The ICC Champions Trophy has been the poor relation of international cricket competitions for some time now, and it is finally being put to rest after this summer. The contest sees the eight best teams in the 50-over version of the game taking part, which means there is no room for the world stage’s perennial whipping boys Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, nor for up-and-coming nations such as Ireland, even though they held Pakistan to a tie during the last week.
The format of the competition is that the eight teams are split into two groups of four, with the each side playing the others once. The top two teams in each group then go forward to the semi-finals, with the winners of group A playing the runners up in group B, and vice versa. After the bloated, 78-game, Indian Premier League, this is a tournament which will fly by, with little respite for the players, either.
As hosts, England were always going to be well fancied. Leaving aside a disaster in the 1999 World Cup, they’ve done well in all of the limited overs competitions they have played at home. They reached the final in 2004 and would have won but for an unlikely 9th wicket partnership which saw the West Indies home in near darkness. They will be without the mercurial Kevin Pietersen, who is still recovering from a knee injury, but that should not disadvantage them too much, as they have actually lost more home games when he has played than they have won. Instead, they’ll rely upon Eoin Morgan to supply the inventiveness in the middle order, Ian Bell for some early impetus as an opener, and hope that Jos Buttler can at last find some form with the bat despite now being expected to keep wicket as well. They are 4/1 in almost all markets, but that price will drift if they have a bad series against New Zealand just before the competition proper starts.
The West Indians will again be a force. They are the reigning T20 World Champions and in Chris Gayle they have the most destructive batsman in world cricket at the moment. He’s in prime form, having set a world record score in the shortest form of the game during the IPL and even though the games are being played on some of the English game’s larger grounds there won’t be too many who fancy bowling to him with his ability to hit just about any ball for six. Add to that the other big hitters in their squad, such as Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard and you have a team who could be in with a real chance of regaining this crown. The one fly in the ointment may be that their attack is very reliant upon spinner Sunil Narine, and he had a fairly torrid time of it when the Windies toured England last summer, the pitches not suiting his bowling at all. With a price of 9/1 at Paddy Power, they are my second favorites to win.
South Africa are always strong in this form of the game. Captain AB de Villiers is one of the finest one day players in the world and provided he can handle the pressure of leading the team, keeping wicket and needing to make runs they could be contenders. However, they suffered a significant setback when Test captain Graeme Smith was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury, especially as this came on top of losing all-rounder Jacques Kallis before the squad was even announced. They are second favorites in most markets, with Coral makig them 5/2. That looks a little too short.
As reigning World Cup holders, India cannot be discounted. With the likes of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli in their squad they will not want for runs down the order, but for the first time in a long, long time they are going into a tournament without not only Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to open the innings, but the legendary Sachin Tendulkar to follow them. Much rests upon Shikhar Dhawan to replace them, especially after he scored the fastest debut hundred in Test cricket back in May. However, he’s been injured and out of form since then and it is hard to see this side setting big enough totals to win a game if they bat first. Sportingbet currently have them showing at 7/1, which seems a reasonable price in the circumstances.
Australia will be looking to do well in this tournament as a precursor to their Ashes series later in the summer, but without the retired Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey in the middle order and awful lot rests upon captain Michael Clarke to hold the innings together. They will hope he does not suffer a recurrence of the back problems which have dogged his career and which caused him to miss the IPL. They are best priced 11/2 betting odds with Stan James.
The other contenders are New Zealand and Pakistan. You can never write either side off. The Black Caps go into this contest on the back of their own one-day series against England and, other than the hosts, will be most familiar with the conditions. Their one day side has been in good form this year, drawing with the South Africans away and then running England close in New Zealand. The concern for them is that those performances depended a lot upon the form of captain Brendon McCullum, who was often their only significant run-scorer. If he gets in, in every game, they could well be surprise contenders. Bet365 have them outsiders at 14/1 and at that price they’re attractive to say the least.
Of the participants, Pakistan look the weakest. Although they have the talent and the mystery spin of Saeed Ajmal, they too often fail to put it together in major tournaments. Look out for Nasir Jamshed, who was one of their stars in September’s T20 World Cup, but there really seems to be too much for Misbah-ul-Haq’s men to do here. They are currently 7/1 with Coral, but those odds still look too short to me.