The Champions Trophy, cricket's second most prestigious competition, beginning in India Oct 7 has gained added appeal as all 10 countries will be using it as a dry run for the 2007 World Cup.
Just four months separate this biennial tournament and the World Cup, to be played in the West Indies in March-April, and the teams will be keen to settle their World Cup squads through the Champions Trophy, to be played in four cities for one month ending with the final in Mumbai Nov 5.
Australia, who have won the World Cup twice in succession and will be looking to complete an unprecedented hat-trick in the West Indies, will perhaps be keener than other teams as they have never won the Champions Trophy.
Defending champions West Indies (in 2004), who will have to go through a four-nation tournament to qualify for the tournament proper, South Africa (winners in 1998), New Zealand (2000) and India and Sri Lanka (joint winners in 2002) have etched their names on the silver trophy.
But Australia, who won the World Cup in 1999 and 2003, have not even entered the final of Champions Trophy, which the International Cricket Council (ICC) had christened as the ICC Knock Cup for its first two editions in Dhaka in 1998 and Nairobi two years later before changing its name.
Ricky Ponting's Australia, who won the DLF Cup in Kuala Lumpur this month, will be at full strength to vie for the top prize of $500,000.
The West Indies, who defeated hosts England to win the previous edition, will curse the ICC for making them play the qualifying tournament from Oct 7 to 14.
Brian Lara's West Indies will contend with Mahela Jaywardene's Sri Lanka, Habibul Bashar-led BangLadesh and Prosper Utseya's weak Zimbabwe to be one of the two teams to progress to the main tournament starting with an India-England clash in Jaipur Oct 15.
Rahul Dravid, on the other hand, will be keen to do better than his predecessor Sourav Ganguly, who led the team to the 2002 final. But rains during the final and the repeat final ensured that India and hosts Sri Lanka ended up being joint winners.
The Champions Trophy will be the biggest home test for coach Greg Chappell as it will be the final opportunity for him to experiment various permutations and combinations ahead of the World Cup.
India has the wherewithal to win the title outright, but there will be the added home pressure on the players to do well when they play in Jaipur (vs. England Oct 15), Ahmedabad (vs. the top qualifying team Oct 26) and Mohali (vs. Australia Oct 29) - the other three tournament venues.
In all, 21 matches, all day-night affairs, will be played over 30 days. The final will be played at the Cricket Club of India ground in Mumbai as international cricket returns at the venue after 11 years.
It will probably be tougher for foreign teams to perform well, especially their pace bowlers who will have to adjust to the testing Indian conditions and crowds.
Australian pace spearhead Glenn McGrath perhaps summed it up the best when he said: "If I can get used to the conditions and bowl well over there, coming back and bowling on Australian wickets will be like Christmas."
The idea of organising this biennial tournament - a brainchild of former ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya - is to raise funds for the developing cricketing nations.
At the end of the fifth edition, $65 million will have been raised for the ICC's associate and affiliate members, i.e. second and third rung nations.
The Champions Trophy is the biggest tournament that India is hosting since the 1996 World Cup, which it jointly hosted with Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
"BCCI is very excited to be hosting this prestigious event that will bring all the major cricket playing sides together in India for the first time in 10 years," said Sharad Pawar, BCCI president.
Cricket craze will be at its zenith during the month-long tournament, as millions of local as well as foreign fans will throng the venues for a glimpse of action.
Millions of other people will watch the action on their television sets from the relaxed environs of their living rooms.
"India's love for cricket is enormous and the supporters here deserve a world class tournament. The Champions Trophy is that world-class event this country has been craving," acknowledged former ICC president Ehsan Mani at its lunch here in April.
India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Irfan Pathan, Rudra Pratap Singh, Munaf Patel and Ajit Agarkar.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist (wicket-keeper), Simon Katich, Michael Hussey, Andrew Symonds, Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brett Lee, Brad Hogg, Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath and Mitchell Johnson
England: Andrew Flintoff (captain), James Anderson, Ian Bell, Rikki Clarke, Paul Collingwood, James Dalrymple, Steve Harmison, Ed Joyce, Sajid Mahmood, Jon Lewis, Kevin Pietersen, Chris Read (wicket-keeper), Andrew Strauss and Michael Yardy
New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (captain), Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, James Franklin, Peter Fulton, Mark Gillespie, Brendon McCullum (wicket-keeper), Hamish Marshall, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Daniel Vettori and Lou Vincent
Pakistan: Younis Khan (captain), Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Rana Naved, Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper), Imran Farhat, Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Mohammad Hafeez and Rao Iftikhar Anjum
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Jacques Kallis (vice-captain), Loots Bosman, Mark Boucher, A.B. de Villiers, Boeta Dippenaar, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and Robin Peterson
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Kumar Sangakkara (wicket-keeper), Sanath Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Chaminda Vaas, Ruchira Perera, Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga, Malinga Bandara and Muttiah Muralitharan
West Indies: Brian Lara (captain), Ramnaresh Sarwan (vice-captain), Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Wavell Hinds, Runako Morton, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Carlton Baugh (wicket-keeper), Ian Bradshaw, Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards and Corey Collymore
Bangladesh: Habibul Bashar (captain), Shahriar Nafees (vice-captain), Khaled Mashud (wicket-keeper), Mohammad Rafique, Mohammad Ashraful, Mashrafe Mortaza, Rajin Saleh, Abdur Razzak, Aftab Ahmed, Syed Rasel, Shahadat Hossain, Farhad Reja, Saqibul Hasan, Mehrab Hossain (junior)
Zimbabwe: Prosper Utseya (captain), Stuart Matsikenyeri, Brendan Taylor (wicket-keeper), Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, Hamilton Masakadza, Terry Duffin, Tawanda Mupariwa, Ed Rainsford, Piet Rinke, Anthony Ireland, Gregory Strydom, Chamu Chibhabha and Tafadzwa Kamungozi
Schedule (qualifying round):
Oct 7: Sri Lanka vs. Bangladesh, Mohali
Oct 8: West Indies vs. Zimbabwe, Ahmedabad
Oct 10: Sri Lanka vs. Zimbabwe, Ahmedabad
Oct 11: West Indies vs. Bangladesh, Jaipur
Oct 13: Bangladesh vs. Zimbabwe, Jaipur
Oct 14: Sri Lanka vs. West Indies, Mumbai
(Note: The top two teams - Qualifier 1 and Qualifier 2 -- after the league stage will advance to the main tournament.)
Oct 15: India vs. England, Jaipur
Oct 16: New Zealand vs. South Africa, Mumbai
Oct 17: Pakistan vs. Qualifier 1, Jaipur
Oct 18: Australia vs. Qualifier 2, Mumbai
Oct 20: New Zealand vs. Qualifier 1, Mumbai
Oct 21: Australia vs. England, Jaipur
Oct 24: South Africa vs. Qualifier 1, Ahmedabad
Oct 25: New Zealand vs. Pakistan, Mohali
Oct 26: India vs. Qualifier 2, Ahmedabad
Oct 27: Pakistan vs. South Africa, Mohali
Oct 28: England vs. Qualifier 2, Ahmedabad
Oct 29: India vs. Australia, Mohali
Nov 1: First semi-final, Mohali
Nov 2: Second semi-final, Jaipur
Nov 5: Final