ICC Champions Trophy: Glut of IPL games may prove good preparation for India
In this column, Ian Chappell looks at the four strong squads in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 -- hosts England, defending champions India and perennial competitors Australia and South Africa -- and what makes them favourites.icc champions trophy 2017 Updated: May 28, 2017 09:32 IST
The original concept for the Champions Trophy (apart from raising funds for the ICC) was to hold a prestigious 50-over tournament. The 2017 version has all the makings of that with four really powerful teams and the others all capable of causing an upset.
Hovering over the tournament is an edginess created by the recent tragedy in Manchester. This diabolical act will have an effect on both players and fans.
The English are renowned for their stoicism in times of adversity and this trait will be fully tested. Some players will cope better than others but the ones who will fare best are those who can overcome any anxieties and maintain their focus on cricket.
The four really strong squads are hosts England, defending champions India and perennial competitors Australia and South Africa.
The Australians are embroiled in a divisive pay dispute with their Board, but the altercation has only served to unite the players. The sense that this dispute will further galvanise the Australian team was reinforced by skipper Steve Smith when he indicated that winning the Champions Trophy would help the players in their negotiations with the Board.
Ever since hitting rock bottom with an early exit from the 2015 World Cup, England’s 50-over cricket has been on an upward trend. They appear to be peaking perfectly for this tournament, but they’ll need to ensure they don’t succumb to stage fright in front of an expectant home audience.
India’s T20 tune-up
England have never won a major 50-over tournament and with their powerful batting line-up and strong pace attack, this is a great opportunity to erase that glitch in their record. In 2013, England lost to India in a rain-affected final. The Virat Kohli-led side will again be a major challenge for the hosts.
Kohli’s men have tuned up for this tournament with a glut of T20 games in the IPL. This may turn out to be a good preparation, especially when followed by a couple of 50-over warm-up games to get the mind fully attuned to the longer version. T20 cricket ensures batsmen are looking for runs, and of late, bowlers have focused more on taking wickets, the ideal mindset for both facets of the 50-over game.
India doesn’t have the pace of the three other top bowling sides but they do possess a well-balanced attack capable of taking wickets in any conditions.
Not missing Steyn
South Africa are the fourth powerhouse team, and even without the injured Dale Steyn, they possess a strong pace attack. They also have the wily leg-spinner Imran Tahir seeking wickets in the middle overs, which is a crucial part of playing 50-over cricket successfully.
The South African batting is also powerful but the team are yet to overcome the knockout stage hoodoo that dogs them in tournaments. Despite assurances from skipper A B de Villiers in the 2015 World Cup that this was a thing of the past, they’ve done nothing to brush the monkey off their back.
An ingrained conservatism, especially surrounding their tactics in the field, has hurt South Africa and they need to shed that approach to win this tournament.
While the winner will probably come from those four sides, none of the favourites can afford to take Pakistan and New Zealand lightly.
As always, New Zealand are solid but lack the power-house players of Australia and England, both of whom are in the Kiwis’ group.
Pakistan have the pace attack to worry India and South Africa in Group B but their batting is brittle and lacks the firepower necessary to unsettle the top sides.
Sri Lanka and an improving Bangladesh will be competitive but won’t win enough matches to qualify for the knockout stage.
Throughout its history, the Champions Trophy has struggled to gain traction. However, a semifinal line-up of England, Australia, India and South Africa promises something we don’t see often enough in 50-over cricket; a highly competitive and entertaining tournament.