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Proteas win heralds new era

SOUTH Africa displaced Australia as the world's top-ranked one-day team on Friday and is now expected to repeat the feat in the test rankings, confirming the shifting balance of power in world cricket toward the Proteas and India.

South Africa beat Australia by 39 runs in the fifth one-day international on Friday despite being without injured captain Graeme Smith and resting Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini to overtake the four-time World Cup winner as the International Cricket Council's highest-ranked one-day team.

The Proteas had already inflicted Australia's first home test series loss in 16 years and they can go top of the ICC test rankings by winning the return three-match home series from February 26.

"I guess it's a disappointing way for us to end this series," Australia captain Ricky Ponting said. "The South Africans have totally outplayed us right the way through."

Just over two years ago, Australia thrashed England by 10 wickets to win back the Ashes, sweeping the series 5-0. But that victory now looks increasingly like a final emphatic statement from a once-great team. The Aussis have since been lucky to win a fractious home series against India before being easily beaten away by the same opponent, and now this home loss to South Africa.

There is a chance that only Ponting, Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke will remain from that Ashes team to tour South Africa as Australia continues rebuilding following the retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer.

Factor in Matthew Hayden's recent decision to quit, Brett Lee's serious foot injury and Andrew Symond's recurring disciplinary issues and Australia is expected to be severely lacking experience and a penetrative bowling attack in South Africa.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan identified Australia's atypical lack of self belief as being symptomatic of its problems.

"It looks like Australia have lost a bit of confidence," Vaughan said. "Over the years, they've managed to win from some incredible positions. It just looks now like they're lacking a bit of that winning confidence."

England hosts Australia later this year but the 132-year-old battle for the Ashes could soon be relegated to a second-tier status, with cricket's new world order best illustrated by the fact that the ICC's Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat is a South African and the Board of Control for Cricket in India is widely seen as the real power in world cricket because of its financial muscle.


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