Champions Trophy preview

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As the winter cricket season draws to a close, the big international teams will already be planning for the Champions Trophy, with analysis, team’s picks and extra coaching surely underway by now. The pundits are certainly starting to come out of the woodwork and the experts are making their picks.

Thought of as the second most important ODI tournament after the world cup, the Champions Trophy has been held in venues across the world since 1998 and is now a key event on the cricket calendar. The tournament was originally open to all full members of the ICC, but since 2009 only the 8 highest ranked teams, based on rankings from six months before the competition, are invited to compete. This year's tournament runs from the 1st to the 18th of June, with games being played at the London Oval, Edgbaston in Birmingham and Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.

The eight competing teams are split into two groups before heading into a knockout stage. This year group A sees hosts England going up against Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand and group B consists of current champions India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

The winter seasons has seen Australia and New Zealand take the top spots in the rankings after solid seasons from both teams, although Australia were on the end of a 5-0 whitewash against South Africa in September last year. Even though they have the strongest team on paper and the best batsman and bowler in Steve Smith and David Warner, they will still be the team to beat. The South Africans will certainly be dark horses at this year's tournament and have current second best ranked ODI batsman and modern cricket legend AB de Villiers who will be something of a Talisman for the South Africans. Of course, the hosts England will be at an advantage with a raucous home crowd behind them and are currently joint favourites, but their ODI outings against India and Bangladesh over the winter didn't blow any minds. They will have to work hard in a tough group and none of their games are guaranteed victories.

There are a few injuries and form questions at the moment that are influencing selection, but there have been some interesting selection decisions over the winter which could influence how the teams will look come summer. India fielded some real veterans against England last year, with very few young stars included on the team sheet. This may have paid off with a 2-1 series victory, but the real question is whether they will change their tactics over the next few months. Players like Kedar Jadhav looked good in the middle order and the surprise inclusion of 39 year old left arm, middle pacer Ashish Nehra, who missed a lot IPL games through injury, gave the team extra experience and something different for the English batsmen to face. England on the other hand have decided to field the same squad against the West Indies in their upcoming series, so it will be interesting to see how they react to the defeat by India and whether the squad will change before the tournament.

As it stands, the tournament is still wide open with many teams still benefiting from a full complement of players to pick from. It will be interesting to see how coaches react to injuries that will certainly come up over the next 5 months and who will be the bookies' favourite after the next set of ODI and T20I matches. Hopefully the 2017 Champions Trophy will be an enjoyable midway point between world cups that will allow us to see some excellent one-day cricket dusted with a few surprises.

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