The ICC Champions Trophy comes to a conclusion this week, with the semi-finals on Wednesday and Thursday and then the final on Saturday. Richard O’Hagan takes a look ahead to what should be a fantastic week of cricket.
And then there were four. Two weeks of intense cricket have seen four sides eliminated from the ICC Champions Trophy and four go through to this week’s semi finals. The competition remains remarkably open, though, largely as a result of the way that the sides have got to this point.
India are currently the hot favorites. They are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament and every one of those wins has been convincing. In that they have been greatly aided by the tremendous form of opener Shikhar Dhawan, who is both the leading run scorer with 264 (59 clear of his nearest rival) and the only man to have scored two hundreds so far. His opening partner Rohit Sharma has 165 runs and it is both a measure of their dominance and a cause of slight concern that the next best aggregate by an Indian is 75. Bet365 currently have them at betting odds of 7/4 to win and it is very easy to see why.
England began the competition as favorites, but have drifted in the market both because of India’s good form and because of their own slight hiccup against Sri Lanka in their second game. That Sri Lankan side is nothing special and the simple fact is that the England bowling attack chose Friday evening to have a collective bad day. The good news for them is that this probably won’t happen again. The bad news is that they now have to play South Africa in a semi-final at the same venue. The Oval’s wide open space should suit both batting lineups and, if anything, should favor England more as, absent the injured Kevin Pietersen, they have based their batting strategy more around running than boundaries. They should win their semi-final and set up a fantastic final with India on an Edgbaston ground where the game could well be decided why which team’s slow bowlers hit the better form on the day. They are 14/5 with Coral to win overall.
South Africa will, on one level, be glad to have come even this far. They, more than any other side, have been dogged by injury problems and after losing both Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis before the tournament even started, not to mention Morne Morkel during the opening game, they will be relieved to be here. That said, they lost to India in that opener, beat a weak Pakistan side and then fluked their way past the West Indies in the group decider, winning more because of a rush of blood to the head by the Windies Kieron Pollard than any real skill on their part. Although they beat up on England ten months ago, it is hard to see them doing so this time. BetVictor have them at 3/1 to win, but really it would be a major surprise if they get to the final at all.
Sri Lanka can consider themselves the most fortunate still be in contention at this stage of the tournament. They were blown away by New Zealand in their opening encounter, recording the lowest score of the tournament (138) in doing so. They then managed to beat England thanks to an inspired innings from Kumar Sangakkara and a brilliant gamble by captain Angelo Mathews, who promoted fast bowler Nuwan Kulasekera up the order and saw him respond with a 37-ball 50 to seal the game. In their final game against Australia, though, it all looked like going wrong as despite a composed eighty-plus score from Mahela Jayawardene they came close to losing. Whereas the other teams have players who step up when the big names get into trouble (for example South Africa’s Colin Ingram against the West Indies) it seems as if Sri Lanka are sunk if one of Jayawardene or Sangakkara doesn’t fire. As such, the 9/2 that William Hill are offering on them still is not enough to get us to back them with our sports picks.