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Champions Trophy Cricket Preview: South Africa Favourites But India Will Win It

Contributor:
Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

Since its beginning in 1998 the Champions Trophy has long been the poor cousin to the World Cup. Conceived as a cash cow for the ICC, it has suffered from continual changes of team numbers, format and more than its fair share of bad weather, dodgy pitches and poor organisation.

The perception of the tournament among cricket fans of being a side show may be changing though. With the World Cup increasingly being filled with 'cannon fodder' nations to give it a more global look, the premier ODI tournament has become an arduous marathon of often lopsided results. With so much cricket on offer with the rise of 20/20, fans are increasingly looking for quality not quantity.  

This time around the Champions Trophy has been trimmed to the top 8 sides in the world. It is the lowest number of participants since the tournament began, and should present fans with a quality shootout that will give us a winner after only 16 days.

South African too has a tremendous history of successfully hosting major cricket tournaments. Their stable weather, excellent venues, quality pitches and colourful crowds will add up to a tremendous occasion, which should inspire TV audiences around the world and make this the most watched Champions Trophy yet.

 GROUP A

 India the front runners with a rebuilding Australia and ever dangerous Pakistan fighting over the second qualifying spot. A virtual second string West Indies team should have too many weaknesses to go any further.

India

Tendulkar, Dravid, Dhoni headline a very experienced batting line-up. If Dravid can be the anchor then the others are free to weave their elegant stroke play through the field. Even without Sehwag there should be too much class. Yuvraj Singh will be keen to add more quick runs in South Africa like he did in the 20/20 World Cup there in 2007 when his 6x6's off one Stuart Broad over propelled him to a 12 ball half century.

The bowlers are a great mixture of youth and experience. If harbhajan can showcase his class, then the abundance of talented pace options will create pressure on even the best batting line-ups. Sharma just gets better and better. His new pace variations are a welcome addition to his unrelenting full fast and straight formula that has seen him become one of the most feared bowlers in world cricket.

Pakistan

One of the teams in international cricket that can never be written off. There is a good mix of talented youth and old hands. Younis Khan will need to lead the batting unit well and lay a platform with wickets in hand for the hitters like Afridi to be able to bat with freedom in the latter overs. The bowling attack can demolish anyone if it clicks but they need some runs behind them first.

Australia

While they have humbled England in the current ODI series, this Australian team is a little off the pace. Hussey is still out of sorts and Ponting and Clarke are left to carry the batting with others like Watson and Ferguson chiming in at times. The return of Brett Lee has boosted them, but Bracken and Johnson are not setting the world on fire and Hauritz is average when compared to some of the spinning talent in opposing teams. 

 West Indies

Contract wrangles and injuries have left the Windies fielding a team full of unknowns outside of the Caribbean. Even if the ICC bends the rules and allows the late inclusion of Gayle, Chanderpaul and Ramden it will not be enough to help them advance. Never thought I would see the day when I would have to seed the West Indies last in an eight nation tournament.

GROUP B

Most of the favouritism is with the top ranked South Africans. Being grouped with England and New Zealand means they are odds on to finish top of the group with only Sri Lanka being a serious contender to knock them over in group play.

South Africa

 Most peoples favourites playing in home conditions with a powerful batting line up. Their bowling attack lacks a bit of depth though, and could be vulnerable if someone like Ntini gets injured or someone gets tonked early and loses confidence.

Sri Lanka

 A very talented all round team that should feature in the semi-finals. Not having played ODI's in South African since the 2003 World Cup they will need to adjust quickly to the conditions. Jayasuriya is coming into good form with bat and ball.  Jayawardene has proven now that he can anchor an innings with a reasonable strike rate. 

England

Strauss has been in good consistent form but there has been little support. A more than useful bowling attack, but they probably won't have enough runs to defend. The absence of Pietersen and with Flintoff struggling back from injury has put paid to the outside chance they might have been. Not being able to make any headway in their home conditions against a rebuilding Australia is not ideal preparation.

New Zealand

While Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum offer quick runs at the top of the order, they often don't kick on and register a big score. Jacob Oram is out of touch, and Daniel Vettori can't be left to save the day every time.

Despite having 3 bowlers in the ODI Top 10 the New Zealand bowlers don't have much to offer on flat decks. Shane Bonds return is welcome, but Tuffey, Butler and Mills suffer if the ball is not doing much. They might beat England but it is hard to see them defeating Sri Lanka or South Africa.

Semi-Finals and Final

Semi-Final 1 – India v Sri Lanka - India should overcome Sri Lanka and advance to the final. Playing the IPL league in South Africa earlier in the season will benefit India more than most. These two teams have a similar mix of playing style and talent, but India should be good enough to win on the day.

Semi-Final 2 – South Africa v Pakistan - I believe there is the real possibility of an upset. South Africa will definitely start favourites, but there are few teams in world cricket able to turn on a top draw performance out of the blue like the Pakistanis. South Africa coming out of the easier of the two groups and may be caught out in a sudden death game that is up a notch in intensity on what they have faced to date.

A final between the only two countries in the Tournament to have fought a war against each other in the last 50 years is always a tense affair. While Pakistan has a better winning record against India in ODI's the current makeup of the two sides mean that India should have to much class man for man to be beaten.

So while South Africa is many peoples pick to win the trophy, I am predicting that India will be the eventual winner. It is close, but the fact that the Indian players have had recent successful IPL match practice in South African conditions and that they would not have to face the hosts until a final tips it in their favour.   

 

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