The start of the English summer (or should that be “summer”) will see the top cricketing nations face off in what is set to be the final ICC Champions Trophy before the World Test Championship takes over in 2017. Despite being hastily arranged last year after the Test Championship false-started, the seventh and final Champions Trophy could well be the best yet, with no clear favourite from the eight teams looking to secure a record $2millon prize.
The tournament kicks off on the 6th of June, with matches played at Cardiff, Edgbaston, and the Oval, and the final being held at Edgbaston on the 23rd of June. The teams are split into two groups of four, playing each other once, with the top 2 advancing to the semi-finals.
Group A features the hosts England, Ashes rivals Australia, 2011 World Cup finalists Sri Lanka, and the runners-up of the last Champions Trophy, New Zealand. The home side go into the tournament as marginal favourites to qualify for the semi-finals, but are chronic slow-starters in recent series. A familiar squad will be looking to lay down an early marker against Australia in preparation for the Ashes, and with the quartet of Anderson, Broad, Finn and Swann likely to feature, the tournament gives them a perfect opportunity for an early advantage against a less experienced Australia side, and a much needed confidence boost in one-day cricket.
Never write off the Aussies though; the winners of the last two Champions Trophy tournaments should adapt to the cold, wet and miserable conditions very quickly. Relatively inexperienced players like Mitchell Marsh and James Faulkner have enjoyed a good run in the IPL, and star batsmen Michael Clarke, David Warner and Shane Watson have the ability to turn any match on its head. It is a transitional period for the once dominant nation, but the fighting spirit still remains, and anything less than victory will be a disappointment for a nation used to international success.
The Ashes rivals will certainly face stiff competition from a vastly experienced Sri Lankan team. Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan boast nearly a thousand ODI appearances between them, and a tricky bowling attack led by the devastating Lasith Malinga means there is no reason why the Sri Lankans can’t win the tournament.
New Zealand are the rank outsiders in the group, and may well be reliant on Brendon McCullum to win matches for them. Write them off at your peril though, as their young bowling attack has proved difficult to deal with for England recently, and the explosive batting of McCullum and Ross Taylor is sure to provide much excitement.
If picking a winner from Group A is difficult, then choosing between South Africa, India, Pakistan and the West Indies in Group B is nigh on impossible. South Africa are the favourites on paper, but they have earned a reputation as ‘chokers’ in international tournaments, crashing out of the last 4 world cups in often farcical ways. The absence of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis will hurt, but there is no doubting the talent in a team currently at the top of the test rankings. Dale Steyn leads the bowling attack in a squad loaded with batting, with JP Duminy returning to a team already containing the likes of AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. It will be up to them to ensure that previous cup exits don’t come back to haunt them in what will be Gary Kirsten’s final tournament in charge.
Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane. A small selection of the players who ARE NOT in India’s 15 man squad. The vast majority of these are purely down to the selectors not feeling they are worthy of being in India’s best 15. The strength in depth of the Indian team is therefore at an all-time high, led of course by MS Dhoni. There are match winners everywhere you look, and provided the 2011 World Cup champions adapt to English conditions, they will surely be at the business end of proceedings at Edgbaston.
Pakistan are something of an enigma recently; not often mentioned as potential tournament winners, they have nevertheless appeared in the semi-finals of the last four global tournaments. Pakistan won the 2009 T20, the last ICC tournament played on English soil, and will look to Saeed Ajmal, the No.1-ranked ODI bowler in the world, to bring them success once again. However, with the bowling attack including Ajmal being taken apart by Ireland’s Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien recently, and lacking the pyrotechnics of ‘Boom Boom’ Shahid Afridi, it could be up to the rest of the batting order to ensure another appearance in the latter stages of a major tournament.
Like New Zealand in Group A, the West Indies appear to be rank outsiders. This is likely to prove an unfair assumption though, as anyone who has been watching the IPL recently will tell you. Chris Gayle has proved time and again that he has the ability to win matches single-handedly, but they are by no means a one man band. The current T20 champions have plenty of all-round talent in the form of Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, and captain Dwayne Bravo to name a few. Don’t discount them.
Anyone looking to this preview for an inside tip on who to favour when making your predictions, I really am sorry! It wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the eight teams lift the trophy, which surely means that whoever wins this tournament on our beloved SuperBru is either a cricketing mastermind or has some serious luck! Either way, I can see it being close. Being bold, I’ll stick my neck on the line and say it’ll be an India v South Africa final, with India the most likely winners. I fancy Sri Lanka to make the semi-finals with either England or Australia joining them. But who knows. Every team has players capable of turning matches on their head, and the seventh and final ICC Champions Trophy looks set to be the most exciting yet. Provided of course that it stops raining…
By Matt Bartlett