ICC CHAMPIONS TROPHY 2017
England and Bangladesh kick-start the eighth edition of the tournament on June 1 at the Oval © Getty
What started off as the mini World Cup in 1998, as a chance to host the tournament in newer cricket nations, has now gradually evolved into the ICC Champions Trophy – the step brother of the bigger 50-over World Cup. Coming as it does every four years, and having been around for 19 years now, there is some surprise that it still doesn’t carry a legacy big enough for the weight it carries in every time. Previous editions’ winners or moments aren’t talked about or celebrated as is the want for the other sibling. Somewhere down the line, it also lost its original purpose of taking the game outside the traditional countries and began to restrict itself.
Is the lack of a proper legacy a result of an overdose of limited overs cricket? Probably yes. In fact there were deliberations and even calls for the tournament to be scrapped altogether after the 2013 edition. Commercial considerations more than a populist vote perhaps influenced the decision-makers to go ahead with another edition but as it is, the future of this step brother is still under deliberation. The evolution of T20, calls for a Test championship and just the existence of a similar brother with better traits have all combined to leave this baby of the ICC a trifle neglected. There is a chance that we might not see it at all after this year but instead of a sense of foreboding, there is much enthusiasm surrounding this edition in England.
ODI cricket has changed in form over the last couple of years primarily in the range of scores being achieved by teams all over the world. It fits perfectly with the ICC’s rationale for limited overs which loosely translates to big runs = better crowd response. That logic might still be up for debate and probably be tested over the course of the next three weeks. But it’s needless to say that much of the tournament is likely to be ruled by power-hitting, and ways to contain it. Now requiring qualification to get in, it will miss the presence of West Indies but welcome back a rising Bangladesh.
During the course of close to three weeks, the tournament will span across The Oval, Edgbaston and Swalec as the eight top ODI nations battle for supremacy. Over the seven editions of the tournament there have been multiple winners or champions. Populist vote has already declared a new one in hosts England. With their much vaunted power-batting line-up and familiarity of conditions, it is easy to see just why they are such favorites.
That is of course possible, unless that dodgy English weather comes into play. So don’t be surprised if the clouds turn up, aiding more swing and eventually low-scoring games given that batsmen who can adapt are low in stock. England have just recently, against South Africa in Lord’s, have shown a fallibility in such conditions.
It is here that the defending champions India and along with Australia and South Africa can lay claim to having a slight advantage with a more rounded batting line-up There is little doubt that all of these teams start ahead in the pecking order for favorites. But other teams are catching up to the trend quite quickly and the likes of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, Bangladesh and Pakistan are more than capable of springing a surprise or two. And two wins is all it could take to get to the knockouts.
There is hope for the cricket to be entertaining, and coming as it does in an age where technology dictates every move, there have been innovations from ICC in enabling a better viewing experience for the TV audience. New drone-enabled pitch images and studies that tell you how likely a ball is to turn or move from a particular spot to studying bat-swing power and angles, there has been a lot promised. Whether it delivers on that is left to be seen, but much like the cricket the promise is an entycing one.
The ICC has done what it can in having a marquee clash in India vs Pakistan by drawing them in the same group. A starvation created by political forces has reduced this clash to an exclusive ICC event. It is upon this horse that the ICC lays a bet on every time, and ends up winning too. Commercial returns are likely to be huge for that clash onJune 4, but for a world event to create a legacy, there is much, much more that has to go well.
Will the high scores that are predicted infuse new life? Will there be newer, unexpected happenings that can kindle further excitement? With the premise already set and ready to go, only the action that unfolds can tell us the answer to what the future holds. But like most of the previous editions, it is likely to be enjoyed till it lasts.