England will be aiming to carry its Test form into the ODI format and win its first series in India in 28 years, and, in so doing, cement its status as the number-one ranked side on the Reliance ICC ODI Championship table.
The tourists play India in a five-match series starting on Friday January 11 in Rajkot, while second ranked South Africa will play New Zealand in a three-match series starting on January 19 in Paarl.
England currently leads South Africa by a fraction of a point, but will take an outright lead on the championship table if it wins the series, irrespective of the results of the South Africa-New Zealand and Australia-Sri Lanka series (starting on Friday in Melbourne), according to the ICC.
However, England’s failure to win the series will give both India and South Africa opportunities to reclaim the top spot.
If India wins all five matches of the series, it will jump two places to claim the top spot, while South Africa can only go top if it wins all three matches against New Zealand and India wins its series, but fails to complete a clean sweep.
The tussle for the top spot on the Reliance ICC ODI Championship Table is also a build-up for the ICC Champions Trophy, scheduled to be held from June 6 to 23 in England and Wales.
Group A includes defending champion Australia, 2000 winner New Zealand and 2002 champion Sri Lanka, along with host England, which reached the final when it last staged the event in 2004.
Australia and Sri Lanka face-off on June 17 at The Oval in a day-night match during what will be the final edition of the ICC Champions Trophy.
While Australia and Sri Lanka may not be in the race for the number-one position on the Championship Table, the five-match series will provide both sides an opportunity to size each other up.
Sides in Group B of the ICC Champions Trophy are 1998 winner South Africa, 2004 champion West Indies, 2002 winner India, and Pakistan.
The tournament opener will feature the two former winners when South Africa takes on 2002 champion India in Cardiff on June 6. The following day, the West Indies will face Pakistan at The Oval.
The semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy will be staged at The Oval (June 19) and in Cardiff (June 20), while Edgbaston will be the venue of the final, to be played on June 23.
With 14 ratings points separating number-one ranked England from sixth-ranked Sri Lanka, the battle for the Reliance ICC ODI Shield and a cash award of $175,000 is truly warming up.
While India-England and Australia-Sri Lanka will square-off against each other from Friday, and South Africa will take on New Zealand from January 19, there is a number of additional series to be played before the April 1 cut-off date.
Australia will take on the West Indies between February 1 and 10, England will travel to New Zealand for a three-match series from February 17, and South Africa will host Pakistan in a five-match series from March 10. Every match counts as the six leading sides battle to finish inside the top two.
The side that tops the Championship table on the 1 April cut-off date collects a cheque of $175,000 along with a Shield, while the team that finishes second receives a cheque of $75,000.
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