Five of the 14 sides taking part in next year's ICC [ Images ] Cricket World Cup 2011 start their preparations for the biggest prize in cricket when they feature in a series of ODIs in Dambulla and Clontarf, Ireland.
While Sri Lanka [ Images ] hosts India [ Images ] and New Zealand [ Images ] in a triangular tournament in Dambulla from Tuesday, August 10, the Netherlands take on Ireland in two ODIs, which will be played on August 16 and 18.
And England [ Images ] and Pakistan will soon join the bandwagon of sides which will be giving a final touch-up to their World Cup preparations when they go head to head in a five-match ODI series on September 10 after the conclusion of their four-Test series which is currently in progress.
All the sides on the table will not only be aiming to gain early momentum going into ICC's flagship event but will also be targeting to improve their positions on the Reliance [ Get Quote ] Mobile ICC ODI Championship as US $175,000 will be awarded to the side which finishes on top of the ladder at the April 1, 2011 cut-off date along with the championship shield. The side which finishes second will earn US $75,000.
After last week's annual update, four-time World champions Australia [ Images ] sit pretty in top position on 132 ratings points but only seven ratings points separate the next five sides, including second-placed India, fourth-ranked New Zealand and sixth-placed Sri Lanka.
As such, there will be a reshuffle of cards in the middle of the table irrespective of how the series pans out with India out to defend its new second-placed position while narrowing the gap with Australia, and Sri Lanka and New Zealand hoping to put up some strong performances which can help them challenge India's position.
India can strengthen its second position if it wins all its matches which will put it on 125 ratings points. However, its failure to win a single ODI in Dambulla will mean it will drop to sixth position on 111 ratings points.
Likewise, Sri Lanka can rise to second position but for this to happen, it needs to win all its four league matches and hope New Zealand wins in either of its two ODIs against India.
Ross Taylor's [ Images ] Black Caps can dislodge Mahendra Singh Dhoni's [ Images ] side from the second position as early as Tuesday if it wins the tournament opener but will need to beat Sri Lanka in its next match to cling on to its new position on the table.
Meanwhile, there will be plenty at stake in the Ireland-Netherlands series as both the sides have a chance to move up to 10th position. However, to make this happen, both the sides will have to win both the ODIs.
A 2-0 win for Netherlands will put it ahead of Zimbabwe and Ireland in 10th position on 48 ratings points while Ireland will jump to 10th if it wins both the ODIs. A one-all drawn series will see both the sides retain their pre-series positions.
In the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI batsmen, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads the field but by just. He is only two points clear of South Africa's [ Images ] AB de Villiers [ Images ] which means the wicketkeeper-batsman will have to bat consistently well to not only retain the top position but also extend his advantage over the Proteas' batsman.
Sri Lanka's Tillekeratne Dilshan [ Images ] (seventh), Kumar Sangakkara [ Images ] (11th), Virender Sehwag [ Images ], Virat Kohli [ Images ], Yuvraj Singh [ Images ] (all 16th) and Ross Taylor (19th) are the other batsmen inside the top 20 who will be eyeing upward movements.
Outside the top 20 are Suresh Raina [ Images ] (23rd), Mahela Jayawardena (31st), Scott Styris [ Images ] (35th), Upul Tharanga (42nd), Rohit Sharma [ Images ] (46th) and Martin Guptill [ Images ] (49th).
New Zealand's Daniel Vettori [ Images ] leads the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers. Though he will drop points for missing the series as a player loses 0.5 per cent of his ratings points for every ODI he misses, such is his lead that he is still likely to finish on top of the chart at the end of the series.
Sri Lanka's Nuwan Kulasekara [ Images ] is the highest-ranked bowler in third position who will be appearing in this series. He trails Shakib Al Hasan by 17 ratings points but can go ahead of the Bangladesh left-arm spinner with a few strong performances.
New Zealand Kyle Mills [ Images ] in the next highest-ranked bowler as his shares fifth position with England's Stuart Broad [ Images ] and has fourth-placed Ray Price of Zimbabwe firmly within his sights while Jacob Oram [ Images ] is in 10th spot.
Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis [ Images ] of Sri Lanka has a good opportunity to return to the top 10 as he currently sit in 12th position while India's highest-ranked bowler in the absence of 11th-ranked Harbhajan Singh [ Images ] is Praveen Kumar [ Images ] in 15th spot.
In the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI all-rounders, the highest-ranked player from the participating sides is Jacob Oram who currently occupies sixth position. The list is headed by Shakib Al Hasan of Bangladesh while Vettori is presently in fifth spot but may slip in the rankings as he will not figure in the series.
Yuvraj Singh is the highest-ranked India all-rounder in seventh position and will be hoping to climb up the table.