ICC Champions Trophy preview
We are long overdue a prolonged spell of fine, warm weather and fingers crossed that we get it this month as England and Wales host the seventh ICC Champions Trophy.
Unlike the long, drawn-out World Cup, the Champions Trophy is now minnow-free and features just the top eight cricketing nations, all of whom have realistic prospects of going all the way.
South Africa are 4/1 favourites with Coral (just ahead of England and Australia at 9/2), but since winning the inaugural Champions Trophy in 1998, have been serial underachievers in these one-day tournaments. New Zealand, on the other hand, often punch above their weight and although the outsiders at 10/1, are still serious contenders, especially after demonstrating their current well-being against England.
New Zealand and England will be meeting again in their final match in Group A in Cardiff on June 16th, but in the meantime face battles with Sri Lanka, joint winners in 2002, and Australia, who are bidding for their third successive Champions Trophy.
Sri Lanka invariably give a good account of themselves, while Australia, although not the force they were, are still to be reckoned with in this format, especially if their potentially potent bowling attack is on song and Michael Clarke and Shane Watson deliver with the bat.
But England and New Zealand (13/8 and 5/1 respectively to win Group A with Coral), could be the teams to progress to the semi-finals from this pool and it is far from fanciful to suggest that they could meet yet again in the final at Edgbaston on June 23rd.
England should be a different proposition once Stuart Broad and Steven Finn return, while the Kiwis’ confidence is riding high following their two impressive away series victories against South Africa and in this country.
The Proteas are 6/4 favourites to win Group B, where they face India, Pakistan and the West Indies, but while they might be able to boss things in the group stage, they do have this habit of not delivering when it really matters. What is more, they are without two of their toughest and most talented cricketers, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, and they are huge losses.
The West Indies, on the other hand, enjoy the massive boost of having Chris Gayle back in the fold, although hey haven’t been doing too badly without him. Gayle, the ICC Championship’s leading run-scorer, can win a game on his own in twenty minutes when the mood takes him – Coral make the laid-back opener one of their four 10/1 joint favourites to end the tournament with the most runs, alongside Watson, South Africa’s Hamish Amla and England’s Alastair Cook.
We know how good India and Pakistan can be on their day, but India look a little light in the bowling department and Pakistan short on batting quality in depth and the Windies, 5/1 outsiders to win the group, look better bets to progress to the last four.