No easy games at Champions Trophy

Former Black Caps paceman Shane Bond believes the Champions Trophy provides a more equal platform for teams to display their prowess than the World Cup.

The eighth edition of the ICC Champions Trophy, which will be held in England and Wales from June 1, will witness the top eight sides in ICC’s ODI rankings as on September 30, 2015, battle it out in a round-robin and knockout tournament.

Bond, who is one of the eight ambassadors for the tournament, said the format of the tournament is such that there would be no “foregone conclusions”.

“I really enjoy the format,” said Bond. “I think the format gives you an opportunity to stay in after one loss, which is great, and all the matches are important.

“There are different challenges playing such good teams one after the other, and the turnaround between matches is pretty quick. Nice and fast. I think the fans enjoy it. No games are a foregone conclusion – I don’t mean it’s like that in the World Cup, but you know some teams are going to struggle to beat the powerhouses.”

With 147 wickets from 82 games in an ODI career spanning nearly a decade, Bond was a force to reckon with during the 2000s.

In his time with the New Zealand side, he participated in three editions of the Champions Trophy, and picked out two particular spells as particularly special ones.

In only his second Champions Trophy game, Bond returned figures of 4 for 21 from five overs against Bangladesh in Colombo in 2002.

“It was my first Champions Trophy, and we used to have groups of three then, so if you lost one match, you were likely to go out,” reminisced Bond. “We played Australia first and they hammered us, beat us by 164 runs. Then Australia beat Bangladesh, so the match against Bangladesh became a dead rubber for us.

“It was my first time in Sri Lanka, and I struggled, I found it very oppressive, the weather. But I got four wickets in that game against Bangladesh. I got all those wickets in my first three overs, and the one I remember the most is when Stephen Fleming took a belter in the slips (for the wicket of Alok Kapali) one handed, diving to his left. That was a stunning catch.”

The second spell Bond recalled was his 3 for 45 against Pakistan in 2006 in Mohali. He accounted for Imran Farhat, Mohammad Yousuf and Abdur Razzaq to guide New Zealand to a 51-run win. That win earned New Zealand a spot in the semifinal but they ran into their nemesis Australia and crashed out.

“It was a must-win game for us. We had beaten South Africa and then lost to Sri Lanka. So it became like a quarterfinal for us. We’d had some problems against Abdur Razzaq, he used to come and belt us. So we had a plan of bowling slow bouncers to him, and that’s what I did. Those were big boundaries at Mohali, and he was caught at long-on by James Franklin trying to hook me. I remember there being a lot of dew. But that match went well for us but then we lost to Australia in the semifinal,” he recalled.

Bond’s 2009 Champions Trophy didn’t reflect his ability; yet New Zealand made it to the final, only to lose to Australia yet again. This time around, he reckoned, New Zealand possesses all the right attributes to go the distance.

“You look at the state of world cricket at the moment, in Test cricket especially, but even in the one-day format, there is very little to separate the teams,” he said.

“For New Zealand, it comes down to picking a good combination and firing on the day. I think they are a little uncertain about the best combination, but I think New Zealand have a pretty good chance. We have always had a pretty good record of making the semifinals in these tournaments. With the World Cup in 2015, we are starting to push the finals, which is pretty encouraging.”

One of the major reasons for New Zealand’s success in the World Cup in 2015 was an inspiring show from its bowling unit, led by Trent Boult and Tim Southee.

Speaking of New Zealand’s current pace stocks, Bond said: “It’s probably the best we have ever had. Trent Boult is the leader in Test matches, and Tim Southee and he are together in the shorter games. If you look at New Zealand’s best XI of all time, you’d probably have both of them there. So Boult and Southee. Adam Milne will be fit. Matt Henry. Neil Wagner. Lockie Ferguson. Mitch McClenaghan. You wonder whom to leave out – it’s a nice selection conundrum.
The experience of playing in England ahead of the World Cup will be good for New Zealand: Shane Bond.

“New Zealand are taking Scott Kuggeleijn and Seth Rance to Ireland for the tri-series next month. Also Hamish Bennett. All these guys are under 30, so they will be around for a while. The World Cup is in England in two years, and the experience of playing in England at the Champions Trophy will be good for them. That’s great. They complement each other; our bowling stocks are pretty strong, even the spin department. All of them have to be at their best, of course.”

New Zealand cricket was expected to go through a sticky transition period after Brendon McCullum’s retirement in early 2016, but much to everyone’s surprise it bounced back from a brief slump to turn into a formidable unit under Kane Williamson.

“He is still learning,” said Bond of Williamson’s captaincy. “I liked what he did against South Africa recently. The way he captained the side was pretty good, very positive, he puts his own spin on things. He brings a lot of calm to the field. He is a calm and humble man, and he captains the same way. He looks under control, not flustered at all. There is no better man than him to captain New Zealand.”