Champions Trophy – Review

What irony is it that a tournament hailed as unnecessary provided us with some of the most interesting cricket of recent times? Rhetorical, no doubt, for although the Champions Trophy boasted many a one-sided display, the pure illusion of competition between the world’s top eight teams was enough to ensure it as a success.

That the West Indies – the world-ranked number seven – fairly cruised to the final is the best indication of the competition at hand. Admittedly they entered as defending champions, but they were also made to qualify for the main portion of the tournament from a group involving Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

But what breed of major tournament would it be if the Australians did not run away with the title? Well, the lone response would have been “the Champions Trophy” before Sunday’s result. Until this 2006 installment, it was the only major trophy Australia failed to capture. That was all set straight in spectacular fashion. The victims on this occasion were the West Indies, and Australia issued a thrashing reminiscent of their last two World Cup final triumphs.

It was almost expected that a Champions Trophy that began with such one-sided cricket as this one (given especially the presence of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the qualifying round) would end in much the same way. For all the glory in which the West Indies bathed in the run to the final, it was a determined and professional Australian unit by which they were finally derailed.

Team Summaries
It may have taken four attempts, but Australia are finally Champions Trophy winners. Perhaps it was not the flawless effort of the 2003 World Cup, but Australia still managed to finish in such emphatic fashion as to edge into the slot of “best team in the tournament”.

Jerome Taylor’s hat-trick ensured that Australia started the tournament with a loss, and therefore uncertainty as to whether they would emerge from the group stages, but a Damien Martyn special (78 with 12 fours) saw the team back on track against England. Martyn then repeated the dose against India to seal a dramatic revival.

Lost to West Indies by 10 runs.
Beat England by 6 wickets.
Beat India by 6 wickets.
Beat New Zealand by 34 runs. (semi final)
Beat West Indies by 8 wickets. (final)

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Glenn McGrath
Reliable as ever, McGrath started slowly against the West Indies (8-0-42-1) in the group stage, but quickly found his stride against England and proceeded to finish as Australia’s top bowler. His 10 wickets were matched by Nathan Bracken, but came at a lower average (a stunning 15.80) and with an economy rate of 3.59.

If there was any doubt that McGrath was short of his best, it was put to rest in the final, where he recovered from an early bashing at the hands of Chris Gayle to bowl a superb spell. McGrath conceded 22 runs from his first two wicketless overs, then bowled a spell of 5-3-2-2 to dismantle the West Indies middle order. That his wickets were Lara and Morton – heroes against Australia earlier in the tournament – made it all the more sweet.

West Indies
Defending champions, indeed. The impressive manner with which the West Indies emerged from the qualifying round, then swept into the final of the tournament made everyone take notice. And though they collapsed against a superior team in the final, it could not distract from the clear improvements in this West Indies one-day international unit. Given that the World Cup is due to be held on their home turf next year, the future could well be bright.

Beat Zimbabwe by 9 wickets.
Beat Bangladesh by 10 wickets.
Lost to Sri Lanka by 9 wickets.
Beat Australia by 10 runs.
Beat India by 3 wickets.
Lost to England by 3 wickets.
Beat South Africa by 6 wickets. (semi final)
Lost to Australia by 8 wickets. (final)

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Chris Gayle
Rarely has a player so greatly impacted upon his team’s fortunes as Gayle did in this Champions Trophy. The West Indian allrounder not only smashed 474 runs in 8 innings (including 3 hundreds), but also took 8 wickets at an average of 23.12 with an economy rate of 4.

It was a titanic tournament for Chris Gayle and he was truly the centrepiece of the West Indian challenge. Yes, his teammates did have shining moments with the bat (Chanderpaul in particular), but the manner in which Gayle dominated at the top of the order was substantial in the team dynamic. His efforts with the ball seemed almost a bonus given such healthy batting contributions.

South Africa
South Africa are not the greatest of performers in big tournaments, having been tagged with the title of “chokers”. Too often the team has fought its way to a moment of glory, then spilled the chance to steal it. This year’s Champions Trophy did little to dispel the tag. Though the South Africans played well in the build up to their semi final against the West Indies (topping Group B), they were still soundly beaten.

Having risen to the challenge to recover from 42-5 and beat Pakistan by 124 runs in their last fixture, expectations were high heading into the semi final round. But it was the third time in the last three major one-day tournaments that the South Africans fell to the West Indies and yet another time when they floundered with the end tape in sight.

Lost to New Zealand by 87 runs.
Beat Sri Lanka by 78 runs.
Beat Pakistan by 124 runs.
Lost to West Indies by 6 wickets. (semi final)

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Shaun Pollock
No South African had an outstanding tournament. Indeed, the formidable top order trio of Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Boeta Dippenaar boasted no half- centuries between them in 11 innings. The most notable performance was that of the consistent Shaun Pollock.

The allrounder may have only averaged 9.33 with the bat, but he was as miserly as ever with the ball. Hauls of 6-1-18-1, 10-0-21-2 and 7-0-20-2 stood out in the run to the semi final. But it was there that he met a rampant Chris Gayle, and leaked 34 runs in 5 wicketless overs.

New Zealand
Despite another low-key showing, New Zealand still managed to reach the semi final stage of the Champions Trophy with an impressive showing. The eternal underdogs first defended 195 against South Africa, bowling them out for 108, then lost by 7 wickets to Sri Lanka. But by the time they dismissed Pakistan by 51 runs, confidence was high.

Unfortunately, the semi final draw pitted the Kiwis against arch-rivals Australia. The result was a quiet defeat by the superior Aussies and another anonymous exit for the most under-rated of teams in one-day international cricket.

Beat South Africa by 87 runs.
Lost to Sri Lanka by 7 wickets.
Beat Pakistan by 51 runs.
Lost to Australia by 34 runs. (semi final)

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Kyle Mills
Undoubtedly the best of the New Zealand bowling attack, Kyle Mills showed just how much he has improved as an ODI bowler. Though the focus was on the less- than-fit Shane Bond, Mills was by far the most consistently penetrative bowler.

His 10 wickets came at 11.80 apiece, and a haul of 4 for 38 against Australia in the semi final almost turned the tables for New Zealand. Mills ultimately outbowled Bond in every aspect, even finishing by far the more economical at 4.14 to Bond’s 5.40.

It has been difficult time of late for India and it certainly was not an improvement to fall short of the semi final round of the Champions Trophy on home soil. Despite recent poor form, India entered the tournament as a formidable opponent and a favourite to make the final. But the reality was a continuation of disappointment, largely due to bowling deficiencies.

The Indians started with a shaky 4-wicket win over England, then stuttered to defeat against the West Indies a game later. And by the time they met the eventual champions, Australia, victory was needed to qualify for the final four. A total of 249 seemed good enough to inspire a contest, but any such consideration was quickly stripped away by dismal bowling, and India crashed out in defeat by 6 wickets.

Beat England by 4 wickets.
Lost to West Indies by 3 wickets.
Lost to Australia by 6 wickets.

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Munaf Patel
For all the worries of the Indian bowling attack, one player remained relatively reliable. Munaf Patel has improved greatly as a bowler in recent months, and he continued his good form in the Champions Trophy.

Patel bowled a consistent line and length with good bounce and reaped the rewards before falling away in the clutch. Against Australia Patel surrendered 61 runs from 8.4 overs, having taken 3 for 47 in his previous 16 overs.

Scandal, drugs and more scandal. It seems that Pakistan cannot escape the touch of controversy at the moment. With the eye of scrutiny on the embattled team, and without captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and the bowling powerhouse that is Asif and Akhtar, the odds mounted against Pakistan before the tournament began. Despite a stunning Razzaq-inspired triumph over Sri Lanka, two subsequent disappointments sent them out of the tournament at the final group hurdle.

Pakistan were confronted with South Africa in a must-win situation, and collapsed from a strong position to humiliating defeat. The South Africans recovered from 42-5 to win by 124 runs and Pakistan surrendered for a meagre 89.

Beat Sri Lanka by 4 wickets.
Lost to New Zealand by 51 runs.
Lost to South Africa by 124 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Abdul Razzaq
Given the magnitude of the allround performance that inspired Pakistan’s only victory in the tournament, Razzaq is a shoo-in for the key player. Razzaq took 4 wickets to help drag Sri Lanka back from 181-3 after 32.3 overs to 253 all out, then smacked 38 from 24 balls to seal a close win. Razzaq’s further contributions in the series proved far less substantial, but he remained Pakistan’s only matchwinner.

Expectations are eternally low when it comes to England and limited overs cricket, but even more so when grouped with Australia and India, let alone on the subcontinent. Therefore it was no surprise that England were swiftly ushered out of the Champions Trophy, losing their first two matches of the group round.

The manner in which the games were lost was not surprising either. A dramatic collapse for 125 all out against India was usurped by an even more impressive collapse from 83-0 to 169 all out against Australia. Kevin Pietersen restored some pride with a brilliant matchwinning 91 not out against the West Indies, but it was far too little and certainly too late.

Lost to India by 4 wickets.
Lost to Australia by 6 wickets.
Beat West Indies by 3 wickets.

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Andrew Strauss
Kevin Pietersen may have been England’s matchwinner, but Andrew Strauss was the most consistent player with either bat or ball. The former captain struck two half-centuries in three innings at the top of the order and forged an impressive opening partnership with Ian Bell.

Sri Lanka
It is extraordinary form that a team would enter a major ODI tournament with 8 consecutive victories to its credit, but Sri Lanka arrived in India boasting such great form. That the wins came against the might of Holland and England seemed inconsequential, given the way they proceeded to dismantle Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and defending champions, the West Indies.

The victory over the West Indies was perhaps the most impressive, as it came by a margin of 9 wickets and Sri Lanka had few concerns in chasing 81 for victory. They carried the confidence of 11 consecutive wins into their first game of the second round, but were halted by a defiant Razzaq. Muralitharan authored victory over New Zealand, then the momentum was lost once more, scattered by the seam attack of South Africa in the final group game.

Beat Bangladesh by 37 runs.
Beat Zimbabwe by 144 runs.
Beat West Indies by 9 wickets.
Lost to Pakistan by 4 wickets.
Beat New Zealand by 7 wickets.
Lost to South Africa by 78 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Upul Tharanga
There can be little doubt as to who was the most outstanding young batsman at the 2006 Champions Trophy. Discounting the now vastly experienced Chris Gayle, Upul Tharanga was the brightest star on display. Tharanga proved that his potential is worth its weight in runs, cashing in with 320 in 8 innings at an average of 53.33.

That his two hundreds came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe may be called into question, but the maturity with which Tharanga batted showed promise being fulfilled.

It is fair to say that little was expected from Bangladesh at the Champions Trophy, given especially that they were made to qualify from a group involving the defending champions – the West Indies – and the red-hot Sri Lanka. But thanks largely to a Shahriar Nafees hundred against Zimbabwe, they ensured that they did not finish with the wooden spoon.

Lost to Sri Lanka by 37 runs.
Lost to West Indies by 10 wickets.
Beat Zimbabwe by 101 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Shahriar Nafees
Shahriar Nafees may have cashed in for 123 unbeaten runs against an extremely weak Zimbabwean side, but it was not an innings to be begrudged. Nafees entered the tournament as the only genuine hope of the Bangladesh top order and finished it with his reputation enhanced. His 166 runs came at an average of 83, and while he batted with Aftab Ahmed against the West Indies, Bangladesh actually looked a competitive force.

Only one team exited this year’s Champions Trophy without a victory. Zimbabwe were never really granted much faith to succeed, but succumbed so incredibly to their opposition, that the display was heartbreaking. Defeat came by margins of 9 wickets, 144 runs and 101 runs and the inevitable early plane ride home could scarcely come sooner.

Lost to West Indies by 9 wickets.
Lost to Sri Lanka by 144 runs.
Lost to Bangladesh by 101 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Tournament: Edward Rainsford
There were few Zimbabwean performances worthy of praise at the tournament, but the consistency of Edward Rainsford with the new ball is worth a mention. Rainsford only took 2 wickets, but functioned with an economy rate of 4.13.

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