If you haven’t been paying much attention to cricket during the footy season, prepare yourself for a rude shock.
With England due to arrive at the end of the month, ahead of a five-match Ashes series, this summer will see cricket’s third- and fifth-ranked Test teams in action.
But it’s the tourists who are ranked two places higher on the International Cricket Council (ICC) table.
Australia was No.1 as recently as 14 months ago, having reclaimed the ICC Test Championship mace in February 2016.
In August last year, India took over for four days, before Pakistan reached the pinnacle for the first time. India climbed back on top last October and has been ranked No.1 since.
Meanwhile, Australia has dropped steadily, thanks to series losses in Sri Lanka, South Africa and India, and a drawn series in Bangladesh.
In fact, only last summer’s 3-0 home series whitewash of Pakistan has kept Australia from tumbling to a historic low. As it stands, the Aussies have won only six of their past 16 Tests.
Former Australian all-rounder Brendon Julian says we should get used to it, because Test cricket is a lot closer than it once was.
“Most nations are pretty good at home and okay away, and there’s no standout team,” Julian told The New Daily.
“You might say India is [a standout], but they don’t have a good record away.
“[The rankings are] skewed in favour of home series, the sides are a lot closer, and they play each other a lot so know each other’s games very well.”
Australians were used to their team being No.1 because it was from the time the rankings were established, in June 2003, until July 2009.
Since then, South Africa, England, India, and Pakistan have all taken a turn at the top.
“I don’t think you’ll see too many nations with a period of domination anymore,” Julian says.
Australia was last ranked fifth following a 0-3 Ashes series defeat in England in mid-2013, having gone nine matches without a win, but turned things around immediately with an emphatic 5-0 home Ashes result precipitating a return to No.1 by the following May.
Julian says another quick bounce back is possible.
He believes the Ashes series will hinge on how many matches England all-rounder Ben Stokes misses.
Stokes was suspended after he and teammate Alex Hales were arrested following a brawl in the street outside a Bristol nightclub last month.
England’s vice-captain won’t be traveling with the squad when it leaves England on October 28 and, while no decision has been made on possible criminal charges or a playing suspension, Julian thinks he will miss at least the first two Tests.
“They’ll need to suspend him but they won’t want to do it for three matches,” he says.
“He’s a Flintoff-type of player who can get five wickets and score a quick hundred as well.
“I reckon if he misses the first two Tests then that swings the balance in Australia’s favour.”
Julian says the England batting is vulnerable without Stokes, but there are question marks over Australia’s batting, too.
“The biggest issue is the lack of confidence,” he says.
“Our batsmen aren’t firing, but that confidence will come back once we start playing at home and if we get off to a good start.
“It’s a capable batting line-up but it doesn’t have the aura that past Australian teams have had.
“Most oppositions would look at our batting line-up and think it’s okay, but it’s nothing special.
“England won’t fear us, but we won’t fear them, either.”