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Captain Shaun Pollock, whose side became the first to displace Australia at the top of the standings with their 2-0 series triumph over Pakistan last month, received the award from International Cricket Council president Malcolm Gray.
Pollock, frequently a loser against Australia in the past, described the honour as due recognition of all the hard work put in by his side over the last four years.
``Australia are a very good Test unit and I'm sure they won't be happy about the fact that they are not rated number one anymore,'' he said.
``Over the last four years, we have played very well and beaten Pakistan away, India away, West Indies away and drawn in Sri Lanka. Those are all things that have contributed to this Test championship (trophy).''
Australia have led the Test championship since it was inaugurated in May 2001, but have yet to play the two weakest sides, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Australia captain Steve Waugh, asked about losing the trophy for the first time after his side had beaten the South Africans in five of their last six Tests, said: ``Everyone knows who the number one side is so I don't really see that as a big issue.''
South Africa wicketkeeper Mark Boucher expressed a similar opinion this week.
``We know we are the second best side in the world after Australia, even though we hold the Test trophy,'' Boucher said.
``We lost against Australia at home and away and we want to hold that trophy knowing that have beaten them.
``It is just a pity that we don't play them more often. It's a bit stupid that the number one and number two sides in the world only play each other every four years.''
Pollock, though, believes the championship mace was earned on merit.
``A lot of people mention that Australia beat us 5-1 recently but what you forget is that it (the championship) is not South Africa versus Australia but South Africa versus the rest of the Test-playing nations,'' he said.
``I think the ICC have done a good job. How else are you going to rate Test champions?
``It is not possible to put everyone in the same place at the same time and have a Test series championship.''
South Africa clinched the trophy when they beat Pakistan by an innings and 142 runs in the final match of a two-Test series in Cape Town on January 5.
Pakistan had lost the first Test by 10 wickets.
Hosts South Africa begin their World Cup campaign tomorrow in the tournament's opening match against West Indies.