Australia's drawn series with New Zealand, confirmed by Tuesday's compelling conclusion in Perth, strips the champion team of a point. This reduces its series points average from an unassailable 1.62 to 1.54, fractionally ahead of South Africa's 1.50, the ICC release said.
This means Australia has to win the three-match series starting in Adelaide on December 14, to maintain its table-topping position. Any other result would see Shaun Pollock's team claim top spot for the first time since the championship was officially launched in May this year.
Australia won both corresponding home and away series with South Africa four years ago, which is why anything less than a repeat of those performances will see it lose the official position as the best Test side in world cricket. A drawn series would take South Africa to the top of the table with a 1.56 series points average over Australia's 1.46.
A win for Pollock's team would open up a significant gap of 1.62 against Australia's 1.38 points, the release said. Elsewhere in a busy schedule of Test cricket Sri Lanka's historic 3-0 win against the West Indies has moved it up to share equal third place with England on the Test Championship table. The result is the first time in its Test history that Sri Lanka has achieved a series clean sweep. New Zealand is another team moving up the ladder after holding Australia to a 0-0 drawn series.
This result now replaces the 2-0 win for Steve Waugh's team in the last encounter in 1997-98, adding a point to the Kiwis' total. It now has 15 points from 15 series and an average of 1.00, moving it ahead of the West Indies, which dropped from fifth to sixth place, the release added.