Upsets, thrills in Champions Trophy

29 September 2009

The 2009 ICC Champions Trophy has proved to be unpredictable, exciting, and a real crowd-puller – although the upsets mean the hosts, South Africa, won’t contest the semi-finals.

In fact, the odds are that neither of the world’s top ranked teams heading into the event, South Africa and India, will make it to the final four. That is good for cricket, but bad for both teams.

Don’t expect the elimination of the hosts to affect the enthusiastic support of the fans, however. The crowds will likely remain excellent for the remainder of the tournament.

Strong crowd support

The reason for this optimism can be found in the Indian Premier League, held earlier this year in South Africa. Despite a 59-match schedule – compared to only 15 in the Champions Trophy – there was strong support throughout the event.

It showed that South African fans appreciate good cricket, regardless of the teams involved. Should India manage to advance to the semi-finals, it would certainly provide both a boost to the crowd and the finances, but there is no place for sentiment and little margin for error in the Champions Trophy.

Lose one match and a team’s hopes of progressing beyond the group stages become shaky. Lose two matches and you’re almost certainly out.

Irony

There was a touch of irony to the opening match of the competition – won by Sri Lanka by 55 runs over South Africa on the Duckworth/Lewis Method – as rain affected the outcome. The event had been moved from Sri Lanka because of fears that rain would disrupt it and its tight schedule. Thankfully, it hasn’t had too much of an impact since.

The only game to be rained out thus far was Monday night’s clash between Australia and India, with the Aussies poised for a score in the region of 300 runs – a target that no team has managed to successfully chase down yet in the tournament.

It will be between the Aussies and India for a place in the semi-final from Group A. The Australians have three points to India’s one, but face an in-form Pakistan team, which has already booked its final four berth, in their final group match. India take on the weakest of the seven teams in the tournament, the West Indies.

Pakistan

The Pakistan team has become one of the biggest stories in cricket this year. After playing little international cricket because of internal strife, which included a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team, they emerged to capture the ICC World Twenty20 against all odds earlier in the year.

Now, in the Champions Trophy, they have thumped the West Indies by 5 wickets with 117 balls to spare and drubbed India by 54 runs. Their place in the semi-finals was assured with authority.

In Group B, the script that the Proteas and their fans had envisioned didn’t come about. Instead of a glorious charge to the title and confirmation of a new dominant team in the world of cricket, assuming the mantle once held by Australia, Graeme Smith and company crashed and burned.

They went down to Sri Lanka in their opening game, comfortably beat New Zealand in their second outing, and then bowled awfully in a 22-run loss to England on Sunday.

England

Take nothing away from England, though. They had entered the Champions Trophy on the back of a six-one one-day international series thrashing by Australia in England, but with their win over South Africa, coming on the back of a six-wicket victory over Sri Lanka, they secured their semi-final spot.

They’ve looked convincing, inspired and surprisingly fresh considering the gruelling Ashes series they recently completed against Australia. Andrew Strauss’ team appears to have the goods to go all the way, but the Champions Trophy has been all about upsets and nothing can be taken for granted.

Either Sri Lanka or New Zealand will join England in the final four. The Black Caps have their future in their hands; with New Zealand and Sri Lanka tied on two points each – South Africa also has two points but a lesser nett run rate – the Kiwis know that a victory will be enough to reach the semi-finals.

Great individual performance

Despite their shock early exit from the event, there was one great individual performance by a South African worth remembering.

Captain Graeme Smith played a heroic innings in the loss to England, hitting a career-best 141 from only 134 balls, but with the next highest score being just 36 from AB de Villiers, his side went down.

Nonetheless, JP Duminy, recognised the superb effort put in by his captain. Writing a column for IOL, he said: “What an innings by Graeme (Smith) last night. The skip must have played one of the most outstanding one-day international innings of all time.”

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