Down 2-0 in the series, even if Australia win the third and final Test starting in Colombo on Saturday, they will relinquish top spot if other results go against them.
England moved into the box seat to go top of the pile when they beat Pakistan in the third Test at Edgbaston on Sunday and go 2-1 up in their four-match series.
If England win the remaining Test starting at The Oval on Thursday, they’ll climb to No1.
India, who lead their Test series 1-0 over the West Indies after a draw last week, can jump over England if they’re victorious in their last two matches in St Lucia and Trinidad.
On Monday in Galle, Australian allrounder Mitch Marsh was downcast when asked about the prospect of being bumped from No1.
“It means a hell of a lot,” he said.
“It’s what we strive for. In the Test arena you don’t play for a premiership, you play to be No1 in the world and that’s what we strive for every day.”
It would be a quick dethroning in Australia’s first series since being crowned the top Test nation following their 2-0 win in New Zealand.
“It would be very disappointing if we lost that,” added Marsh.
“We haven’t had it for that long. We were really hoping to try and stretch the gap. We’ve got the opportunity to win this next Test match and that’s all we can do.”
Meanwhile, respected Sri Lankan journalist Rex Clementine didn’t hold back when assessing the current Australian team.
“The present team led by Steven Smith are a confused lot and their character is so un-Australian. In Galle and prior to that in Pallekele, they easily chickened out. Now they are facing the horror of a 3-0 whitewash,” Clementine wrote in a local newspaper under the headline: Worst Australian team to visit our shores.
Before heading to Sri Lanka, Australia had only lost one Test – in 1999 – in the 26 matches between the countries over 33 years.
The 229-run defeat on Saturday was wrapped up in less than two-and-a-half days.
Even in tough sub-continental conditions they were expected to easily account for a young side that had just come off a hammering in England.
Sri Lanka’s chairman of selectors and former batting great Sanath Jayasuriya told a local newspaper the win in Galle was possibly the greatest Test win in Sri Lanka’s history. (Courtesy The Guardian)