What’s the story?
India are set to gain a cash prize of $1 million if they defeat Australia in the opening Test at Pune. A solitary victory in the upcoming 4-match series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be enough for the hosts to seal their number one ranking ahead of the annual cut-off date of April 1.
Captain Virat Kohli will guarantee the reward of approximately 6.71 crore INR (as per the prevailing exchange rate) from the International Cricket Council (ICC) should his team beat the Aussies in the series opener at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium.
Following their 3-0 series triumph against New Zealand at home, India had wrested back the top spot from arch-rivals Pakistan. Since then, their 4-0 hammering of England and victory in the one-off Test against Bangladesh not only extended their impressive form but also strengthened their lead at the top of the table.
Under Kohli’s aggressive captaincy, India are currently on a sequence of 19 unbeaten Tests (a national record) and six successive series victories. Interestingly, before the home season began last year, the skipper had played down the importance of the rankings by insisting, “Rankings keep going up and down, you don't play for rankings. But you obviously want to be a very strong side in the world and that's always been our aim, to be the best side in the world.”
The heart of the matter
India are currently on 121 rating points while their immediate opponents Australia claim the second spot with 109 points. A 4-0 clean sweep for the home team will take them to 125 points and open up a 18-point lead at the top of the table. In case of such a result, Steven Smith’s side will drop down to third even as South Africa rise to second spot.
Kohli’s team stand to gain one point with each victory from the Test series. On the other hand, if they suffer an unlikely 0-4 whitewash at the hands of the Aussies, India will fall to 113 points and take the second spot. A 0-3 loss should leave both teams at 114 points but the visitors can claim top billing on decimal points.
Even a single victory is enough for India to retain their number one position with 115 points. However, going by their current form and Australia’s recent record in Asia, they will be extremely disappointed if they do not register a dominant series score line.
Parallels from history
MS Dhoni’s Indian side had climbed to the top of the Test rankings in November 2009 and retained their position until the cut-off date in 2010 as well as 2011. During October 2015, ICC doubled the prize money for the number one team. Australia were the inaugural beneficiaries of the upgrade last year.
The task to seal their number one spot remains fairly straightforward for India. If they continue their remarkable form, the Pune Test could see them consolidate their top position. Should they fail to do so in the opening game, there will be three more opportunities.
The prize money on offer as well as the status of being the world’s best team would be just reward for all their hard work.