The events of the past few years have clearly illustrated that the days of one team dominating world cricket for an elongated period are over. We had the West Indies as the undisputed No 1 from 1980 to 1995. The Australians who displaced them reigned at the top for over a decade.
But in the last few years ever since the all conquering Aussies broke up following the retirements of several greats the lead has changed quite a few times with South Africa (very briefly), India and England taking the top spot.
And results during the past few months have further proved that the age of the really dominant squad is a thing of the past. If nothing else, the ICC rankings underline this. Just ten points separate the top five teams in the Test rankings.
England are perched rather shakily on the top with 118 points with South Africa chasing them hard just one point behind. India and Australia both have 111 points while Pakistan thanks to their 3-0 whitewash of England have surged to fifth spot with 108 points.
Unexpected outcomes have marked contests in Test cricket like perhaps never before. An England side completely outplayed by the Aussies to the extent of losing a series 5-0 - only the second Ashes whitewash in history - recovers to regain the Ashes two years later. The Aussies, albeit slightly on the decline, go down to England at home 3-1 losing all the three Tests by an innings - something that has never happened Down Under.
An Indian team wins a series in New Zealand for the first time in 41 years. The South Africans win a series in Australia for the first time in almost 100 years and then go down in the return contest at home. India, ranked no 1 in the game, lose all four Tests in England. Australia, having problems of their own, still manage to brush aside the challenge from India by winning all four Tests.
Pakistan, given little chance against the newly crowned No 1 England, surprise their opponents by winning all three matches. India, for the first time in five visits, share a series in South Africa. Sri Lanka, without a victory in South Africa over three tours, finally win a Test on their fourth visit.
The fact remains that these days no team can take any opponent for granted. Normally this cliche was true of the limited overs game but it appears that it has now been extended to the Test arena too. Moreover with tours taking place at quick and regular intervals visiting teams are generally well acclimatized to the wicket and weather conditions of the country they are playing in. This has also helped in bridging the gap.
If anything, recent events in ODIs have shown that the well known adage that it is just the form displayed by a particular team on a given day which holds good is very much true. Just the other day we had the example of fourth ranked Sri Lanka get the better of top ranked Australia with absolute ease in the ongoing CB series. Here too the competition is stiff as the latest ICC rankings will illustrate.
Australia are seemingly well entrenched at the top with 128 points - a clear ten points ahead of second placed India. But it is obvious that they are not as good as the rankings would have us believe. In any case there is a gap of only 12 points between India and the sixth ranked Pakistan with South Africa, Sri Lanka and England all bunched almost together in third, fourth and fifth spots.
As regards Twenty20 little need be said except that the adage associated with ODIs - that the result is clearly based on the form shown by a particular team on a given day - is even more pronounced. In the game's newest and shortest formats rankings clearly don't mean much for they are bound to change at frequent intervals given the unpredictable nature of the format.
In a way all this is good for cricket. Close competition between teams is bound to result in tense and thrilling finishes. It is also exciting to see the lead at the top change hands. One team dominating the sport can make things pretty boring and predictable. The current scenario certainly makes the international cricketing scene more interesting.The ODI format is alive and kicking More columns