Champions Trophy 2017: All set for an engrossing fortnight of heady action

Thursday, June 1st, 2017, 4:46 am

Champion India has a balanced side with bowlers for all conditions and surfaces

As M.S. Dhoni and his men rejoiced in their white jackets on the damp Edgbaston turf four years ago, the world was meant to have seen the last of the ICC Champions Trophy, a curiously unloved tournament, a quasi-World Cup its promoters had no time for.

Months later, though, the ICC changed stance, reviving the competition and instead putting the proposed World Test Championship into cold storage.

“It proved impossible to come up with a format for a four-team finals event in Test cricket that fits the culture of Test cricket and preserves the integrity of the format,” an ICC press release in February 2014 announced. “The most recent ICC Champions Trophy event proved to be very popular with supporters around the world and the future events will build on this success.”

And so the Champions Trophy is back for an eighth edition, its elite status seemingly entrenched, its arrival at the start of the English summer greeted with cheer.

Much is expected of the home side, transformed after an uninspiring World Cup performance two years ago. Eoin Morgan’s men have won 27 of their 44 ODIs since, the best win-loss ratio among the Full Member sides, thumping their way to scores over 300 on 21 occasions, more than anyone else has managed.

England’s batting might

This has much to do with the surfaces it has played on, but there’s no denying the might of England’s batting group. Ben Stokes, without doubt the finest all-rounder in the world, stands poised to explode, although there exist concerns over an injured knee.

Morgan, who averages 55 over the last 10 months, now has the opportunity to deliver his nation a first major ODI trophy. Monday’s embarrassment at South Africa’s hands will temper expectations, but that game will be seen as an aberration.

For all the boldness of its new approach, England will have to demonstrate that it can overcome self-doubt and handle the white-knuckle tension of a tough knock-out fixture.

There are no such fears about India. Nine of the 11 that triumphed in the final in 2013 are part of this squad, older and wiser. This is a balanced side, with bowlers for all conditions and surfaces.

Virat Kohli leads India for the first time at a global tournament, the campaign set to begin against Pakistan here on Sunday. No pressure then.

Much has been said of Australia’s pace quartet but the batting — which has not covered itself in glory in English conditions in the recent past — would appear over-reliant on Steve Smith, who has spent a demanding but fruitful three months in India.

South Africa, which enters the event as the world’s top-ranked ODI side, continues to chase a first major title since the inaugural ICC Knockout in 1998.

While it remains A.B. de Villiers’ greatest unfulfilled ambition to win a World Cup, the 33-year-old will cherish any sort of trophy with his national team at this stage.

Sri Lanka, which welcomes Lasith Malinga back to the ODI setup; Bangladesh, which enters the event ranked sixth in the world; New Zealand, which possesses bowlers who could flourish in these conditions; and Pakistan, which has managed to send a player home already, do not perhaps strike anyone as favourites.

However, the eight-team format means nobody has much room for manoeuvre in the group stages. It also means we don’t have to wait a full month for the knock-outs.

Bilateral one-day cricket often struggles for context but a tournament such as this, with multiple contenders, evokes genuine interest.

If the scores in the recently-concluded Royal London One-Day Cup, the ECB’s domestic 50-over tournament, are anything to go by there will be some mountainous totals at all three venues. It should make for an absorbing fortnight.