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Champions Trophy - an overview

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For those not entirely into it yet, the Champions Trophy is not a knock-out tournament as it was. For some strange reason, it is more like the regular World Cup format with group matches and aggregated points leading to semi finals. Strange, because the knock-out format from the beginning was an interesting differentiator from all other one-day tournaments and it added a dimension of unpredictability and edge in a game that is skewing too heavily towards batsmen in a rather predictable way.

Also, the timing of the tournament doesn’t seem to be well-thought-out. Being barely six months before the main world cup, it becomes a mere warm-up before the main event. It would take very little to place it exactly two years after the world cup, thus making it a more genuine mini world cup. But, ICC, ah.

Anyway, with a bit of luck, the tournament this year should still bring enough exciting cricket, once the second round gets underway. Australia would be irritated that this is still the only title that has eluded them in the last decade of international cricket, and they seem pretty keyed-up to rectify that this time. As it happens, Australia are in the same group as India, England and one of the two qualifiers (either West Indies or Sri Lanka surely). It’s a little bizarre to see West Indies – the defending champion, having to qualify, yet another ICC special thought. The other likely qualifier Sri Lanka is actually one of the strong contenders to be this year’s winner, such is their recent form (drubbing England 5-0 in England is not to be taken lightly) and in subcontinental conditions, they are almost certain semi-finalists. Group B will see New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and either West Indies or Sri Lanka slug it out. Two teams will emerge from each group to set up the semi-final line-up.

Pakistan were very strong contenders on my book, till the Hair-Inzi verdict came out. It surprises me that the Pakistanis did not make too much noise about Inzi’s ban for two reasons. 1) It was a test match incident, so why is Inzi banned for one dayers? Inzi’s absence blunts Pakistan’s chances considerably; isn’t the Champions Trophy important to the Pakistanis? 2) By giving the verdict that the Pakistanis were not guilty of ball tampering, how could anything be held against Pakistan after that? Fine, Inzi was guilty of not being willing to play as he was smarting from the allegation, but if the allegation itself is proved to be wrong, then why could subsequent proceedings not be overlooked either? Why has Hair not paid the price for his over-zealousness? But by linking it the Champions Trophy, I think injustice has further been done to Pakistan.

Actually, more than ever before, the differences between teams (other than Australia) are far less than ever before. It is actually quite conceivable for any of the teams to win the Champions Trophy, and indeed the World Cup. And even Australia is fallible, if the other teams are not awed by their stature. It should be interesting.

New Zealand bat deep, as usual, and though Shane Bond will not quite have the same bite on Indian one day pitches, the usual Kiwi discipline should make their bowlers adequately difficult customers. South Africa, pretty much ditto, though with Gibbs, Smith and Kallis in their ranks, they have a batting line-up that can slay a few giants on their own steam (and chase any total down, as we have seen from them recently). West Indies have done exceedingly well in one-dayers in these kind of conditions lately, and with their batting line-up, should be a major force. The lack of a top class bowler in their ranks (which has been shown up repeatedly in test cricket lately) will probably not affect them much in these conditions.

In Indian conditions, bowlers are pretty much rendered impotent, so it is really the clash of batting might against batting might. Every single team today bats deep, and has exciting players capable of turning a game in a flash. Even England have players like that in Pieterson and Flintoff, so you can say things have really changed. ?

My guess for semi-finalists – Australia, India, West Indies, Sri Lanka. But it could easily be the other four teams – such is the qualitative closeness amongst the teams today.


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