Champions Trophy: Tournament bowing out with intrigue

Chris Gayle remains a spectacular performer for the West Indies in limited-overs cricket. Picture: Getty
Chris Gayle remains a spectacular performer for the West Indies in limited-overs cricket. Picture: Getty
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SO, FAREWELL to the Champions Trophy. The tournament created to raise money for the International Cricket Council (ICC) to spend on developing cricket worldwide has served its purpose.

The TV companies were mostly satisfied with it as they projected it to the world and raked in advertising cash. The ICC benefitted hugely from the TV and partner relationships while many smaller cricketing countries received funding and the players had another bit of silverware to try to win.

Despite lacking the clout of the world cup, it fulfilled its role admirably but is no longer necessary. In its place is the new World Test Championship scheduled for 2017. The emergence of T20 cricket has also rendered the Champions Trophy less important. With both 50-over and 20-over world cups, there are plenty of international tournaments and the franchise-based Indian Premier League has become a magnet for TV and sponsors in the most valuable part of the cricketing globe, the sub-continent.

The shame is that the final staging of the event, starting on Thursday, is possibly the most intriguing as it is almost possible to pick any of the eight participating countries as winners. In fact, with the eight split into two groups of four and the top two from each group progressing, there are going to be some major names missing from the later stages.

Group A could well see the hosts, England, embarrassed. Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are all very capable one-day teams and home advantage did not help England on Friday as New Zealand won the Lord’s ODI comfortably.

Group B looks no easier. West Indies, the current T20 World champions, play Pakistan, India and South Africa.

Player absences could have a major effect. Kevin Pietersen’s injury leaves a big hole in the middle order for England. Both Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith are missing for South Africa which leaves a lot of pressure on captain, wicketkeeper and star batsman AB de Villiers while India are reeling from the not so shocking news that there is corruption in their flagship tournament, the IPL.

Will that affect the Indian team? It may well depend on what further revelations emerge in the next three weeks. Arrests have been made, statements are being taken, leaked and pored over in the media and accusations being made rather too easily. The fear is some more players will be nervously waiting for a knock on the door from plod.

For Australia, it is an intriguing event. Captain Michael Clarke has already spoken about it being the perfect opportunity for his team to rebuild their confidence. They were humbled in India and humiliated when four players were dropped for a Test match for failing to fulfil a task and vice-captain Shane Watson flew home like a diva. The Ashes start in July and Australia desperately need to develop some momentum and forge some spirit.

If the sun shines then Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with their explosive batting and wily spinners, could prove mighty difficult to beat. Both have won the tournament before.

The last time the Champions Trophy was hosted by England, the victors were the West Indies. That may have been in 2004 but they won the T20 World Cup last year and, in Chris Gayle, have a batsman who can win a match on his own in ten overs. They are rather reliant on him but he is the one player who empties the bars when he walks to the crease.