Cashing in on the India-Pakistan rivalry

Despite India being the defending champions, the team to watch will be England. The host team has played some incredible cricket over the last two years. Besides, England not only have the home advantage but also a team that is brimming with talent.

India begin their defence of the ICC Champions Trophy with a banana peel of a game against Pakistan. Ever since the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean — where India and Pakistan were in different groups and were expected to meet in the quarterfinals, but both were dumped out of the tournament in the group stage itself — the ICC has not taken any chances and irrespective of their rankings, India and Pakistan find themselves in the same group so that there will be at least one big clash between the two.

Other teams may find themselves pitted against each other according to their rankings but not India and Pakistan, which is perhaps the most money spinning clash in world cricket. Tickets for this game were sold out virtually minutes after they became available.

Champions Trophy 2017 is going to be Virat Kohli’s first big event after taking over as skipper in all three formats of the game. So he will be keen to do well and bring the trophy back home again.   -  K. R. Deepak

 

India, on paper, have the more experienced team, but Pakistan have invariably raised the level of their game when playing against India, as the rewards for doing well and beating the oldest rival are humongous. The Indians may not be as well rewarded for beating Pakistan, but they are aware how big the game is for millions of their fans, of whom most would rather that India lose the Champions Trophy but win against Pakistan.

In such a scenario, the pressure is enormous. Once the game is done and dusted then the players can start playing as they usually do without the heavy burden of expectations that an India-Pakistan clash brings. In recent times, the Indians have coped with the pressure a lot better than the Pakistanis have done, and so hold a slight psychological advantage.

This is going to be Virat Kohli’s first big event after taking over as skipper in all three formats of the game. So he will be keen to do well and bring the trophy back home again. He has a good, balanced unit, and while his own form and that of a few others in the recently concluded Indian Premier League has been patchy, the 50-over format does allow more time for the batsman to settle down and then unfurl his full range of shots.

What will be the most satisfying for the Indian team management is how well its new ball bowlers have performed as death overs bowlers in this IPL. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been bowling splendidly in the final overs of an innings, the manner in which Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav have strangled batsmen has been very uplifting. Then there is Ravichandran Ashwin who, after a break from the game to get fully fit from his injury, will be wanting to show that he is a winner in all conditions.

Despite India being the defending champions, the team to watch will be England. The host team has played some incredible cricket over the last two years. Besides, England not only have the home advantage but also a team that is brimming with talent. They have match-winners right down to the final player and it will be a real surprise if they don’t lift the trophy.

The other strong contenders are South Africa and Australia. The South Africans were the first champions of this tournament in 1998, but since then they have made it a habit of choking in multi-nation tournaments.

South Africa will miss Dale Steyn, but with Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis in tremendous form and Quinton de Kock refreshed after a lay-off, they will be wanting to put the tag of chokers behind them. There is also AB de Villiers, who can turn a match on its head with his audacious batting. So, as far as batting is concerned, South Africa are well served. In bowling, Kagiso Rabada’s extra speed always makes him a dangerous opponent and Imran Tahir will bring his craftiness to the party as well.

The Australians may just be a little tired, for most of their players have not really had the time to go home for a long time. They played a series in India, then participated in the IPL, and within days are in England. So, if they can get over the mental fatigue that long flights can bring, then, as always, they will be a force to reckon with.

The other teams, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, have players who can make an impact but whether they will be able to sustain it through the tournament is the big question. If they do, then the fancied teams better watch out. It will then be a real nail-biting event.

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