Today, we will look at two of the conventional 50-over favorites of the upcoming Champions Trophy in England.
Australia and South Africa have been cricket teams that have almost always entered every ICC tournament as one of the pre-tournament big boys. However, as we know, only one of them has enjoyed consistent success in multi-national Cup tournaments like this one.
Captain: Steve Smith
Best Performances: Winners (2006, 2009)
Finals: 2006, 2009
W-L record: 12-7
In the 2013 Champions Trophy, as defending champions, Australia failed to win a single match in their group stages – losing to England and Sri Lanka, while having a rained-out game against New Zealand. George Bailey was the Aussie captain, while Mitchell Starc wasn’t the force he is today.
This time, under Steve Smith, the Aussies are a younger and more flexible side – though they’re yet to prove themselves overseas in the limited-overs format. Less than six months ago, they were whitewashed 5-0 by South Africa. They find themselves in the relatively easier group – with New Zealand, Bangladesh and hosts England – and will have only three matches to undo memories of their last Champions Trophy campaign in England.
In captain Steve Smith, they have a man who is perhaps the best batsman in world cricket today across formats. He is a big-tournament player, proven by his five consecutive fifties in the World Cup down under in 2015 to help his team to the title.
Vice Captain David Warner is back in form, thanks to the Indian T20 League, where he ended as top-scorer once again. He was struggling for form in international cricket before April. Big hitter Chris Lynn has been selected this time, no doubt a result of his frightening form for the Kolkata Knight Riders last month. Glenn Maxwell is a better ODI player than he is a T20 specialist. After a century on Test return against India, he will be a more confident player in the middle order – especially in England’s smaller grounds and flatter wickets.
Australia’s seam bowling attack is perhaps the best out of all – James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, with John Hastings, Marcus Stoinis and Moises Henriques as medium pacers. If all of them are fit, teams will have a tough time playing the pace of Starc and Cummins. But again, this attack can get one-dimensional, especially in the slog overs.
The all-round ability of Australia is second to only England – with Henriques, Stoinis, Maxwell, Travis Head and Hastings fully capable of playing both roles on a day.
As usual, their spin attack is a bit light. Leggie Adam Zampa is the only frontline spinner, with Maxwell and Head the only other part-time options. Clearly, the Aussies don’t expect the pitches to be turning too much – and this isn’t the first time they’ve entered a major tournament without much in this department. Yet, they’ve found a way earlier.
Their wicketkeeper Matthew Wade isn’t much of a batsman as compared to the decorated hitters in the line-up. He is more or less a specialist glovesman, and could well prove to be a weak link when they chase big totals.
Prediction: Second in the group after England
Captain: AB de Villiers
Best Performance: Winner (1998)
W-L Record: 11-9
The ‘C’ word will be thrown around a lot more again, given that the World no. 1 ranked ODI side has just come out of a 2-1 series loss to England in those conditions. They were in a great position to win the second match. With only 7 needed of the final over with hitters Chris Morris and David Miller at the crease, they yet failed. This was the first bilateral series they had lost in ages. But they will be confident after thrashing England in the dead rubber match at Lord’s – where they had England 20-6 at one stage. In the 2013 Champions Trophy, they reached the semifinals before going down to the hosts (175 all out) in a one-sided game. This time, they are in the same group as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Between AB, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock as well as Faf du Plessis, the Proteas have the best top order in ODI cricket right now. All of them are back in form, and seemed to have enjoyed the English conditions over the last fortnight. Chasing isn’t their strength, but they’ve started to stack their middle order up with big-hitting all-rounders. They might stand more of a chance of winning (or losing) from any position, than not standing a chance at all against bigger totals.
Kagiso Rabada is their trump card and best bowler right now. He destroyed England at Lord’s, and spearhead the team’s quest for just a second World title. Imran Tahir is the no. 1 ranked bowler in the shorter format, and one of the few world-class spinners in the tournament. He has Keshav Maharaj as a partner if needed, in the middle overs.
Rabada doesn’t have Dale Steyn to partner with, while Morne Morkel isn’t the destructive force he once was. As a result, he will depend on all-rounders Wayne Parnell, Dwaine Pretorius and Chris Morris for support. He will largely have to depend on Tahir to take wickets in the middle overs. For once, the South Africans look a far better batting side than bowling.
It has never really been about the talent or ability of their batsmen, but the mental fortitude on the big days. South Africans over the years have faltered at the last-4 hurdle repeatedly, and there is nobody more desperate than AB de Villiers right now. He has turned into more of a finisher for them in the middle order, taking up the role of a senior statesmen. He will hope for the form of JP Duminy – a crucial player required for the balance of the team, given that he can bowl quite a bit too.
Prediction: First in the group stages – ahead of the Asian teams. Which means they could face Australia in the semifinals.