After this edition, never again will the ‘Mini-World Cup of Cricket’ continue to exist. The decision to scrap an otherwise inconsequential tournament was long due considering the primary motive with which the ICC Champions Trophy was launched in 1998-1999: to promote the ODI format in the non-test-playing nations. Look at what it constitutes at the present. It is nothing more than a biennial event comprising only the 8 ‘test-playing nations’ which has further congested an already-packed cricketing calendar. Incidentally, the idea of such a tournament was first conceived by former BCCI President, Jagmohan Dalmiya, who finds the Champions Trophy in ‘a conflict of interests with its very ideological formation’. The ICC Champions Trophy has gone through a couple of terminological modifications since its inception, having been called the ‘Wills International Cup, Dhaka’ in 1998-1999 and the ‘ICC Knockout Trophy in Nairobi, Kenya’ 2000-2001. The first two editions unearthed some promising talent of the likes of Jacques Kallis, who starred in South-Africa’s only title-winning performance in the Wills International Cup and Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan , both of whom played a vital role in India’s march to the finals in the ICC Knockout Trophy. The following editions turned out to be bummers with torrential rains affecting the 2002 ICC Champions trophy and the succeeding one, the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy marred by the sale of highly-priced tickets. Australia won the silverware for the first time in this series, in the 2006-2007 ICC Champions trophy in which Nathan Bracken, Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson announced their arrival onto the big stage and proved their mettle with some match-winning performances. In the 2009 edition, the tournament had to be shifted to South Africa following security concerns in Pakistan. The Aussies once again displayed their class with a dominating brand of cricket and became the eventual winners, after upstaging New Zealand in the finals.
The soon-to-begin edition will be played in England and Wales in which 8 teams divided into 2 groups fight it out amongst themselves to prize the trophy, one last time. The warm-up matches are already underway wherein each team play 2 matches before beginning their title campaign. Here is a brief SWOT analysis on the prospects of each team and the eye-catching list of players who will light up the tournament:
Even after the retirement of their superstars, Australia remains a formidable force to reckon with. Captained by a charismatic skipper in Michael Clarke, Australia will be looking to clinch a hat trick of trophies after having won the previous 2 editions. The strength of this Australian team lies in their pace bowling battery which includes Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, James Faulkner, and Shane Watson, who have the ability to bowl out teams. Johnson and Faulkner are fresh from remarkable stints in the just-concluded IPL and will be looking to extend their excellent form into the tournament. Shane Watson too had a successful IPL and his all-round skills are always a huge asset to have. The batting may appear inexperienced but the likes of David Warner, George Bailey, Philip Hughes and Glen Maxwell have played a lot of competitive cricket back home and in other parts of the world. Barring Watson, the team has an array of all-rounders including Mitchell Marsh, Maxwell, Faulkner etc. The lack of a mainstream spinner in their ranks may affect their chances, but it is largely believed that the English conditions favour pace bowlers more. They have been pitted against home team England and favourites Sri Lanka and a dark horse in New Zealand. Even with a decent line-up on paper, Australia may face the arduous task of winning all their group games.
Watch out for: Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc.
A resounding victory against the Sri Lankans will certainly boost the morale of the Dhoni-led outfit, which comes into the tournament on the backdrop of the IPL spot-fixing fiasco that has hit headlines in the last couple of weeks. Virat Kohli once again proved his class and temperament en route to a well-made 144 which augurs well for the team’ future. Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay constitute a solid opening pair having the ability to provide quick starts, adding to their excellent footwork against spinners. Dinesh Karthik’s inclusion has been a masterstroke after the wicketkeeper-turned-batsman cracked a scintillating century in the first warm-up tie. Opportunities have come aplenty for middle-order bat Rohit Sharma and the IPL-winning captain would have realized the importance of making it count. In Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, India have able game-finishers, who if needed can make good use of the long handle. All-rounders Jadeja and Irfan Pathan lend stability to the line-up. India has an enviable batting order in which each of the individual batsman having played exceedingly well in the IPL. The inner-circle fielding has been outstanding in the last couple of years. If there is one area India need to pull up its socks, it’s in the bowling department which has put in a string of lackluster performances in recent ODI’s especially when having to contain the flow of runs in the death overs. An early loss may peg India on the backfoot from where it will be difficult for them to bounce back considering the quality of their group rivals. Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will rely on their pace as much as will Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Vinay Kumar depend on the swing-factor. The poor run of form Ashwin is going through may prompt the think-tank to field Amit Mishra, who has shone with the ball thereby providing assistance to Jadeja.
Watch out for: Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Amit Mishra, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
South Africa has reasons to believe that they can have a real crack at this one. The trophy-drought continues for this talented side, which in its 23 years of top-flight cricket, haven’t won a single major ICC trophy. However, the side is not short of match-winners. The batting order has gained prowess with the recent successes of middle-order batsman David Miller. Their skipper, AB De Villiers has always been a star-performer for the Rainbow Nation, with his pyrotechnics in the fag end of the innings, which is well-known to his contemporaries. Hashim Amla will once again don the role of the anchor, playing at the crucial number 3 position if the team decides on a new opening pair. Undoubtedly, they have always maintained an exemplary fielding standard. The bowling attack comprises of Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel and Robin Peterson which instills automatic fear in the minds of even the best batsmen in the world. The absence of Jack Kallis may deprive them of an established all-rounder, whose slot will have to be filled by either Ryan McLaren or Jean-Paul Duminy. The team is capable enough to go all the way but they hold the dubious distinction of faltering in knock-out games if the past is any indication. The middle-order is a shade inexperienced which may, in the end, prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.
Watch out for: AB De Villiers, David Miller, Dale Steyn, Faf Du Plessis.
Sri Lanka has a perfect blend of youth and experience in their ranks. Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara, though not being in the best of recent form, have the class and quality to sustain themselves in international cricket for a few more years. Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dilshan and Thisara Perera look poised to take Sri Lanka forward as and when the stalwarts announce their retirement. The bowling attack looks impressive too with toe-crusher Lasith Malinga spearheading the attack backed by a three-prong spin attack comprising of Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath and Jeevan Mendis. Shaminda Eranga is another bright prospect, who will share the new ball with the experienced Nuwan Kulasekara, who will favor bowling in these conditions. The team looks to be the most-balanced side in the tournament. However, the bowling attack was torn apart by a Kohli-Karthik assault in a recent warm-up match even after their batsmen posted a massive 333. Their middle-order batsmen will have to come good with Mathews destined to play a crucial role in the scheme of things. Sri Lanka has won big games in ICC tournaments but they will be desperate to add this to their trophy tally. Playing the home team, England and an in-form New Zealand side is certainly not going to be a walk in the park so Sri Lanka will have to make most of their chances. The form of Jayawardena and Sangakkara will be a cause of concern. Angelo Mathews will have to bat up the order and lead from the front.
Watch out for: Lasith Malinga, Thisara Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Dilshan.
The recent drubbing at the hands of the Kiwis is sure to puncture their spirits even after being in positions of victory for most part of the series. Alastair Cook will face the herculean task of regrouping and revitalizing his boys before they begin their league matches. Even their full-strength bowling attack was cut to pieces by the Kiwis. However, Cook has plenty of bowling resources to choose from. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann make up the bowling unit. James Tredwell has been drafted in as the back-up spinner. The batting looks solid at the top like most other teams, having the likes of skipper Cook, Bopara and Trott. The middle-order appears a touch rusty as was evident in the ODI series. Left-handed Eoin Morgan will play a significant role in the middle overs with his ability to steer the innings at a quick run-rate. The home conditions will certainly play to their advantage and the pace bowlers are skillful enough to exploit the swing-friendly climate. The absence of Kevin Pietersen is a big blow taking into account the massive impact he has made in the outcome of games played in the past. England has always flattered to deceive playing in big tournaments but they have as a leader a person who possesses sound game sense and unquestionable temperament.
Watch out for: Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Steven Finn, Graeme Swann.
They always play the tournament as the ‘dark horses’, springing in a surprise when it seems least expected of them. Led by a sensible captain in Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan always had two persisting problems whenever they had to field a playing eleven: a stable batting opening pair and a left-arm spinner. Both seem to have been solved as Pakistan has excelled in recent ODIs thanks to the opening duo of Nasir Jamshed and Mohammad Hafeez and a wily left-arm tweaker in Abdur Rehman. The batting revolves around the skipper, who is well supported by veterans Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik. One thing which has always impressed cricketing experts about Pakistan is their pace-bowling talent, a handful of them now in the wilderness. Three of them, however, have found their green pastures - Wahab Riaz , Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan. The three-prong left-arm attack is a potent weapon that Misbah can cleverly make use of in these conditions. Another prominent player in their ranks is off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, who has outfoxed the best of batsmen so far in a relatively short cricketing career. A bowling-heavy side, Pakistan will greatly rely on their bowlers to come good. Pakistani batsmen are known for throwing away their wickets while attempting rash shots. At the same time, once they get their eyes set in, it becomes a difficult task to unsettle them. Their fielding unit isn’t the most inspiring. Having played a significant chunk of their cricket outside the subcontinent in recent years, Pakistan knows what it takes to play in foreign conditions. They won the World T20 World Cup which was hosted by England in 2009. Their warm-up victory over South Africa will indeed increase their confidence ahead of their campaign opener.
Watch out for: Nasir Jamshed, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Saeed Ajmal.
Perhaps they will go into the tournament as the most confident side having beaten the home team twice and that too in convincing fashion. Their opener Martin Guptill played a whirlwind knock of 186 smashing the England bowlers to all parts of the stadium. Brendan McCullum definitely has a team that can beat the heavyweights if they continue playing their typically aggressive mode of cricket. New Zealand has always produced fast bowling all-rounders and the current crop comprises of Doug Bracewell, Grant Elliot, James Franklin, Colin Munro etc. Their excellence in fielding is hereditary while the athleticism in their running between wickets shows the youthful dynamism of this team. Kane Williamson is the perfect choice for the number 3 spot, blessed with a good technique to play out the new ball. Ross Taylor is their impact player, having gained vast experience playing on all kinds of wickets. Tim Southee and Kyle Mills have bowled a nagging line and length and are good exponents of swing bowling. Too many all-rounders may spell doom as their priorities become varied. Stats favour the Kiwis in big ICC tournaments such as this, having made it to the semi-final stages on most occasions. The spin attack is led by Daniel Vettori of whom batsmen have got a good measure owing to his predictable line while Nathan McCullum has struggled to put in consistent performances. Being late bloomers, the Kiwis will be banking on a ‘total team performance’ to script victories.
Watch out for: Brendan McCullum, Doug Bracewell, Martin Guptill, Tim Southee.
The team is studded with performers - be it on or off the field. Chris Gayle and his towering sixes are now a part of household discourse. Dwayne Bravo will captain a side packed with big-hitters like Keiron Pollard, Marlon Samuels, Johnson Charles, & Darren Sammy. One wonders how such a remarkable West Indian line-up has faltered and failed numerous times, having bagged only the 2004 Champions Trophy and the 2012 T20 World Cup since their days of dominance in the 70’s and 80’s. Dwayne Bravo finished as the leading wicket-taker in the recently-concluded IPL and will look to carry forward his red-hot form. Most of the players in the team have had a successful IPL stint. Chris Gayle finished as the second leading run-scorer only behind Michael Hussey, but once again topped the six-hitting charts. Pollard was instrumental in Mumbai Indians’ victorious campaign playing a couple of blinders and picking wickets at crucial intervals and not to forget his fielding competence. The team looks unbeatable on paper but on the field they have looked easily beatable. Consistency has always eluded the team and this time around Bravo will be hoping for a change of fortune. Mystery spinner, Sunil Narine is a vital cog in the wheel having proven his worth on all kinds of surfaces. The young Darren Bravo will play the anchoring role. The pace bowling department comprises of Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Tino Best and Jason Holder, all of them being right-arm pacers. Apart from Rampaul, the team lacks a quality swing bowler who can be effective in such conditions. The batsmen will have to play according to the situation and curb their natural instincts. They need to wrest the opportunities during the middle overs of the innings, a place where the batting line-up has stumbled, time and again.
Watch out for: Chris Gayle, Keiron Pollard, Ravi Rampaul, Sunil Narine.