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Champions Trophy fights for recognition
September 08, 2004 11:30 IST
The ICC Champions Trophy begins in England on Friday with the game's administrators hoping the competition captures the imagination.
The second biggest one-day tournament after the World Cup has struggled to assert itself on a calendar swamped with one-day fixtures.
Nevertheless all the major cricket-playing nations will compete alongside Kenya and qualifiers the United States to make up a tournament whose main advantage over the four-yearly World Cup is the sparsity of dead-rubber matches.
The 12 teams are split into four pools of three for the group stage with games played at The Oval, Edgbaston and the Rose Bowl in Southampton. The pool winners then compete in semi-finals before the final at The Oval on September 25.
World champions Australia are favourites, although they are starting to feel their age and must beat combative rivals New Zealand to progress, assuming both hammer the United States.
India and Sri Lanka shared the trophy in 2002 after the final in Colombo was washed out and both return with realistic ambitions of retaining the title, especially Sri Lanka after their 5-0 drubbing at home to South Africa last month.
Sri Lanka's biggest hindrance will be the loss of spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.
"Murali is a great bowler but without him the other bowlers have a responsibility to do well," said former captain Sanath Jayasuriya.
India too must do without their talisman, Sachin Tendulkar, after he was ruled out of with tennis elbow.
They meet Pakistan in the last match of the group stages on September 19, which is made all the more gripping by its sudden death nature if they both dispatch Kenya as expected.
On current form the player of the tournament should be England's Andrew Flintoff, who has been in outstanding touch with bat and ball in both of forms of the game.
He averages only 35 in one-day cricket after an indifferent start to his career but has a strike rate of over 90 with the bat and an economy rate with the ball of just over four.
South Africa need a recovery from their Sri Lanka tour with captain Graeme Smith aware they are not the force they were after losing a record-equalling 10 one-dayers.
"We have a lot to prove as we have not had the best of starts to our season," he said. "In a way we are big underdogs."
South Africa's problems do not compare with the plight of neighbours Zimbabwe, who have been suspended from playing tests by the ICC after 15 top players refused to play citing discrimination in selection policy.
Some experience remains and young wicketkeeper and captain Tatenda Taibu is mature beyond his years, but most of the squad is untried.
Bangladesh will be spying a shock victory on September 15 against an ill-disciplined West Indies side, who nonetheless have been performing much better in one-dayers than tests.
"From the team's point of view it has been a disappointing year but we have the opportunity to bounce back," West Indies vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan said.
The ICC is using the tournament to trial the use of third umpires in checking for no balls and will also be reviewing slow bowling actions.