India vs Australia 2013: No 1 ODI ranking at stake, but does it really matter?

Should India be bothered about losing the ODI series or the No 1 ranking? © Getty Images

India and Australia are all set for a mega limited-overs showdown. After a one-off Twenty20 International (T20I), the sides face-off in a seven-match One-Day International (ODI) series. Apart from winning the series, the No 1 ranking is at stake for the top two sides in ODIs. But how much do rankings matter in modern-day cricket, especially with no dominant side left like that of yesteryear. Shrikant Shankar has more.

When Australia ruled the roost in international cricket from 1999 to 2009, there was an aim for other teams to become the No 1-ranked side. If that was achieved, it meant that Australia were dethroned from the top spot. It provided a great sense of achievement to beat that Australian team; it was akin to climbing the Everest. South Africa twice pipped them to the ICC One-Day International (ODI) Championship in 2007 and 2008. They were the No 1-ranked team in 2009 as well. But it was Australia who dominated and won the ICC World Cup 2007 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2009. They destroyed South Africa in the 2007 World Cup semi-final.

Entering the ICC World Cup 2011, Australia were the top-ranked team. Even after India won the World Cup, they could only get as high as No 2. Australia still held on to their spot. So, does it really matter as to which team is the No 1, especially if they do not win anything? There is no dominant force left in international cricket. That is not to say that there aren’t good teams left. There are four-five teams that can be really good on a given day. India are the No 1-ranked team and Australia the No 2.

Interim Australia coach Steve Rixon stressed on the importance of becoming the top-ranked side in ODIs. “If you look at the tournament, it is not just a tournament but a chance to be No 1 in the world in one of the three formats,” said Rixon. “So, it is very important to the players, the coaching staff and Cricket Australia (CA). At the end of the day, we want to sit back and want to be part of the number one side.”

For Australia to usurp the top spot, they need to win at least six out of the seven matches. Now here comes the interesting part. If Rixon is actually serious about what he said, then that would mean Australia are aiming for such a scoreline. Even if they don’t win that big, but win nonetheless, it would mean a lot to them. At present, Australia are light on personnel. Captain Michael Clarke is out injured and so are many other first-team players. India, on the other hand, will have a near full strength side. India have also been in scintillating form. They won the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and then the ODI tri-series in the Caribbean. Then an under-strength team whitewashed Zimbabwe in a five-match ODI series.

So, with all these factors in consideration, if anyone offered Rixon a 4-3 winning margin before the series begins, then he would gladly accept it. Australia are just starting to feel better about themselves. They had a disastrous Champions Trophy. They then lost the Ashes 3-0. They began their revival with a 2-1 ODI series win over England. With the Ashes 2013-14 beginning on November 21 in Brisbane, this series provides opportunities for many to stake a claim in the Australian Test squad, especially with many more injured. Beating India in India is always special and if Australia are serious about it then the hosts need to be careful.

India may lose the series 5-2 and still retain the No 1 ranking. But will they be bothered if they lose the top-rank status or if they lose the ODI series? A loss is a loss and for this team, who look well capable of defending their world crown in 2015, only victory would suffice. Rankings are only there to provide a table. Winning is what is important.

People will remember South Africa more as chokers rather than the once top-ranked team in ODIs. They will always remember Australia as the team who won three World Cup titles in a row. Yes, the No 1 ranking is important. It means that you are the top dog and others are chasing you. It definitely provides a sense of satisfaction. But it counts for nothing in a results-based industry. Even in Tests, one can be No 1, but that would have come about by winning matches and series.

Being No 1 is part and parcel of any game. So, India and Australia should focus on winning the next game. The rest will follow.

(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)