ICC Champions Trophy Preview

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ICC Champions Trophy Preview Complete with Players to Watch Out for and Predictions for the Tournament

ICC Champions Trophy

Against a growing debate about the over-saturation of 50 over international cricket and questions over its long term future, the timing of the 2009 Champions Trophy, after a three year break enforced by the postponement of last years scheduled tournament in Pakistan due to security concerns, is either folly on the part of the ICC or a chance to reignite the format. Certainly, both before and after the tournament in South Africa, which kicks off today with the hosts taking on Sri Lanka at Centurion, there is a lot of ODI Cricket being played. We have already had the ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ seven match series between England and Australia. To come we have another seven match series involving Australia – this time in India, as well as England playing a five match series in South Africa – which no doubt will deflate English confidence before the Test series.

So on the face of it the timing of this tournament is unfortunate to say the least; although the ICC can hardly be blamed for the unforeseen postponement last year. Certainly there needs to be a ‘less is more’ approach to ODI in the future to ensure that fans rediscover their love for a format that has been over-shadowed by the emergence of T20. One measure should be the banning of seven match ODI series – if Henry VIII was still on the throne he would surely behead any administrator who permitted such a heinous act!

However, is the criticism of the Champions Trophy fair? On the one hand you can argue whether the tournament is even needed when we already have a World Cup every four years. On the flip side though, the tournament is mercifully short (with nine matches in two weeks) especially compared to the ridiculously long and over bloated World Cup, which seems to last for ever. Moreover, every match is meaningful and overall the competition should provide a good barometer as to who is the best ODI side in the World. Will South Africa finally shed the chokers tag and confirm its number one position in the rankings? Or, will Australia retain the trophy in a country where they also won the World Cup in 2003? Or, will Pakistan surprise the World like it did in the World T20 in England earlier in the year? Will England win a match? Ok we know the answer to the last one!

A quick preview of each of the teams follows together with a prediction of how they will fare:

GROUP A

Australia

Fresh from their 6-1 mauling of England, the Australians will be confident of retaining their trophy. They certainly looked a good unit against England (although so would most teams at the moment!) with new players such as wicket keeper/opener Tim Paine (in for the injured Brad Haddin) looking impressive. A middle order containing Ponting, Clarke and Hussey is always going to guarantee runs and Callum Ferguson has made an impressive start to his ODI career. Cameron White looks a good replacement for the disgraced Andrew Symonds. Finally, on the bowling front, the first choice seam trio of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Bracken is as good as any other side in the tournament, and Nathan Hauritz looked impressive in the yellow and green kit in England.

Prediction – Winners, Players to watch – Batter: Tim Paine, Bowler: Brett Lee

India

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side looks a formidable unit with the captain and Yuvraj Singh ranked as the two top ODI batsmen in the World. They also have some bloke called Sachin Tendulkar, who only has 44 ODI centuries to his name. Add to that Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Reina and the recalled Rahul Dravid and you have arguably the strongest batting line up in the competition – although India will doubtless miss the explosive Virender Sehwag. On the bowling front, India will have to make do without their spearhead Zaheer Khan but still have Ishant Sharma, RP Singh and Ashish Nehra to call upon. When you add the wily Harbajhan to that India justify their tag as one of the favourites. That said I reckon that the Australians will win this group, so India’s match against Pakistan will hold the key to their progress.

Prediction – Semi-finalists, Players to watch – Batter: Yuvraj Singh, Bowler: Ashish Nehra

Pakistan

The mercurial Pakistanis can beat anyone on their day and have a tendency to grow into a competition like they did in the World T20 earlier this year. However, they will need to hit the ground running if they are to win this tournament. The batting is talented but perhaps a little brittle at times although any line-up containing Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik and the explosive Shahid Afridi is one to be reckoned with. With Mohammad Asif back from his one year drug ban, the bowling also looks strong with the seam of Asif, Umar Gul and Mohammad Amir supported by the spin of Afridi and Saeed Ajmal.

Prediction – 3rd in the group, Players to watch – Batter: Misbah-ul-Haq, Bowler: Umar Gul

West Indies

Shorn of venerable ODI players like captain Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo and Fidel Edwards due to the ongoing dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board, the West Indian side is to be frank a shambles. Losing a Test series 2-0 and ODI series 3-0 at home to Bangladesh does not bode well. Of the squad only Devon Smith, Andre Fletcher, Darren Sammy and perhaps Dale Richards would be considered for a full strength XI, and as such this side can expect to go home having lost every single match.

Prediction – Last in group, Players to watch – Batter: Dale Richards, Bowler: Tino ‘mind the windows’ Best

GROUP B

England

From one shambles to another. England seem to have forgotten how to play ODI cricket and the decision of the counties to not play 50 over cricket from next season means that England is likely to be in the doldrums for some time to come. Shorn of their two best one day players (Pietersen and Flintoff) from injury and other players who but for confused selection policies would also be in the squad (Trott, Bell and Harmison), England will be lucky to win one game let alone qualify for the semi-finals. Of the batsmen, Strauss and Denly are the only players who seem to have any sort of form, although I expect the resilient Collingwood to have a good tournament. Bopara and Shah are both playing for their England futures and neither seems to have the form or mental strength to succeed. Prior must be dropped down the order where he may prove to be more productive. On the bowling front, England lack a bowler who can generate bounce on the helpful South African wickets, but of those selected Anderson and Onions seem to be the best bet along with a hopefully now fit Broad. Swann and Rashid provide good spin options.

Prediction – Last in group, Players to watch – Batter: Paul Collingwood, Bowler: Graham Onions

New Zealand

Perennial underdogs New Zealand generally do well in ODI tournaments and should again be considered as dark horses to emerge from this group into the semi-finals. On the batting side, they have a number of players who can hit over the top including Brendan McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill and Jacob Oram – these are complemented by the talented Ross Taylor and gritty Grant Elliott. Shane Bond is back to add sheer pace in the bowling department, which already contains Kyle Mills and Daniel Vettori, two of the top three bowlers in the ICC rankings. If they are to progress over Sri Lanka and the hosts then they will need to cure their tendency for batting collapses.

Prediction – 3rd in group, Players to watch – Batter: Ross Taylor, Bowler: Shane Bond

South Africa

The time has come for South Africa to shed their choker tag and win this competition on home turf – or at least reach the final. They are not ranked number one in the World for nothing. The batting drips of quality with the experienced trio of Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis joined by the brilliant AB De Villiers, JP Duminy and big hitting Albie Morkel. The bowling too is high class with Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini joined by new talent Wayne Parnell. Kallis and spinners Johan Botha and Roelof van der Merwe add control.

Prediction – Runners up: I still take the Australians to cope with the pressure of a final better, Players to watch – Batter: AB De Villiers, Bowler: Wayne Parnell

Sri Lanka

The immensely talented Sri Lankans have continually punched above their weight in international one day tournaments. Their batting is strong with the unorthodox Tilikaratne Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya (the Father Time of Cricket at 40) opening the batting, and followed by captain Sangaakara, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera. The bowling also looks good with Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara joined by the sorcerer Murali and his apprentice Ajantha Mendis. Angelo Matthews is also a promising all-rounder. If they beat New Zealand they will qualify for the semi-finals as surely they can be expected to beat woeful England.

Prediction – Semi-finalists, Players to watch – Batter: Tilikaratne Dilshan, Bowler: Ajantha Mendis


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