The ICC Champions Trophy starts on Thursday with England playing Bangladesh. On paper that is the fifth ranked side against sixth ranked side but more honestly it should be billed as the favourites versus an also-ran.
England are the host nation and since the lamentable World Cup showing two years ago one of the most in form sides in world cricket. Bangladesh have lost seven of their last eight matches against major nations. If further proof was needed England are currently outplaying the No.1 ranked side in the world, South Africa. However, the shortened structure of the Champions Trophy means that rankings matter less as every match counts. No easy matches versus Kenya for example. England play Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia and the top two from that group will advance to a semi-final.
The shame is there is no West Indies, the T20 World Champions in 2012 and 2016 and yet not good enough at 50-over cricket to be in the top eight ranked nations.
So the excellent cricket England have played thus far this summer and for the past 18 months needs to be continued if they are to win their first major 50-over trophy.
They will also need some luck. Every champion needs a slice of the old good fortune as does the management of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Win this bauble and cricket in England will receive a massive boost just as they launch their new AllStars Program and are in negotiation with broadcasters regarding the new T20 franchise competition. If anyone ever doubted how important players were to the business of sport they could do with studying the current stalemate between the Australians and their board and England’s plans for the next few years. Australia are fighting, in public. England are seemingly united for the greater good. A win would really help that.
If they show the discipline and character of yesterday they have a chance. Having scored 330 courtesy of a wonderful Ben Stokes century, England prevented South Africa winning in the last ten balls.
Before then the visitors were ahead and had been since the start of their innings but Mark Wood bowled a superb last over as England won by two runs to clinch the three-match series. Chris Morris’s hitting deserved the win as he proved that most one-day matches are reduced in the final overs to a mini T20.
For England the lack of overs from Stokes is a concern. He is quite possibly the most valuable cricketer in the world at present. Certainly the IPL viewed him as such which made South Africa’s drop of him first ball more frustrating but from that he showed he is one heck of a player. He scores all-round the wicket, smashes boundaries, bowls thunderbolts and fields like a trial sheepdog rounding up errant sheep.
At least Jos Buttler made a score, his first in a long time and Eoin Morgan showed shrewdness and calm temperament under pressure.
What the fans have to get used to, quite clearly, is that scores in excess of 300 are the norm even in England. Batsmen go so hard at the ball and with such intent that containment is no longer an option. It is take wickets or be smashed for the bowlers and the teams that are prepared to take that gamble and prepare for it best that are likely to succeed.
England have adopted that mantra and are proving quite good at it. So are others, though, which means this could be a thrilling few weeks of cricket. If England can win the final game of the series on Monday at Lord’s it will be an added boost but clearly matches, and trophies are changing on single moments.