Ok, so it’s here. Short, sharp, eight teams, over in less than three weeks, the Champions Trophy. To be honest I think most people would be hard-pressed to name all the previous winners such is the status of this tournament as the World Cup’s boisterous little brother. Still, it’s format means no game is meaningless and unless you hit the ground running, it’s curtains. So here are the two groups and some wild, unlikely predictions.
England – Perennial underachievers in the short forms of the game. Bottled it in the final last time around against India, and their 50 over nadir was reached with the pitiful 2015 World Cup campaign. Since then a major transformation has taken place – attacking mindset, scores over 300 on a regular basis, attacking in the powerplays, huge self-belief. Great all-rounders who bat all the way down, including Ben Stokes, a global superstar right now. All this and on home turf too. Probably favourites on paper, and should be finalists at the very least.
Australia – Always in with a shout. Lethal at the top of the order with Warner and Chris Lynn, who hits sixes for fun. A yorker bowling nightmare in Mitchell Starc, who is unsurpassed in this format, rounds off a highly potent bowling attack who will cause any team problems. Semi-finalists at worst.
New Zealand – Again, useful, Huge game first up against their rivals across the pond will define their tournament. Williamson and Guptill major stars with the bat, slightly less formidable with the ball.
Bangladesh – Often considered also-rans, but not any more. Beat New Zealand convincingly in a warm up and have been climbing the ODI ranks steadily in recent years. If Tamim Iqbal fires with the bat up top and can be backed up by Shakib Al Hasan and co, could cause a few shocks. Hard to see them getting out of this group, though.
India – Easily among the favourites. Defending champions, loads of strength in depth. Virat Kohli is a sensation with the bat and Ashwin and Jadeja are the premier spinners in the competition and both handy with the willow, too. Should win the group.
Pakistan – Huge game first up against India will set the tone. Always unpredictable but have some exciting young talent, not least Babar Azam, who was supremely fast to 1000 runs in ODIs. Would expect them to miss out on the knockout phase, though.
South Africa – With the players they have, should do well. I saw them demolish England at Lord’s the other day and they were excellent. Kagiso Rabada is 90mph + and his mix of yorkers and pitched-up seamers were unplayable. With AB De Villiers and De Kock they always look to score quick and pressure opposing teams. Must be in with a shout.
Sri Lanka – On the decline since the heady days of the 1990s and don’t have much hope in getting out of the group. Lasith Malinga is still chucking them down and Sandakan’s wrist spin will defy a few, but batting wise they look lightweight.
So, if you twist my arm I’d say an England vs India final. I wouldn’t like to choose a winner from there, but I can never completely dismiss an England collapse again…
Oh, and if you’re wondering where the West Indies are, they didn’t qualify and will be playing a bilateral series against Afghanistan while the tournament is on. Shame they have missed out but that is how cricket should be – matches with context and repercussions for those who perform poorly.
An exciting tournament in prospect then, even though we will all have probably forgotten the winter by Christmas. C’est la vie!