Dubai: Exciting time awaits international cricket in the next couple of weeks as six top-ranked sides in the ICC ODI Team Rankings, including second-placed India go head to head with eyes firmly set on next year`s ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which is just 175 days away.
Hambantota will host the first of three matches between Sri Lanka and Pakistan tomorrow, while in Harare on Monday, the tri-series between Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe gets underway with the opening match between the host and Australia.
Also on Monday, Bristol will stage the first ODI of the five-match series between India and England.
In the meantime, eighth-ranked West Indies is already involved in its series against ninth-ranked Bangladesh, and leads the three-match series 1-0. This series concludes on Monday.
There is a lot to play for in the 17 matches scheduled over the next 16 days. Not only are the six top sides separated by just 15 ratings points, but the captains and the coaches will have their sights firmly set on the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which kicks off in Christchurch and Melbourne on February 14.
There is further context to these matches as India and Pakistan will be hoping to avenge their defeats in their respective Test series.
Sri Lanka won both its matches against Pakistan while England came from behind to wrap up the series against India 3-1. While doing so, both England and Sri Lanka moved ahead of their respective opponents in the Reliance ICC Test Team Championship table.
In Harare, Australia and South Africa will do battle for the number-one position in the Reliance ICC ODI Team Rankings, with Michael Clarke`s men sitting on top of the tree, and South Africa just three ratings points behind in the third position behind India.
Meanwhile, there are battles within battles when the Reliance ICC ODI Player Rankings are taken into account.
South Africa captain Hashim Amla has regained the number-one batting spot from team-mate AB de Villiers in the Reliance ICC Player Rankings for ODI Batsmen, following his scores of 122 not out and 15 against Zimbabwe. But his lead over de Villiers is just one ratings point, with out-of-form India batsman Virat Kohli another point behind in third spot.
With just three points separating the top three batsmen, all of them have a chance to finish on top of the table but for that they will need to produce strong performances in the forthcoming matches.
If the trio fails and fourth-ranked George Bailey of Australia gets a few big scores, then the tide could potentially sway in favour of the former Australia U-19 captain, who can surge to the top of the charts for the first time in his career.
As many as nine batsmen inside the top 10 will feature in the forthcoming matches. Apart from Amla, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq also feature inside the top 10 in sixth and ninth positions, respectively. England captain Alastair Cook is in 20th position and Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews is 22nd.
In the ICC Players Rankings for ODI Bowlers, Pakistan`s Saeed Ajmal holds the number-one position. He leads West Indies` Sunil Narine by 71 ratings points, with England`s James Anderson hoping to continue with his rich form with the ball and leapfrog the West Indies spinner, whom he trails by 12 ratings points.
The ICC Player Rankings for ODI All-rounders is headed by Pakistan`s Mohammad Hafeez, with the top five also including Angelo Mathews in third place and Ravindra Jadeja of India in fourth.