LONDON: There are serious off-field issues plaguing both teams but defending champions India, along with the mighty Australia, will start as title contenders in the ICC Champions Trophy, beginning on Thursday.
Hosts England, who have shown amazing transformation as a potent limited-overs side, will be the ‘Dark Horse’ in the eight-team tournament where the once formidable West Indies are a notable absentee.
Hosts England will kickstart the tourney against minnows Bangladesh on Thursday before the much-awaited rivalry between India and Pakistan on June 4.
However, the two teams that will enjoy maximum traction are surely going to be India and Australia in a tournament where one can expect high-scoring matches on good batting tracks.
Both teams have a fantastic blend of youth and experience, a must for 50-over cricket.
Ironically, both teams have been in the news for reasons which aren’t exactly cricketing to say the least.
While a rumoured rift between Indian captain Virat Kohli and chief coach Anil Kumble has been gaining ground since the past few days, the Australian team’s payment dispute with their cricket board is out in the public domain.
Both teams will be starting their respective campaigns in such an uncomfortable backdrop, but they have quality players in their ranks, who will not let the controversies affect their game.
The Indian team has not displayed any signs of stress during their two warm-up matches which they won without breaking any sweat.
At the same time, Australia also came up with lively performances in their respective warm-up games.
India have the perfect balance with 9 players from the victorious 2013 side retained.
It will be Kohli’s first big test as captain in an ICC event and India’s best batsman would like to shrug off his disappointing IPL form going into the tournament.
With Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and none other than Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the team’s batting line up is the most experienced among all the eight participating nations.
The inexperienced Kedar Jadhav or the seasoned Dinesh Karthik are also good enough to win matches on their own.
All-rounder Hardik Pandya lends a good balance and for the first time, India have a four-pronged pace attack of Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
World’s premier spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are also there to stifle runs.
For Australia, the presence of David Warner, skipper Steve Smith and Aaron Finch gives the batting line-up a formidable look along with Glenn Maxwell in the middle order.
The fast bowling attack bears a fearsome look with Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Marcus Stoinis is an all-rounder with the x-factor.
Pakistan are an unpredictable team which has talent that often doesn’t translate into performance. But Sarfraz Ahmed’s side has the ability to do well.
Pakistan have had a knack of throwing up new talent. And this time, leg-spinner Shadab Khan and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf are new kids on the block.
Mohammed Aamir in English conditions could be lethal in the company of Wahab Riaz.
The team to watch out for could be England, which has made giant strides under Eoin Morgan’s captaincy.
In Jos Buttler and Jason Roy, they have two impactful openers. Morgan’s experience in the middle is invaluable and they have two of the best all-rounders in the game — Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes.
Stokes, in particular, has seen his stocks soar to an all time high after a brilliant IPL.
He has already sounded a warning signal with a hundred in a warm-up game. However, there are some niggling injury issues which might hamper him from bowling his full quota of 10 overs.
Woakes, a bowling all-rounder known for his variation and change ups, could prove to be a handful in the familiar home conditions.
While England, India and Australia remain firm contenders for the semi-final slot, South Africa, with players like AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla in their ranks, cannot be discounted either.
However, the eternal chokers tag is something that would always be an issue for the Proteas considering their dismal record at ICC events.
But they would like to remember that their only ICC triumph was this very tournament way back in 1998 during it’s inaugural edition in Dhaka.