The Champions Trophy may not carry the same glamour as the Cricket World Cup, but with 15 games packed in the two-and-a-half weeks, it is sure to be a festival of entertainment.
The beauty of the Champions Trophy is that its quick-paced nature means no side can really afford to lose any of their group games, given that there are only eight teams in the competition and three matches for each country to try and top the group.
Group A seems to be slightly tougher as hosts England will have to face Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Meanwhile in Group B, England’s recent ODI series opponents South Africa are expected to progress with India, but Pakistan and Sri Lanka will have something to say about that.
Australia – The Aussies currently sit second in the ICC ODI rankings behind South Africa, but they are current World Cup holders and have previously won the Champions Trophy on two occasions, demonstrating the winning pedigree of a country whose love for the game is undisputed. They stand at odds of 9/2 to win the tournament.
Their line-up is star-studded too, with David Warner and Steve Smith sitting in the top 20 ODI batsmen while Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood do the same in the bowling rankings. The key for Australia may be their all-rounders, however, with James Faulker, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and the aforementioned Starc adding a wealth of options to an already talented squad. Chris Lynn will be an interesting dynamic for the Baggy Greens too; undoubtedly in red-hot form but also having only made one ODI appearance ahead of the tournament – making just 16.
Australia’s shortcoming could possibly be a lack of an established spinner, but Adam Zampa is young and has huge potential, so he will be looking to announce his name in a big way.
David Warner Leading Runscorer
Australia to win Group A
Bangladesh – Bangladesh head into the tournament sitting sixth in the ODI rankings, above Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but are a huge outside shot at 67/1. This is the strongest side that the Tigers have ever put together and it would be wise to give them the respect they deserve.
Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal are without question the stars of a team which is littered with useful players, while Bangladesh boast three players in the top 20 ODI bowling rankings: namely Al Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza and talented paceman Mustafizur Rahman, who at just 21 will be looking to make an impression on the big stage. However, this is probably the least favourable group they could have got and the location they would least want the tournament to be in.
Mustafizur Rahman top wicket taker
England – In England we see a side that has completely transformed since being dumped out of the Cricket World Cup in 2015. This is reflected in the fact that England are 4/1 joint-favourites (with South Africa) to win the tournament and joint favourites with Australia to top Group A.
England come into the tournament having making over 320 in four of their last six ODIs and they are a team that bats very deep, with even Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett capable of adding runs late in the order. The worry for captain Eoin Morgan will be that his bowling unit has also conceded some high scores in that period, while an injury to Ben Stokes comes at the wrong time. Still, a line-up including the likes of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Morgan, Mark Wood et al has given the hosts optimism that they can capture a first ODI tournament trophy.
England to win tournament
Adil Rashid leading wicket taker
New Zealand – The Black Caps head into this tournament fourth in the ODI rankings, but they are a side with great balance and will be looking to cause a Group A upset for hosts England and rivals Australia.
Wicket-taking is key in the direction that ODI cricket is heading; one where scores of 300+ are the rule rather than the exception. Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner – both in the top 10 ODI bowling rankings – should take a fair chunk, while Kane Williamson is familiar with English pitches and could rack up serious runs. The Kiwis always play well at major tournaments but never get across the line, however wins in their first two games (although a big ask) could send them on their way.
Kane Williamson leading run scorer
New Zealand to win Group A
India – India are third in the ICC ODI rankings, but their fans will be thinking this is a perfect opportunity for their experience-laden squad to defender the Champions Trophy title and they are fourth favourites at 6/1.
Mohammad Shami, Bhuvi Kumar and Umesh Yadav provide versatile pace options while Jasprit Bumrah is a top death bowler. Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja are fearsome all-rounders too, and of course we must not forget Virat Kohli, so while the BCCI and events off the field may have disrupted India’s build-up to the tournament, the players must believe they can go far.
India to win tournament
Virat Kohli leading run scorer
Pakistan – Pakistan are one of the most unpredictable sides in international cricket; on their day they are a match for anyone, but inconsistency is exactly why they only qualified for the Champions Trophy two ranking points ahead of the West Indies.
The big names are there: Sarfraz Ahmed, Azhar Ali, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik provide a healthy mix of tournament experience and youthful exuberance. Also, 22-year-old Babar Azam is one to watch for the future, possessing an ODI average north of 55, plus Shadab Khan is a good spin option for Pakistan to have. Mohammad Amir is a master of English conditions too, so perhaps this could be time for his re-emergence after a six-year ban.
However, with the Pakistan Cricket Board, controversy is never far away – and they must hope that Umar Akmal’s expulsions from the squad after failing a fitness test does not distract a group of players who will thoroughly wish to make a huge statement. Memories of a 4-1 series defeat in England last year will still be fresh, though…
Pakistan to finish bottom of the group
Mohammad Amir top wicket taker
South Africa – Everything ranking wise is heavily stacked in South Africa’s favour; good reason for them to be joint favourites at 4/1.
According to the ICC, they have the best batsman in the world (AB de Villiers), as well as the two best bowlers in Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir. Add to that an opening pairing of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, plus the big-hitting exploits of David Miller and Chris Morris, and you have a team that is dreaming.
However, it is South Africa, and the Proteas have a knack of losing games in big tournaments, something which could play on their minds, as could their 2-1 series defeat to England recently.
South Africa to win the tournament
Kagiso Rabada top wicket taker
Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka are a long shot at 41/1, but it’s worth remembering that their major tournament record is impressive: they won the World Twenty20 in 2014 and reached the final of the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.
Lasith Malinga is back after an 18-month absence, providing a big boost to a bowling unit that needs strike bowlers to work effectively. The weight of expectation will be on the shoulders of Dickwella, Tharanga, Perera et al as they prepare to enter an era without Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara.
Their recent form on the other hand offers little hope: they were whitewashed in South Africa and beaten in a warm-up game by Scotland.
Sri Lanka to finish bottom of the group
Niroshan Dickwella top scorer
Of course the nature of such a quick-fire tournament means practically anything can happen. Momentum coming into the Champions Trophy means very little, while momentum gained from a win in that first group game could prove to be huge. Picking a winner is immensely difficult; expectation on England could be too high, and the other contenders will thrive on that.
India’s fanatical supporters like to make any game in England feel like a home fixture, and their depth of squad and composed nature in major tournaments has me feeling that it could be their year yet again.
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By Oli Fisher