Starting today! Oli Lathrope previews the ICC Champions Trophy.
The eyes of the cricketing world will descend upon England and Wales this week with the beginning of the ICC Champions Trophy. The competition, contested by the world’s best eight sides, across 18 days, featuring 15 matches will give an indication of just how well sides are progressing two years out before the next world cup. As well as being hosts England start as favourites looking to put right the wrongs of that dreadful World Cup campaign two years ago. They will not have it their own way though, with the current holders India and World Champions Australia also expected to challenge. The tournament also includes Bangladesh, rewarded for their good performances in recent years, meaning it is current World T20 champions the West Indies who miss out.
The beginning of the tournament has been largely overshadowed by what has taken place off the pitch. The Indians threatening to boycott the showpiece event due to funding and a potential strike by the Australian team after the tournament over pay. However that will all be forgotten come Thursday when England and Bangladesh begin at the Oval.
This article will preview each team, their key men and speculate on their chances of success.
It is hard to believe just how far this England team has come in the last two years. Embarrassed back in 2015 at the World Cup, they now remarkably enter this tournament as favourites and with every chance of winning their first ever ICC 50 over tournament. The strength of this side is only heightened by the fact that Jonny Bairstow who remains in excellent form is likely to miss out on selection. The batting line-up England possess is arguably the strongest in the competition and with Liam Plunkett likely to bat at 10, there will be no rest bite for opposition bowlers. Following his decision to skip the Bangladesh tour there were questions surrounding Eoin Morgan’s captaincy, but he has since hit three hundreds to quickly quash rumours that he should be replaced.
England’s strength with the bat has also been backed up recently by a bowling line-up that has been questioned in recent years. The return to fitness of Mark Wood is a bonus, who when he is bowling at his best is easily England’s most dangerous bowler. He will be ably backed up by Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett both of whom have been a mainstay of this England side in recent years. Much will also depend on the spin of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid who will be required to stem the flow of runs in the middle overs. The ingredients are all there for this England side however after spending the best part of two years being underdogs in series against the likes of Australia and India, they now have to handle the pressure of being favourites which is something totally different altogether.
Squad: Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jake Ball, Sam Billings (wk), Jos Buttler (wk), Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan (capt), Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
Fixtures: June 1st – Bangladesh (The Oval), June 6th – New Zealand (Cardiff), June 10th – Australia (Edgbaston).
Key Man: BEN STOKES – You cannot emphasize enough how important this man is to this England side. Not only will he be required to score crucial runs in the middle order and bowl ten overs, but his presence adds balance to a side that has a luxury that many others do not. His recent absence in the Ireland series meant there was no place for Moeen Ali either and England’s team certainly needs both of them in it. The man who bowled that terrible final over in the World T20 final last year looks a different player a year on, due to impressive performances in the IPL, and his century in the recent series against South Africa further underlines his importance to this England side.
Prediction: FINALISTS – This England side is the best they have possessed for a long time and has every chance of winning the tournament, however despite the improvements of the bowling attack I do worry that strong batting line-ups will still have too much for them. A trip to the final is on the cards however whether they are capable of winning is another question.
The build up to the tournament has not been ideal for an Australian side looking to win back the trophy they last won back in 2009. Embroiled in a dispute with Cricket Australia over pay, means that from July onwards many of these players may go on strike. However they enter this tournament at full strength with every chance of winning another global ICC tournament. Like England it is hard to find a weakness in what is a very strong all round side. The possess the strongest pace bowling line up in the tournament with the likes of Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood all capable off blowing away opposition sides top orders. If all four of these are fit and selected do not be surprised to see opposition batting orders struggle to contain them.
Such is the strength of this Australian side that one of the players above may need to be left out to balance a side that also contains some wonderful batsmen. The ever reliable David Warner will score quickly at the top of the order, and captain Steve Smith fresh of the back of reaching the final of the IPL will surely continue in his rich vein of form. The Australians also possess a wildcard in their batting order in the form of Big Bash superstar Chris Lynn. The Brisbane Heat man, has dominated the competition in recent years, and is he available after injury, and adds some serious fire-power to the Australian batting order.
Squad: Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, James Pattinson, Steve Smith (capt), Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), David Warner, Adam Zampa.
Fixtures: June 2nd – New Zealand (Edgbaston), June 5th – Bangladesh (The Oval), June 10th – England (Edgbaston).
Key Man: MITCHELL STARC – The 2015 World Cup player of the tournament is on the comeback trail after picking up an injury on the recent tour of India, and on his day remains the best bowler on the planet. He took 22 wickets in just eight matches back in 2015, and the spell he bowled towards the end of the match against New Zealand in the Group Stages shows what he is capable off. Whilst there is some debate about which Australian bowlers will be selected there is no doubt that if Starc is fit and available, he will be selected.
Prediction: WINNERS – In terms of their batting the Australians are on par with the likes of England and South Africa however it is their bowling that will be the difference. No other side has such an impressive attack and this may well see them lift the trophy at The Oval on June 18th.
As they do in every major tournament New Zealand enter as outsiders, however do not be surprised to see them reach the semi-finals of another major tournament as they always seem to do. The World Cup finalists of 2015 are without their former talismanic captain in Brendon McCullum but on their day are capable of beating anyone in the world, which will have kept England and Australia on their toes. They possess a fiery batting line-up that includes the likes of Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson who both have the ability to take the game away from the opposition. Their side is also likely to contain a potent set of all-rounders in Corey Anderson and Colin de Grandhomme who will be required to take wickets and also add some runs down the order.
Their bowling line-up which perhaps is not is renowned as others, should still not be discounted. Seamers Trent Boult and Tim Southee are both experienced campaigners, who helped take the side to that World Cup final back in 2015 and will cause many batsmen problems. Also look out for Warwickshire based spinner Jeetan Patel. The canny bowler has played in this country for a number of years now and knows the conditions well. He has been persuaded to play despite reiterating he is retired from the international game, and will be dangerous on a turning wicket.
Squad: Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Neil Broom, Colin de Grandhomme, Martin Guptill, Tom Latham (wk), Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Jimmy Neesham, Jeetan Patel, Luke Ronchi (wk), Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson (capt).
Fixtures: June 2nd – Australia (Edgbaston), June 6th – England (Cardiff), June 9th – Bangladesh (Cardiff).
Key Man: Kane Williamson – Since the retirement of Brendon McCullum, New Zealand’s number three has taken over the role of captain and their most important batsmen. On his day he can rival the likes of De Villiers and Kohli and if New Zealand are to progress past the group stages at least one big innings will be required from him.
Prediction: Group Stages – Despite their strong record at ICC events, the Blackcaps may just fall short this time around. When you compare their team to England and Australia, it does not quite match up. However there is every chance I will be proved wrong. If they beat Australia at Edgbaston on June 2nd the group will be thrown wide open.
It will come as a shock to many that Bangladesh are even in this tournament. You would expect the West Indies to have qualified however the Lions very much deserve their place in this year’s competition. A team who were once one of the whipping boys in International Cricket, now contain a number of highly experienced cricketers who have all shone on the international stage. Shakib Al Hasan is the highest ranked all-rounder in international cricket will have to produce more heroic performances if they are to go beyond the group stages. Their opening partnership of Imrul Kayes and Tamim Iqbal is also hugely experienced and very capable of getting the side off to a quick start.
In terms of bowling much will be expected of young seamer Mustafizur Rahman who has been exceptional since he burst onto the scene, but it is largely expected this is where the Bangladesh side will struggle in the face of highly powerful batting line-ups. Not keeping sides to under 350 regularly enough could well be their downfall.
Squad: Imrul Kayes, Mahmudullah, Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Mehidi Hasan, Mosaddek Hossain, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Mustafizur Rahman, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Shakib Al Hasan, Somya Sarkar, Sunzamul Islam, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed.
Fixtures: June 1st – England (The Oval), June 5th – Australia (The Oval), June 9th – New Zealand (Cardiff).
Key Man: TAMIM IQBAL – The opening batsmen is best remembered for his remarkable hundred at Lords back in 2010 and has remained a mainstay as opening batsmen ever since. An explosive player when in form, he averages 52 in the last year and must score runs if Bangladesh have any chance of progressing.
Prediction: GROUP STAGES – Despite their vast improvement in recent years it is hard to see Bangladesh progressing past the Group Stages. They are strong on the sub-continent but will likely struggle in English conditions. They may well cause a shock in one game but it is hard to see anything beyond that.
The current holder’s participation looked in doubt not that long ago as the BCCI threatened to withdraw over funding issues, however they do take part with every chance of retaining the crown they won dramatically at Edgbaston four years ago. Their mouth-watering clash on June 4th against Pakistan is sure to be one of the tournaments highlights. Unlike the other teams from the sub-continent, the conditions should not trouble them as much due to the sheer quality they possess. Their talisman Virat Kohli always performs on the big stage and experienced batsmen Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni will add impetus and tempo when they are batting.
If there is a hint of spin in any match then the Indians will surely dominate. In Ravi Ashwin they have the world’s premier spin bowler, and he will be supported ably by Ravindra Jadeja who will also cause problems for opposition batsmen. Quick bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar could also shine as the English conditions should suit his type of bowling. The one worry for the Indians is burnout. Most of their side have only just finished the IPL which has left them with very little preparation time heading into this tournament. They have the quality to deal with this but the extra preparation the likes of England and South African have had, could count against them later in the tournament.
Squad: Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, *Dinesh Karthik (wk), Virat Kohli (capt), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Umesh Yadav.
Fixtures: June 4th – Pakistan (Edgbaston), June 8th – Sri Lanka (The Oval), June 11th – South Africa (The Oval).
Key Man: VIRAT KOHLI – Was there really going to be another answer? Kohli is not only the Indians best player but also the world’s premier batsman. He is the master of the run chase and if he is at the crease it will be possible for the Indians to chase any target down. However their talisman needs to return to form after a poor IPL and a difficult test series against Australia. However he is a man for the big occasion and will surely produce at least one match winning innings in the tournament.
Prediction: SEMI FINALS – This is Indian side should have no problems getting out of a group that contains weakened sides in Pakistan and Sri Lanka however they will face much stiffer opponents in the knockout stages. They have the quality to go all the way however a long Indian summer before this tournament may well get the better of them.
Despite being the number one ranked side in the One Day format no one is really talking about the South Africans heading into this competition. Overshadowed by the likes of England, the Proteas have gone quietly under the radar in their preparations. However they possess a side that should be feared and are certainly capable of lifting the trophy. A 2-1 series defeat to England was a setback but nothing more, and they will surely improve come their first match against Sri Lanka. A top four that contains Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf de Plessis and AB de Villiers is arguably the strongest in the tournament and big hitters David Miller and Chris Morris will provide plenty of runs down the order.
It is perhaps their bowling that might let them down in terms of winning the tournament. Their frailties in this department was exposed during the first two matches against England but nonetheless in Kagiso Rabada they have the most exciting young bowler in cricket today. Wayne Parnell who has been playing for Kent leading into this tournament, will also have a role to play in supporting the youngster. There may also be a place in the side for Morne Morkel who on his day remains destructive as ever.
Squad: Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), AB de Villiers (capt & wk), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Keshav Maharaj, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir.
Top of Form
Fixtures: June 3rd – Sri Lanka (The Oval), June 7th – Pakistan (Edgbaston), June 11th – India (The Oval)
Key Man: IMRAN TAHIR – A slightly different selection to what may have expected but Tahir is absolutely crucial to the Proteas chances. He enters the tournament after an excellent spell in the IPL, and if the South African seamers do not take early wickets then he will need to do some damage in the middle overs. His variations make him one of the tournament’s most dangerous bowlers.
Prediction: SEMI FINALS – The South Africans should have enough to qualify through to the Semi Finals but their recent series against England suggests that may be as far as they can go. They may well face the English again in the knockout stages, and they will need to produce a similar performance to the one they had at Lords on Monday when they picked up a consolation victory.
It is always hard to tell what you are going to get with Pakistan. An excellent side on their day, too often do they underperform and are outplayed. They enter the tournament as the eighth best ranked side and won their most recent series 2-1 against the West Indies. However this tournament will provide much stiffer opposition which they could struggle against. The English conditions will not suit them either, exemplified by the fact they lost 4-1 here last summer in a series against England. Despite this they do contain a side of match winners. In Mohammad Amir they have bowler who will enjoy success if the ball swings. The bowler a mainstay in all formats for Pakistan since his return from the famous spot-fixing ban, will have good support from the likes of Wahab Riaz.
Their batting whilst not containing some of the big names that other sides have in their line-up also has a number of exciting players. Young Babar Azam has burst onto the international scene impressively and along with Mohammad Hafeez at the top of the order, they should get Pakistan off to good starts. Former captain Azhar Ali has also been recalled in an attempt to bolster up the middle order. There is also a place in the squad for veteran Shoaib Malik who will play in this tournament for the sixth time. His capabilities are known to all and he will be required to play well if Pakistan are to go beyond the Group Stages.
Squad: Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Fahim Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz.
Fixtures: June 4th – India (Edgbaston), June 7th – South Africa (Edgbaston), June 12th – Sri Lanka (Cardiff)
Key Man: BABAR AZAM – Having played just 26 ODI’s Azam is already one of Pakistan’s most important players. He finished second to only David Warner in a recent series against Australia in terms of runs, in a series which his side lost 4-1. Also scored three consecutive hundreds against the West Indies in the UAE recently. His runs at number three will be crucial.
Prediction: GROUP STAGES – This Pakistan side despite some exciting talents, will simply not score enough runs to qualify feature at the later stages of this competition. Their quick bowlers are just as good as any in the tournament but not scoring enough runs will counteract that. However you never quite know with Pakistan so a surprise result is always around the corner.
The Sri Lankans much like Pakistan enter this tournament as hugely unfancied and not surprisingly so. They have only won 13 of their last 38 ODI’s and since the retirements of Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene do not look half as likely to post high totals that are increasingly required. Kusal Mendis has been the most impressive of their batsmen over the last year. He played well against England last summer and will be required to do the same again. Angelo Mathews likely to bat at five will also need to score runs in a side that looks distinctly light on runs. Also look out for Seekkuge Prasanna who is a fantastic hitter of the ball and take the game away from the opposition in a heartbeat.
Their bowling attack looks the weakest in the competition, Nuwan Kulasekera has lead the attack for a number of years now and he will be boosted by the return to the side of Lasith Malinga. The bowler has not played an ODI since November 2015 and we all know the heroics he is capable of producing on his day. Young spinner Lakshan Sadakan is a bit of an unknown entity but has impressed since breaking into the side.
Squad: Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Asela Gunaratne, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews (capt), Kusal Mendis (wk), Kusal Perera (wk), Thisara Perera, Nuwan Pradeep, Seekkuge Prasanna, Lakshan Sandakan, Upul Tharanga.
Fixtures: June 3rd – South Africa (The Oval), June 8th – India (The Oval), June 12th – Pakistan (Cardiff).
Key Man: LASITH MALINGA – This pick comes more from reputation than form, however such has been the struggle for Sri Lanka in the bowling department, the veteran must perform for his team to have any chance. We all know he is capable, but being 33 now he may well be past his best.
Prediction: GROUP STAGES – On paper they look the weakest side in the tournament. They may well win a match but do not have the quality to make a sustained challenge. Lots of young players and a side for the future.
Overall more than anything, this should be an amazing tournament. The best eight teams all playing each other is always going to create fireworks and it should be no different this time around. Tickets still remain available for the tournament including England’s match with New Zealand in Cardiff and Australia vs New Zealand at Edgbaston. If you cannot get to a game all 15 matches are live on Sky Sports with daily highlights on the BBC.