HOP­ING TO COME GOOD

Eng­land, S. Africa bid to end ti­tle droughts

New Straits Times - - Sport -

SOUTH Africa and Eng­land are the peren­nial un­der­achiev­ers in one-day in­ter­na­tional cricket, mix­ing high hopes with high-pro­file fail­ures in the big tour­na­ments.

They’ll have to cope with the favourites’ tag at the eight-team Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy start­ing to­mor­row.

The South Africans are the topranked ODI team, with the topranked bats­man (AB de Vil­liers) and the top-ranked bowler (Im­ran Tahir). That should in­stall the Proteas as the out­right favourites but it’s been a long and painful tro­phy drought since win­ning their only piece of ICC sil­ver­ware at the in­au­gu­ral Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in 1998. Four semi-fi­nal de­feats in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy to go along­side four semi-fi­nal losses in the Cricket World Cups.

The English, play­ing at home and with a newf o u n d e n t h u s iasm for the one­day for­mat un­der coach Trevor Bayliss, are many peo­ple’s tips. Yet they have never won an ICC tro­phy, hav­ing been a run­ner-up three times at the World Cup and lost fi­nals on home soil in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in 2004 and 2013.

Still, it would be a sur­prise if the two teams didn’t qual­ify for the semi-fi­nals in what should be a com­pet­i­tive tour­na­ment and be­ing held across three lo­ca­tions — The Oval in Lon­don; Edg­bas­ton in Birm­ing­ham; and Sophia Gar­dens in Cardiff, Wales.

In­dia and Aus­tralia — ranked Nos 2 and 3, re­spec­tively, and teams that reg­u­larly de­liver on the big stage — are the other likely semi­fi­nal­ists.

With its rapid-fire sched­ule and the strength of its field, the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy is ar­guably the pre­ferred 50-over event for play­ers and fans com­pared to the Cricket World Cup, which can drag on for six weeks and where many re­sults can be pre­dicted.

Pak­istan, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka should be com­pet­i­tive, while the rank out­siders, Bangladesh, are ca­pa­ble of caus­ing a shock — as shown in the 2015 World Cup when they beat Eng­land to reach the knock­out stage.

That Bangladesh qual­i­fied for the event ahead of the West Indies, the 2004 win­ners and cur­rent T20 world cham­pi­ons, un­der­lines the team’s qual­ity.

“This tour­na­ment is go­ing to be hard for us, play­ing a group that is very hard in the con­di­tions,” Bangladesh cap­tain Mashrafe Mor­taza said of op­po­nents Eng­land, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. “On your day, you can do any­thing; we have qual­ity play­ers who can change the game.”

In­dia might be the team to beat. The de­fend­ing cham­pion have not played an ODI since Jan­uary and are bur­dened with ex­pec­ta­tion, as ever, but have matchsharp play­ers due to the ma­jor­ity of their squad be­ing in­volved in the T20 In­dian Premier League. So high-scor­ing are mod­ern­day ODIs that the mind­set and range of shots are not too dis­sim­i­lar over the two shorter for­mats, so the IPL could prove to be ideal prepa­ra­tion for In­dia.

And then there’s Vi­rat Kohli, cricket’s su­per­star player not just in In­dia but be­yond. The cap­tain av­er­ages nearly 82 in his last 16 ODI in­nings and top-scored with 43 in the 2013 fi­nal.

“We won last time be­cause our fast bowlers did very well, our spin­ners were strong and our open­ing bats­man did well. They were the main three fac­tors,” Kohli said.

“This year, the team is a lot fit­ter, the crick­eters are a lot more ma­ture, be­cause that was a very young group four years ago.”

Aus­tralia, Bangladesh, Eng­land, New Zealand.

In­dia, Pak­istan, South Africa, Sri Lanka.

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