Home >opinion >ICC Champions Trophy | For one last time

Indian cricket’s roller-coaster ride over the past few weeks has left most followers of the sport in the country nonplussed—and not a few insane with rage, I dare say.

After the hue and cry, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) power grid has indeed been reconstituted (even if in a diabolical sort of way) but we don’t seem to be any closer to getting to the bottom of the spot-fixing scam. What happens from here is anybody’s guess.

I would hope though that due process of law—imperative in any civil society—is not compromised by mob hysteria. The purpose of protest, ultimately, must be to get to the truth and bring in constructive changes, not to demolish the edifice itself

That said, I would also hope that this due process does not take so long that its loses relevance. Finally, I also hope that every wrongdoer in this sorry episode, however high and mighty, is dealt with so harshly that it becomes a deterrent.

Meanwhile, cricket continues. The ICC Champions Trophy, which has been well under the radar of followers worldwide because of the extraordinary developments in Indian cricket, starts on Thursday. Even though it may not command the same newsworthiness as the controversy raging currently, it is important.

Everybody knows this is the last edition of this tournament, but with the next World Cup only two years away, it assumes more significance than perhaps it has ever earlier. This year’s tournament affords a chance for all major teams to assess players—old and new— and find a core group that would play together over the next 24 months leading into cricket’s biggest event.

Who start as favourites in the Champions Trophy? It’s a vexing situation for critics. India are ranked No.1 by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in One Day Internationals (ODIs), but this is largely because of the comprehensive win over England at home in the 50-over game. Playing away from India, however, M.S. Dhoni and his team have done so little of note in the past two years that this ranking appears flattering.

While the team put in an impressive performance to win the first warm-up match against Sri Lanka (this piece was written before the second match against Australia on Tuesday, which India won) thanks to sizzling tons by Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik, the lack of spice and bite in the bowling could hardly be ignored.

Indeed, there are several players in this Indian squad for whom the Champions Trophy is crucial, as they have been around for a while without quite establishing their credentials. Leading this bunch is Rohit Sharma, whose talent is undoubted but remains an enigma. He has been in and out of the team for almost five years now. A terrific Indian Premier League, or IPL, season was a massive boost, but he still needs to prove his worth at the international level.

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Ishant Sharma: Photo: Sang Tan/AP

That all these players, barring Rohit Sharma, are either bowlers or bowling all-rounders shows where India are vulnerable. For the team to do well, and in conditions that should assist bowlers as much as batsmen, at least three of the five mentioned above need to come good.

But India are not the only side whose International Cricket Council, or ICC, ranking might be misleading in this tournament. No.3 South Africa have been less than convincing in ODIs going into this tournament, and No.2 Australia (defending champions) even more so. Not only have they got a plethora of untested players, but the team has also been rocked by internal dissent. Meanwhile, home team England, ranked No.4, got whipped in the first two ODIs against New Zealand in the NatWest Series—New Zealand have otherwise struggled so badly in all forms of cricket in the past year or so.

Indeed, my reading is that lower-ranked teams in the ICC ratings could be the ones to watch out for in this tournament. That Pakistan are No.6 is neither here nor there, for everybody knows how much talent they pack. Temperamentally, they remain suspect, of course.

New Zealand, No.7, suddenly seem to be finding their groove and motivation. The top order is getting runs aplenty, which is just what the highly efficient seam attack has been seeking for a while now. As always, they are a brilliant fielding unit.

The West Indies, interestingly, come in last, at No.8, but that could be grossly misleading. The side has experience and class, at least for limited-overs cricket. The batting line-up is deep and has been in intimidating form. The bowling has been less impressive, but has good variety.

In Twenty20, these players have been exhilarating. They now need to show that the revival of cricket in the Caribbean extends beyond just the three-and-a-half-hour game. That could be the best parting gift from the Champions Trophy.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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