The year began with the thrilling Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India; that was followed by the Indian Premier League, which is still underway. 2017 began with a promise of non-stop and some exciting cricket throughout the year. Just when the IPL will end towards the end of May, the attention will switch to England, the venue that is all set to host the eighth edition of the ICC Champions Trophy. The top eight ODI teams – South Africa, Australia, India, England, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, will be seen locking horns with an aim to get their hands on the coveted trophy. Barring Pakistan, England and Bangladesh, rest other teams have triumphed in the ICC event at least once. India and Australia are the only countries to have won the Champions Trophy twice.
The top five teams in the ICC ODI team rankings – South Africa, Australia, India, New Zealand and England – have all produced positive results recently in the 50-over format. And considering how immensely the likes of Bangladesh have improved of late, one just can’t write them off during the initial stages of the tournament. Prior to the CT 2017, it is tricky to predict which teams will make it to the final, let alone the winning side.
However, Steven Smith’s Australia is being believed to be a threat to the other teams. The Australian side, which had climbed to the No. 1 rank in 2014, held the pole position for two and a half years before South Africa dethroned them in February 2017.
Australia have played in England, more than any other sides. They have played 93 ODIs in England since their maiden game in 1970. Out of which, the Australians have won 49, lost 40, tied 3 and three matches have ended in no result. The last time Australia toured England, although they lost the Ashes 2015, they outclassed the hosts in the shorter format. Smith and Co. had sealed the five-ODI series 3-2, courtesy of superb pace bowling from the Australians, which was aided by the English fast and bouncy tracks.
The three grounds that are going to host the Champions Trophy games next month in England are Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens, Birmingham’s Edgbaston and London’s Kennington Oval. Cardiff’s pitch has been flat in the recent times and that will bring power-hitting into the picture. Australia have several hard-hitters in the team. Edgbaston, the ground that hosted the 2013 Champions Trophy final, is a good bowling wicket. It is reputed to assist the spinners and Australia have a couple of spin options in the side. On the other hand, Kennington Oval is a perfect scripted pitch for the Australians. Since it supports the fast bowlers along with being flat, both pacers and batsmen will have a collective role to play.
Strength on the top…
David Warner, who was the top run-scorer in 2016, with 1,388 runs in 23 ODIs, will be Australia’s strengthen on the top. He current averages 44.84 and has vast experience having played 93 ODIs. Even in 2017, he has managed to carry the same momentum. He bettered his CV when he smashed his highest ODI score of 179 earlier in January. He will be partnered mostly by either of Aaron Finch or Chris Lynn to open the innings for Australia.
Although Lynn has played just one ODI for Australia, the selectors have considered him a worth for a gamble, owning to his destructive skills with the bat. Lynn missed the initial few matches for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) as he was recovering from a string of serious injuries. Despite not being 100 percent fit, he has been their stand out batsman with a superb strike-rate of 186.33.
Out of the three, it is Finch who has a better average in England. Having played seven ODIs in the country, he has scored 209 at 41.80. Meanwhile, Warner and Steven Smith, who are considered to be Australia’s pillars in batting, do not average even 30 on the English soils in the 50-over format. There might be consistent issues with batsmen such as Finch, Matthew Wade, Lynn and Glenn Maxwell, Warner and Smith have proved in the recent times that consistency is surely their cup of tea, hence they are like the strongest pillars of the Australian batting line-up, that can take away games from an opponent and make it appear as a very effortless act.
Finding an all-rounder is every team’s first priority these days, be it any format. When a player can don two roles simultaneously, he is undoubtedly a captain’s first choice. No other team at present has as many all-rounders in the squad as Australia and this has surely given the Australians an upper hand. They are lucky to have found four promising all-rounders for their ODI team.
The likes of Maxwell, Moises Henriques, Marcus Stoinis and Travis Head have been picked at a hope of delivering for the team with both bat and ball. All being a bowling all-rounder, there is always a scope of roping in an extra batsman for the top, which is at all times a strengthening factor. Even as Henriques, Stoinis and Head have never played an ODI in England, the selectors have judged them as the better prospects for the team in a crucial tournament like CT 2017.
The pace quartet
The Australian side’s power has always been associated to their fast bowlers. After the retirements of Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Ryan Harris and other pacers, Australia have finally found a talented bunch of spearheads in the white-ball game. It is all set to unleash its fierce fast bowling quartet of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Patterson and Pat Cummins in the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy. They also have a pace option is John Hastings and that makes it five strong fast bowlers for Australia. This is nothing but a plus point, in view of England’s bouncy and fast pitches.
In 2015, after winning the first two ODIs, Australia went on to lose the next two and that made the fifth ODI as the decider of the five-match series. Hastings’ three wickets along with Mitchell Marsh’s four scalps restricted England to 138 in 50 overs and Australia eventually won the match by eight wickets. It was Cummins who had topped the wickets’ charts in the series and Australia will hope that the young pacer will step up once again.
If each one of the players delivers their role as per the plan, the squad that is comprised of a very strong batting line-up, a ferocious pace quartet, and a few brilliant all-rounders, certainly seems as a contender to lift a record third Champions Trophy!