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Champions Trophy - Preview
02 Oct 2006
By: Richard Edmunds

Some question the importance of the tournament, but every team has something to play for in the upcoming fifth ICC Champions Trophy.

It was predicted by a number of people that some sides would send slightly weaker sides with young, inexperienced players and give some of the more senior players who will carry a substantial work load in the upcoming season with the likes of the World Cup and the Ashes, but it has turned out that every team is sending a full-strength team apart from a couple of injury-related exceptions.

Gone are the minnow teams who participated in the tournament in 2004. Instead, the top six teams in the ODI rankings are in the group stage and joining them will be the top two from the qualifying rounds, which include Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Apart from that the tournament has taken the same format as in the last two tournaments, with four teams progressing from the two groups and reaching the semi-finals stage.

So what does each team have to gain from this tournament, and what are each team's chances of winning the trophy?

Australia - With a heavy workload ahead in the form of the Ashes and the World Cup, one could forgive the Australians for not taking this tournament too seriously.

On the contrary, Australia have stated their determination to win the tournament and live up to their number one ranking.

This is a tournament that has so far eluded the winners of the last two World Cups and they are keen to put that right.

Glenn McGrath made a welcome return to the side in the recent DLF Cup in Malaysia and will have benefitted from that and should be back to somewhere near his very best for the tournament.

The tournament will also act as an opportunity for some to cement their place in the team for the important challenges that lie ahead - those that fit this bill are Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson and the finally fully-fit Shane Watson.

Consistent performances by these three will make it very hard for the selectors to ignore their credentials.

Bangladesh - They face a difficult task in reaching the group stage of the tournament, having to beat two of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.

They should in theory be able to beat Zimbabwe, despite the difficulties they had in doing so in their recent series, but the other two will be much more difficult.

If they do achieve that, they can be extremely proud of their efforts regardless of how they perform after that.

England - England welcome back Andrew Flintoff to the side in this tournament, and he returns not only to boost both batting and bowling but as captain.

In the squad of fourteen are a number of young and inexperienced players - Jamie Dalrymple, Michael Yardy and Ed Joyce for example - who will be looking to push for places in the World Cup squad.

A hectic summer lies ahead for a side struggling in the one-day game, with the Ashes series being followed by a triangular tournament against two very strong sides in Australia and New Zealand before the World Cup.

England will certainly be hoping to get some consistency into their game, after being soundly defeated by a side who were required to qualify for this tournament in Sri Lanka.

India - In the midst of a horrible run in one-day cricket, India's home advantage may not be enough to get them through to the latter stages of the tournament.

Sachin Tendulkar celebrated his return to the team after a prolonged injury layoff in fine style with a marvellous century in the DLF Cup, but it was not enough to prevent his team from missing out on the final of the triangular tournament.

The side possesses some exciting talent with the likes of MS Dhoni, RP Singh and Munaf Patel, and it would be good for the interest level of the tournament if their home crowds were to carry them through to the semi-final stage.

New Zealand - New Zealand supporters get the rare opportunity to see a fully-fit Shane Bond take the field in the upcoming tournament, but with his history of problems with heat-exhaustion it is likely that he will be managed carefully by captain Stephen Fleming.

Also back from injury scares are Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills, while Scott Styris remains slightly doubtful after prematurely ending his season with Middlesex due to injury.

Speaking of County cricket, James Franklin and particularly Hamish Marshall fly to India on the back of some strong performances for their respective teams, and as a result it looks the strongest team New Zealand have fielded for a while.

As well as welcoming back some star senior players, New Zealand have drafted in promising uncapped pace bowler Mark Gillespie, who will hopefully get an opportunity to prove himself at this level ahead of a long summer of ODI cricket, one the winners in 2000 will be looking to kick off on a good note in the Champions Trophy.

Pakistan - Younis Khan takes over the captaincy while Inzamam-ul-Haq serves his four-match ban for bringing the game into disrepute, and he has a very talented team under his control.

Shoaib Akhtar showed in England that he is fit and every bit as fast and dangerous as before, and supporting him in a very potent pace attack are the likes of Naved-ul-Hasan, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul.

This compensates for a batting lineup slightly weakened by Inzamam's absence, but in the stand-in captain Younis and also Mohammad Yousuf there is no major shortage in batting ability.

Pakistan are a team who will be extremely hard to beat, both in this tournament and in the World Cup next year.

South Africa - Going into this tournament slightly underprepared after a very much one-sided series against Zimbabwe, South Africa may as a result be slightly vulnerable early in the tournament but will quickly find their feet and should be every bit as hard to beat as they usually are.

Their batting lineup boasts names like Smith, Gibbs, Dippenaar, Kallis and the destructive Kemp, while their bowlers include Ntini, Nel and Pollock.

Although their record in major tournaments such as this isn't wonderful, South Africa is a team with too much talent to rule them out of contention.

Sri Lanka - Possibly slightly hurt by being asked to qualify for the tournament, Sri Lanka will be a dangerous opponent to any team in the tournament.

They should easily progress through the qualifying rounds, and if their performances against England are anything to go by they should be one of the leading contenders.

With the welcome return of Marvan Attapattu, the Sri Lankan batting order looks very solid with a number of dangerous hitters such as the widely-feared Sanath Jayasuriya, while their bowling as usual includes Muttiah Muralitharan, who will love the pitches on offer in India, and the consistent Chaminda Vaas.

West Indies - Two years ago they stood on the presentation dais, holding the trophy aloft. Now they find themselves having to qualify to even make the group stages in their attempt to defend the title.

West Indies are an infuriatingly inconsistent team in the ODI arena, occasionally brilliant when the likes of Chris Gayle, Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan fire with the bat, but every bit as often they are poor to put it nicely.

They have no shortage of talent, with the aforementioned names, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Fidel Edwards to name a few, and they also have one of the most underrated bowlers in ODI cricket in Ian Bradshaw, but for some reason they have a lot more bad days than most other teams.

The nature of the tournament means they only need to string a few good days together, and if they do that they will be very dangerous.

Likewise in next year's World Cup, in which they will be under immense pressure and scrutiny due to the fact that they will be hosting the tournament.

Zimbabwe - With all that Zimbabwe has had to endure in the last few years no one is expecting very much from the team.

The squad they have assembled now undoubtedly has some talent, but is just so young and inexperienced in any form of cricket let alone international, due to the shaky first-class structure in place.

Coach Kevin Curran though believes his team could spring a surprise and make it to the main draw. It would be a considerable surprise though.

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