Champions Trophy Group A preview
We hate to give in to cliches but Group A of the Champions Trophy is shaping up to be the ‘group of death’ with 2015 World Cup winners Australia grouped with beaten finalists New Zealand, hosts England and Bangladesh.
Here we take a look at each team’s chances of progressing and indeed winning the coveted quadrennial showpiece.
The hosts start the tournament as favourites having enjoyed a remarkable resurgence in fifty over cricket after their disastrous exit from the 2015 World Cup when a loss to Bangladesh saw them bow out at the group stage.
The country that gave us cricket remarkably have never won an ICC tournament suffering defeat in no fewer than five finals and will be desperate to pick up a win.
England’s success has been built on an aggressive style with Eoin Morgan’s men passing 300 batting first more often than any other team in the last two years.
Any team that can’t find a place in their XI for red-hot batsman Jonny Bairstow can certainly claim to have an embarrassment of riches.
The team is blessed with a plethora of potent allrounders led by Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali who showed their value in the recent series victory over the number one-ranked ODI team in the world, South Africa. Moeen hit an incredible unbeaten 77 in the series opener in Leeds before Stokes blistering hundred at the Rose Bowl.
The team has a settled feel to it with most changes from match to match likely to centre around bowling options with the top six of Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Morgan, Stokes and Buttler pretty much set in stone.
The collapse they suffered in the final ODI against South Africa is unlikely to disturb them too much but such a slip up in the compressed Champions Trophy programme could see them suffer another ICC tournament heartbreak.
Key Player: With ample firepower it’s hard to pick just one but Stokes is in a league of his own right now and could be set for a massive tournament.
Australia are perennial favourites when it comes to ICC tournaments and as reigning world champions will yet again be expected to at the very least make the knockout phase.
Standing in their way though are in-form hosts England, a Black Caps outfit that bested them in their most recent bilateral series and dark horses Bangladesh.
With the cloud of a nasty pay dispute hanging over them Steve Smith and the boys will want to lift the trophy and anything short of top spot will be ranked as a failure by the Aussie cricketing media and fans.
Like England, Australia have a potent top six with openers Aaron Finch and David Warner both capable of taking a game away from the opposition in a hurry.
Early indications appear to be that we are set for a high scoring tournament but Australia have a group of men who will be looking to do some damage with the ball.
Their pace quartet of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson is the envy of world cricket in swing and pace friendly conditions and they have 2016’s leading wicket-taker leggie Adam Zampa waiting in the wings along with allrounder John Hastings, who tuned up for the Champions Trophy with a successful spell at Worcestershire after his domestic season in Australia was cut short.
On paper they look a tough side to beat but cricket is played on grass not paper and this team have endured a rollercoaster ride since the 2015 World Cup including a 5-0 defeat in South Africa late last year.
Key Player: Warner had a stunning 2016 scoring more ODI hundreds than anyone else and enjoyed a great IPL where he led the Sunrisers Hyderabad to the playoffs and topped the runscoring charts, he is a man who could blast Oz to their third Champions Trophy title.
The Black Caps seem to have mastered the art of the noble defeat but this unit will not be content with just scrapping hard against the big boys and coming up just short.
Led by the extraordinarily talented Kane Williamson the Black Caps are a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, they are energetic in the field and make up for their lack of stars with grit.
New Zealand do of course have a number of world-class performers like their skipper Williamson, opener Martin Guptill and quick bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult.
They will be on the prowl for any slip-ups by Australia and England while sporting confidence that they can yet again dispatch Bangladesh in conditions that may prove tricky for the much-improved Tigers.
The Black Caps are ranked above England in the ICC ODI rankings though and beat Australia in a short bilateral series. A single win against one of those two coupled with what should be a straight-forward assignment against Bangladesh will likely see them progress and could book a semi-final date against 2015 World Cup semi-final opponents South Africa.
Key Player: Williamson isn’t their sole light in terms of batting but he is the only Black Cap who can be mentioned in the same breath as AB de Villiers, Warner, Smith, Root and Kohli and if they are to win the tournament he will have to fire.
The group’s dark horses come into the Champions Trophy on a high and free of the burden of expectation.
Ranked sixth in ODI cricket after a win against an under-strength New Zealand in Ireland which followed a tied bilateral series in Sri Lanka Bangladesh are better than they have ever been.
They have a great blend of youth and experience with senior men Mashrafe Mortaza, Shakib-al-Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim providing cool heads while young allrounder Sabbir Rahman and left-arm quick Mustafizur Rahman bring youthful exuberance.
They have struggled outside of Asia though failing to win a single match on their tour of New Zealand at the turn of the year.
Taskin Ahmed backs up Mustafizur well in the seam-bowling ranks in a team that sport a good balance with plenty of batting prowess up top.
The one area where Bangladesh still lag behind though is fielding, dropped catches and misfields have cost them dearly in recent months and taken the gloss off their run to their highest ever ODI ranking.
Key Player: A fragile middle-order will leave a bug burden on the shoulders of opener Tamim Iqbal but he is a player who has shown the ability to get big runs in a hurry.
1 England v Bangladesh, The Oval (10:30 BST)
2 Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (10:30 BST)
5 Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (d/n) (13:30 BST)
6 England v New Zealand, Cardiff (10:30 BST)
9 New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (10:30 BST)
10 England v Australia, Edgbaston (10:30 BST)
14 First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (10:30 BST)
15 Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (10:30 BST)
18 Final, The Oval (10:30 BST; reserve day on 19 June)
Conclusion: If everything runs according to script England and Australia will progress from this group, as much as New Zealand and Bangladesh are quality teams the hosts and the World Champions should have the big match temperament to progress and perhaps go all the way.
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