South Africa will begin the New Year by aiming to strengthen its number one status on the Reliance ICC Test Championship Table, when it plays a two-match series against New Zealand from 2 January at Cape Town.
South Africa currently leads the Reliance ICC Test Championship Table with 123 ratings points and have a five point lead over second-placed England. Graeme Smith's side retained the Reliance ICC Test Championship Mace in December 2012 after it defeated Australia 1-0.
For South Africa to retain the number-one spot, it just needs a 0-0 result or better in the two-match series against New Zealand. South Africa could at best gain one ratings point for winning the series 2-0, but could lose one point if it wins the series 1-0.
In the event of the series ending at 1-1, South Africa would drop down to 119 points, just one ahead of England, currently placed at 118.
But if South Africa was to lose the Test series against New Zealand 0-1, it would also lose the top position to England - dropping seven points in the process to end on 116. Then, South Africa's final position on the table will depend on the result in the Australia-Sri Lanka series. Australia currently leads the series 2-0 and it could gain three ratings points to end at 117 if it wins the third Test starting in Sydney from 3 January. New Zealand on the other hand would remain at number eight on the table but would gain seven ratings point to finish at 86.
In the event of South Africa losing both its Tests against New Zealand it would lose eight ratings points to fall to 115 ratings points to finish third on the table. A 2-0 win for New Zealand would push it up to 88 points but it would remain in eighth place on the Reliance ICC Test Championship table.
To find out exactly how the Australia-Sri Lanka and South Africa-New Zealand series will affect the Championship table, please click here. The Test Championship table is updated after every series, unlike the ODI or T20I Championship tables, which are updated after every match.
South Africa has an opportunity to not just make a strong start to its home season, which also features three Tests against Pakistan in February 2013, but also stake a claim to be the number-one ranked team at the 1 April 2013 cut-off date.
This would mean that it could be in line for the increased prize money on offer for the top-ranked side on the cut-off date.
A total of USD 3.8 million in prize money will be shared among the top four sides on 1 April 2013, 2014 and 2015, after the ICC Board approved a proposal earlier this year to substantially increase incentives in the form of prize money to promote Test cricket in the period leading up to the ICC Test Championship event in 2017.
Previously, the top team in the Reliance ICC Test rankings received a cheque for USD 175,000, but, from 2013, it will receive a minimum of USD 450,000, rising to USD 500,000 in 2015. From 2016 there will be further increases in Test prize money. (ANI)