The Proteas are now No 3 in the world behind England and Australia.

London – South Africa's chances of replacing England as Test cricket’s No 1 team after their forthcoming three-Test series became more difficult when the latest International Cricket Council rankings were published on Saturday.

The South Africans slipped to third on the list – Australia replacing them in second – and dropped to nine points off England from just a point adrift when the annual figures were issued.

The Proteas slipped down the list because their series victories in England and Australia four years ago were no longer valid to the rankings.

Should England either draw or win the series against South Africa, though, they will stay on top – and if they were to whitewash the tourists, South Africa would drop to fourth.

The first Test gets underway at The Oval next Thursday. – Sapa-AFP