Over the years, teams have come to respect and covet what is now known as the Champions Trophy. What started in 1998 as a knockout tournament is now played on a league-cum-knockout format, making it more meaningful for the teams involved. I remember how the Australians, not once but twice, got knocked out in the first round and had to return home.
The first time, they travelled all the way to Bangladesh and on the second occasion, it was no less a travel to Kenya. In both instances, an inspired Indian team knocked them out.
Now, of course, the Aussies are holders of the Champions Trophy and will start the tournament with a lot of purpose. Hurt by the Ashes defeat, they came back to annihilate the English in the ODIs and I am sure their hunger for success will stand them in good stead.
On current form though, I would rate the Indians very highly. The way they progressed in the 50-over format makes them potential winners.
What they, as also the other teams, will have to cope with is the fresh pitches in what is South Africa's early season. There is bound to be a lot of swing, more so as the matches are being played in the highveld regions of Johannesburg. I don't see too many tall scores happening, at least in the early part of the two-week tournament.
Of course, usually every effort is made to nullify any advantage the bowlers may have, but even so, the bowlers may just rule. Here, for the Indians, the return of Rahul Dravid will be of immense value. His overall experience and the experience of having played in SA a number of times will come in handy.
No one is more experienced playing in SA than the home team. To boot, they are the world’s number one ODI team. The thing with South Africa is that they have never had a good time in major events they have hosted, be it the World Cup in 2003 or the 2007 World T20. Perhaps this will be different.
Sri Lanka should be the dark horses and you can never discount Pakistan. The chances of New Zealand and England are mixed. While New Zealand have the potential, I don't see England, on current form, making too much progress.