It is rare for teams to compete in two such de- manding tournaments as the Champions Trophy and World Cup within six months. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the buzzword in the build-up is “flexibility”. There is no doubt that, to do well, a team needs to have more than just eleven good players to choose from, but it also pays to understand that it’s a nucleus of about six who win or lose tournaments.
It is this core that influences the results of matches; if they perform well then victory is within reach, if the bulk of them struggle then it won’t matter if the other five play out of their skins.
For instance, if Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, all had mediocre tournaments, Australia would have as much chance of winning the Champions Trophy as a Kiwi in a race with a pigeon. The maxim about the “core six influence” is even more relevant in the shortened version because so much depends on the top three batsmen when it comes to setting or chasing targets. This is why it makes Australia’s infatuation with Simon Katich as opener hard to fathom.
There are better options — players more likely to score a century at the top — with Hussey as a classic example. Australia insist he remain Michael Bevan’s successor in the terminator role, but between them, Hussey and Gilchrist would ef fectively “finish” many contests before they got started by batting together at the top of the order.
In general, the make-up of the core six is two topclass bowlers, two top order batsmen, an all-rounder and a good keeper. That is why India desperately need Irfan Pathan to bowl well to form part of their core; when he’s taking wickets he fits easily into either the bowling or the all-rounder category. As surely as a team performs well when it has the three batsmen most likely to score a century at the top of the order, it operates in a similar mode when the best bowlers are on song for the initial power play and the closing overs of an innings.
If you throw in strong fielding to back the bowlers then it is an irresistible mix, which won’t often encounter an immovable object. Hence, it is easy to see why Australia have won two consecutive World Cups and equally difficult to understand why they haven’t yet won the Champions Trophy. They have a strong core of six and, in addition, Gilchrist and Ponting regularly score fast hundreds at the top.
Amongst other contenders, Pakistan, New Zealand, England and South Africa all struggle to find a confirmed trio of cen tury-makers at the top of the order. Sri Lanka will rival Australia for top-order strength if Upul Tha ranga continues in his current vein, the West In dies would do likewise with Lara at No. 3 and India would be tough if Virender Sehwag is in form.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka have the depth and vari ety in bowling and New Zealand will reach that sta tus if Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori are in form. However, the West Indies, South Africa, England and India fall a bit short in bowling class.
In looking for winners, the key is to find the teams with a core six that is fit and in form.