September 18, 2009

South Africa, India start as favourites


by Syed Khalid Mahmood

The ICC Champions Trophy 2009 is round the corner. There have been plenty of One-day Internationals (ODIs) leading to the second most prestigious event in the sport after the World Cup that’s held after every four years.

With so much action on the eve of the tournament it’s not at all a tall order to assess which teams are more likely to lay their hands on the trophy. If the recent form in ODIs is the sole criterion then Australia and India appear to be the firm favourites for the crown.

But if all the factors are taken into account then South Africa have to be regarded as the front runners. The top ranked ODI side in world cricket as of today, they will obviously gain huge advantage of playing at home.

The Champions Trophy 2009 is being played under a new format and only the top eight teams of the world are contesting it. They have been divided equally in two groups. Defending champions Australia are drawn with India, Pakistan and the West Indies in Group A while the hosts South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England constitute Group B.

The weakened West Indian team is unlikely to come good in the challenging environment of South Africa where the ball would seam and bounce. Unless their authorities work out some formula to reinforce their squad with the seasoned campaigners at the eleventh hour, the West Indies could be the punching bag with every rival fancying their chances of improving their run-rate.

Even if the West Indies were playing to their full strength they would have been least expected to qualify for the semifinals from the group of death. They would have struggled even against Pakistan.

Talking of Pakistan they can never be written off even if they are being represented by second or third strings. They would remain a threat to any fancied team. They are not ranked all that highly at the moment but they can screw anyone on their day. They have every chance of causing an upset or two and displace Australia or India from the semifinal line-up.

The contest is much more open in Group B where South Africa are the standout team but there’s very little to choose between the trio of Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand. None of these three outfits is expected to bag the trophy.

In the prevailing scenario the Champions Trophy 2009 is more likely to be a three-horse race between South Africa, Australia and India. One of these three teams should win the tournament if the miracles don’t happen.

Besides the rankings and ratings these are the three teams who have the firepower and depth to dominate others. South Africa and India, in my opinion, possess stronger ODI outfits compared to Australia, who have proved simply too much for the struggling England side. The Australians have been experimenting continuously after losing their legendary cricketers and it remains to be seen if they will be able to cope with the pressures.

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