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ICC Champions Trophy: ‘Prizefighter’ India favourites despite recent ODI run

Holders India may not have had a great run in ODIs over the last two years, but Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket team can pin hopes on the record of getting their act together in major ICC events at the upcoming Champions Trophy 2017

icc champions trophy 2017 Updated: May 31, 2017 19:00 IST
Champions Trophy 2017
The Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket team go into ICC Champions Trophy 2017 as one of the favourites.(REUTERS)

As the eight leading ODI nations convene for the ICC Champions Trophy, the talk about title contenders is getting more and more intriguing. Throughout its history, Champions Trophy has struggled to draw enough attention. However, the tournament’s first round being a virtual knockout makes it highly competitive and entertaining.

With the talent on show at this edition in the UK, a cracking contest is on the cards.

India, the defending champions, are fan favourites heading into any ICC tournament. This time around, some may not agree with this statement. Since the 2015 World Cup, England, Australia, South Africa and even New Zealand have performed better than the Men in Blue in ODIs, and have almost all bases covered.

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On the other hand, spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin have only played a handful of ODIs in the last two years and Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane have struggled to get big runs in the 50- and 20-over formats heading into the competition.

Dinesh Karthik is looking to make an international comeback after three years while Kedar Jadhav has just 15 ODI matches under his belt. Post the World Cup Down Under, MS Dhoni’s side had lost to Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia, and two of India’s four series wins came against unfancied Zimbabwe.

Despite all this, the Virat Kohli-led India have some qualities that still makes them top contenders for the Champions Trophy. Let’s get across to them:

‘Prizefighter’ tag

Starting from 2011, six ICC tournaments have taken place out of which India have won two, reached one final and two semifinals. Here’s a summary:

ICC World Cup 2011 - Winners

2012 ICC World T20 - Super 8

ICC Champions Trophy 2013 - Winners

2014 World T20 - Finalist

ICC World Cup 2015 - Semi-Finals

2016 ICC World T20 - Semi- Finals

Out of their 38 matches, India have won 31, lost six and with the 2011 World Cup game against England resulting in a tie – a highly creditable winning percentage of 81%.

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There were individuals in the past who got the better of the strongest of opponents, but now the whole team fights. Of course, Sachin Tendulkar scored 482 runs in India’s second World Cup win, but Gautam Gambhir’s 97 and Yuvraj Singh’s all-round show came in the final against Sri Lanka, at the time when the team needed it the most.

Same was the case in 2013. Shikhar Dhawan scored 363 runs in the seventh edition of the Champions Trophy but Kohli’s innings of 43 (34 balls) and Jadeja’s all-round brilliance helped India upstage England in the final at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

Dhoni factor

The mood in the Indian camp is a lot different now when it comes to big tournaments. Let’s take the 2015 World Cup. Prior to it, India had been in Australia for three months, failing to win a single match in the Border-Gavaskar series as well as the Tri-series also featuring England. The 106-run defeat in the warm-up game against Australia made matters worse for them. Nine out of 10 times, when a team goes through such a rough patch, a quick comeback isn’t the most realistic to expect.

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However, what happened in the tournament left almost everyone really impressed -- seven matches, 70 wickets, seven wins was India’s record before they ran into eventual winners Australia in the semifinals. A senior like MS Dhoni always has had clarity over players being out of form and short on talent. He doesn’t let pressure mount on his players and tunes them to perfection for crunch situations.

Even in the 2013 Champions Trophy, Dhoni-led India did have 15 good players but a settled 11 was tough to pick. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were left out due to poor form while Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh were also on the sidelines.

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Dhoni’s trust in youth

India weren’t the contenders to start with, but Dhoni’s immense faith in youngsters, especially Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – they were all playing their first 50-over international tournament -- brought dividends as India made it five in five.

On current form, Australia and hosts England are the top contenders for lifting the Champions Trophy, but the Indian cricket team, without an iota of doubt, can go the distance.

The route could again require five wins like the 2013 Champions Trophy. India are in Group B with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa and the top two finishers will qualify for the knockout semifinals.