For once, Australia will not start as favourites. Their up and down performance in Tests as well as limited-overs cricket has meant that the awe factor against them has diminished considerably, if not gone altogether, and most teams now give themselves a chance of surprising them than say a couple of years back. That does not mean that teams will take them lightly, for as we have just seen, the Aussies are to be underestimated only at one’s expense as England found out.
Having won the Ashes, England perhaps thought it would be a piece of cake to beat them in the limited overs series, but the stung Aussies came up with some terrific displays to almost win the series 7-0 and would have done so but for a spin friendly pitch prepared for the final one-dayer.
As both the teams travel to South Africa for the Champions Trophy, the bigger headache will be England’s. Defending champions Australia also have an extra rest day before they play their first game and that will help them get their body clocks in tune with the South African time.
How seriously the Champions Trophy is being taken can be seen by how early some teams have reached South Africa and played warm-up matches. Of course, these games are more often than not simple looseners to get a feel of the pitches and conditions, and where certainties take a break and fringe guys given a chance to show their mettle. The teams that win don’t get carried away nor do the teams that lose get demoralized.
South Africa have a great opportunity to show their home crowds that the tag of chokers is unfair to them. In multi-country events they have not done justice to their potential and have folded up, embarrassingly at times, and with none of their players figuring in the short list of ICC awards, it is an even bigger incentive to show that they can play. They had a terrific last season and they will be looking to build on that this season and go on to be the top team in both formats of the game.
They have a tough start to their campaign playing against Sri Lanka, for the Lankans are adept at the limited-overs game and can innovate better than most teams. The natural flair that was once associated with the West Indies is easily seen in the Lankan players, be it in batting or bowling and that’s why they will be a dangerous team in the event.
If the South Africans get past the Lankans, they would have begun well, but if they lose then all the haunting questions about temperament will come flooding back and drown them in the kind of self-doubt which will make it difficult to get rid of the chokers’ tag.