Dubai, Oct 30: The countdown to the final edition of the ICC Champions Trophy will begin on Thursday when former champions Sri Lanka and New Zealand will go head to head in a five-ODI series in Pallekele.
This series will serve as a curtain-raiser for what will be a thrilling season of ODI cricket, and the next eight months will provide all eight leading ODI sides a perfect opportunity to fine-tune their preparations for one of the ICC's major events.
In June 2013, defending champions Australia will be looking for a treble, having won the previous two editions of the ICC Champions Trophy (2006 and 2009).
But Australia will face stiff challenge from former champions South Africa (1998), New Zealand (2000), India and Sri Lanka (2002), and West Indies (2004), who will each be looking to lift the trophy for a second time by winning the final edition of the event.
The six top ranked ODI sides, along with the West Indies and New Zealand, will be playing a number of ODIs (mostly in the New Year) that will help them to gear up for the ICC Champions Trophy 2013.
In January 2013, Australia will host Sri Lanka for a five-ODI series, England will play five ODIs in India, and New Zealand will travel to South Africa for three ODIs. ODI series taking place from February-March include Australia v West Indies (in Australia, five ODIs), New Zealand v England (in New Zealand, three ODIs) and South Africa v Pakistan (in South Africa, five ODIs).
And all this will begin in Pallekele on Thursday when Sri Lanka hosts New Zealand in a five-ODI series. Straight after this series, Bangladesh will host the West Indies for a five-ODI series.
While all the sides will have one eye on the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, the other eye will be on the Reliance ICC ODI Championship as the battle for the coveted number-one position remains tight.
Currently, only 17 ratings points separate the top six sides, with England and South Africa on equal points at 121. However, Alastair Cook's side is rated above AB de Villiers' side by a fraction of a point.
World champion India is just one rating point behind, with four-time world champion Australia trailing India by seven ratings points. 1992 world champion Pakistan is sixth, four ratings points behind Sri Lanka, while 2002 ICC Champions Trophy winner New Zealand is on 74 ratings points.
Sri Lanka will have to win the series against New Zealand starting 1 November to stay ahead of Pakistan in fifth place. A 3-2 series win for New Zealand will mean Sri Lanka will slip to 103 ratings points, one behind Pakistan, while a 5-0 series win for Sri Lanka will put it just three ratings points behind fourth-ranked Australia.
The side that tops the Championship table on the 1 April cut-off date collects a cheque of US$175,000 along with a Shield while the team that finishes second receives a cheque of US$75,000.
ICC ODI Championship (Read as Rank, Team, Rating)
1 England 121
2 South Africa 121
3 India 120
4 Australia 113
5 Sri Lanka 108
6 Pakistan 104
7 West Indies 94
8 New Zealand 74
9 Bangladesh 71
10 Zimbabwe 50
11 Ireland 35
12 Netherlands 16
13 Kenya 11