Plenty at stake for eight contenders

Plenty at stake for eight contenders

Tournament needs top-draw stuff from teams to re-establish itself in the pecking order

The overpowering surge of the Twenty20 game has triggered passionate debate in the last several months over the very existence of the one-day international.  Several theories have been propagated, including famously by Sachin Tendulkar of splitting the 100 overs into four innings of 25 each, to keep interest in the original limited-overs format alive; bodies such as the England and Wales Cricket Board have already scrapped the 50-over version at the domestic level.

Against this backdrop, the International Cricket Council, as well as the international cricketing community, will watch with great interest just how successful the sixth edition of the Champions Trophy, to be staged in Johannesurg and Centurion – an hour’s drive from each other -- from Tuesday, turns out to be. On the face of it, this event ought to be a tremendous hit.

For the first time since it moved away from its original knockout format to a league-cum-knockout event, the Champions Trophy brings together the top eight teams alone on a single platform, though whether last edition runners-up West Indies, here with a second-string team, will provide the same quality as the rest is open to question.

In the past, the tournament was diluted by the inclusion of teams such as Holland and, believe it or not, the United States of America, competing in cricket’s Champions Trophy! Last time around, in India, the tournament proper had only eight teams, though a preliminary phase involving six matches among the bottom four teams in the ICC one-day rankings to decide two qualifiers took some sheen off the tournament. Saying that, there is every reason this time to believe the contests will be keenly fought out between a majority of evenly matched sides.

Eight teams, 15 matches, two venues – banners reading ‘Guard of Honour – Champion cricket’ dot the longish drive from the OR Tambo International Airport to the city centre, a pronouncement that will not be an empty boast if the teams play to their potential. The assembly of the top eight teams in the world will perhaps be the biggest calling card of the Champions Trophy, a tournament struggling to stay afloat and being held out of turn this year following the cancellation of last year’s edition in strife-torn Pakistan.

Technically, the Champions Trophy is the second most prestigious ICC event after the 50-over World Cup, even if in realistic terms, the World T20 has usurped that status. For the Champions Trophy, therefore, to re-establish itself in the pecking order will necessitate top-draw cricket from at least a handful of teams with plenty at stake. Not least among them are the high-flying troika of defending champions Australia, ephemeral world number one last week India, and the host nation, chomping at the bit at being denied their rightful place in the ICC awards shortlist and therefore being deprived of prime position in their own party that the awards function of October 1 in Johannesburg represents.

Thrice inside the last week, the number one ICC one-day ranking has changed hands. India took it away from South Africa for a day during the tri-series in Sri Lanka, only for the Proteas to regain it 24 hours later when India went down to the home side. Australia are the provisional number ones at the time of writing, the official status hinging on their final one-dayer against England on Sunday.

It’s precisely rivalry of this yo-yoing nature that will serve to keep interest in the competition alive. The ICC top brass will be delighted that so much is at stake going into a tournament of this magnitude, even if they have undoubtedly been left red-faced at the outrage in South African cricketing circles at the lack of Protean representation on ICC awards night.

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