Sydeny: With one Test to go in ongoing series, Australia are in danger of being routed. Will South Africa complete a 3-0 demolition job to become the world's No1 .
This history-making South African side has not just beaten Ponting's men, it has towelled them, adding a nine-wicket pummelling at the MCG on Tuesdat to the six-wicket defeat dished out in Perth.
The dethroning will be complete if the Proteas make it a 3-0 series victory at the SCG from Saturday, a result that would have Australia replaced at the top of the tree by a South African team cast in the tough, ambitious image of its leader, Graeme Smith.
Ponting's team is clinging to the title as the best in the world until the official ICC rankings change, but anyone who witnessed the match-turning batting of Smith, Jacques Kallis, J.P. Duminy and A.B. de Villiers, or the new-age pace attack led by Dale Steyn, knows South Africa's claims on the No.1 ranking are deserving.
Also, anyone who saw Australia concede a fourth-innings run chase of 414 in Perth and more than 200 for the last three wickets in Melbourne knows the decline has been steep.
"How do you judge it? That is the difficult question," Ponting said. "Right at the moment I think we are still No.1. They have to beat us in Sydney to take the mantle from us. That's the way that ranking system works. But I'm pretty sure if you went and knocked on their door next door, they'd be saying that they are the number one team …"
If the South Africans achieve their ambition to win 3-0 and seal the right to be regarded as the world's best Test side, they will also inflict Australia's first clean-sweep defeat at home in a series of three matches or more and the first in a shorter series since 1887-88.
The once-feared Australians have not defeated a team ranked among the top five nations since January, when Ponting's men beat India in the last half-hour at the SCG and all hell broke loose. That victory was the Australians' 16th in succession, equalling the world record-winning streak set under Steve Waugh four years earlier, but the fall from grace that followed was rapid. This year, Ponting's side has recorded five wins, five losses and four draws, but the more telling statistic betrays the impotence of a bowling attack that has failed to take 20 wickets in seven of its 14 Tests.