AS THE world’s eight leading nations fight for the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Champions Trophy, which begins in England and Wales on Thursday, the tournament’s short duration itself is the major talking point.
Holders India’s skipper Virat Kohli was point-blank while admitting that winning the Champions Trophy was much tougher than World Cup.
In Champions Trophy, unlike in World Cup, the margin of error is very limited and the tournament’s eighth edition promises to be a cracking one.
Initially launched as a biennial event in 1998 to raise funds for the ICC, the tournament lost its identity, especially with the advent of the fast-paced Twenty20 version. The ICC even scrapped the tournament after the 2006 edition, before reinstating it in 2009 as a 50-over quadrennial competition.
This year, hosts England, who take on Bangladesh in the opener in Group A at The Oval, could consider themselves as one of the favourtites given their form and home advantage.
Following their ignominious exit in the first round of 2015 World Cup, where Bangladesh put paid to their hopes, England have changed the way they approach the 50-over game. They did away with their conventional style of play which was more suited to the 1980s.
Instead, under new captain Eoin Morgan, they have embraced the slam-bang one-day version and in players like Ben Stokes, Ian Butler and Chris Woakes, they have the talent to succeed in it.
Their 2-1 win over world No.1 South Africa in the three-match bilateral series last week was another sign that they are the team to beat.
For champions India, whose players are coming straight from the Indian Premier League played on docile home pitches, adapting to the swinging English conditions will be the key.
Kohli is one of the nine survivors of the team which won in England four years ago and, being the country’s premier batsman, the onus is on the 28-year-old to lead his team from the front.
India begin their campaign with a mouthwatering clash against arch-rivals Pakistan on June 4 in a group which also features perennial ‘chokers’ and tournament’s inaugural winners South Africa as well as Sri Lanka.
Proteas skipper A B de Villiers, on whom the team heavily relies on, has often spoken about the need to win the Champions Trophy so as to relieve the pressure that has built on teams during 19 years of near-misses and outright failures.
Australia, with their all-round ability, could also fancy their chances of a record third title provided the players can stay away from the distraction of pay and contract dispute with their cricket board.
New Zealand, as usual, could emerge as the dark horse. As former New Zealand opener John Parker once told this writer, “New Zealand are unpredictable and others don’t like playing us much. The Kiwis may not be high in world rankings, but they’re always capable of beating anyone.”
Kane Williamson-led side also possesses a well-balanced attack and can spring a surprise for sure.
Both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will be competitive, but on form and given the conditions, they do not look like reaching the knockout stage. dsp