The winter cricket season is almost up and the focus is now on the big summer tests, ODIs and tournaments.
One tournament that is growing in popularity is the Champions Cup, seen as the second most important one day international competition after the Cricket World Cup.
Started in 1998, the tournament was an open invitation to all full ICC members, but is now limited to the eight top international ODI teams in the world based on rankings from six months before the tournament.
This year’s tournament is being held in the UK, with fixtures taking place at Edgbaston in Birmingham, Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and the Oval in London.
The tournament kicks off on June 1, with a two group round followed by a knock out stage.
Group A sees hosts England facing Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia, with group B offering a tough mix of South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and current champions India.
Bookies are predicting this year to be tight and the groups just go to show that there isn’t going to be an easy game for any of the favourites in the run up to the final.
The winter season has seen Australia and New Zealand taking the top spots in the rankings, with both Anitpodean sides showing class in their winter fixtures.
Although the Ozzies took a hammering from South Africa in September, they have bounced back strong with some key individual performances. They have recently brought in new players in Chris Lynn and Travis Head from the The Big Bash after their strong showings in the initial stages of the tournament and will be looking for established ODI players like David Warner to grab games by the scruff of the neck.
In group B, India will be the team to beat and will be looking to retain their title. The key man to watch is the formidable Virat Kohli, India’s skipper. He has been unstoppable in all formats of the game and is setting himself up to be one of the all-time ODI greats. Although they have played it safe and fielded veterans over the winter, it will be interesting to see who will make the final tournament squad. There will certainly be some tough choices for the Indian selection committee.
England will of course be at a slight advantage with a home crowd cheering them on, but they will have to play well against some of the best T20 and ODI players in the world, all of whom will be looking to humiliate England in their own back yard.
With their captain back in form Eoin Morgan’s men are without doubt one of the more dangerous batting line ups. Their bowling is a slight concern and they are yet to fully master the art of ‘death bowling’ which they learnt in the harshest of manners recently on the subcontinent. Jason Roy will be the one to watch, with his aggressive batting a key element at the start of the innings. England really should reach the final, but the pressure could get to them if they don’t pull out the stops in their opening fixture.
The tournament will be a great filler between World Cups that should allow fans and coaches to see how their teams could shape up in 2019.
The tournament is wide open, although India, England and Australia will be the ones to watch. New Zealand are definitely the dark horses, with many remembering their heroics at the last world cup, but South Africa could also be in the mix if they can find some form and close down the superstars.
Most teams have a full compliment of players to pick from as it stands, but injuries and form could see some tweaks being made right up to the start of the competition.