Azhar Ali (11th), Graeme Smith in (12th) and Misbah-ul-Haq (13th).
The bowlers' table is headed by South Africa spearhead Dale Steyn, who is currently just five ratings points away from breaking the 900 ratings points barrier for the second time in his career.
Steyn last achieved the magical 900-point mark in November 2011 after his efforts of four for 55 and two for 23 in the Cape Town Test against Australia, to become only the second South Africa bowler after Shaun Pollock to achieve the rare distinction.
In rankings terms, 900 or more ratings points means a player is truly outstanding, a benchmark for the very top bowlers.
Among other bowlers within the top 20 and expected to be in action during the series are Vernon Philander (second), Saeed Ajmal (third), Morne Morkel (eighth), Abdur Rehman (11th) and Umar Gul (19th).
South Africa can seal top spot to claim $450,000 by April 1 cut-off date
Meanwhile, a 0-0 series result for South Africa against Pakistan would be enough for South Africa to be guaranteed the number-one spot for retaining the ICC Test Championship mace and prize money for the top-ranked Test team.
South Africa is currently placed at the top of the table with 124 ratings points, six ratings ahead of second-ranked England.
South Africa would thus have an opportunity to not only become richer by $450,000, but also to retain the prestigious Reliance ICC Test Championship mace, irrespective of how the other series before the cut-off date pan out.
There are three more series lined up before the 1 April cut-off date. India hosts Australia for a four-match series from Feb 22, New Zealand plays the first of a three-match series against England from March 6 in Dunedin, and West Indies plays Zimbabwe in the first of a two-match series from March 16.