The last ever Champions Trophy starts in England in the first week of June, and on paper at least, it looks to have the makings of a closely fought exciting tournament. There is no stand out side this year, and all eight teams can rightly believe they are in with a chance of being the last team to ever win this trophy.
This is reflected in the online cricket betting, where we see England and South Africa as 4/1 joint favourites, and New Zealand the least fancied team at 12/1. That isn't a massive gap in the betting, and this reflects the closeness of the eight teams participating this year
Before placing any match bets, I like to familiarise myself with the tournament format. The format this time round is more straight forward with two groups of four. Each team will play every other team in their group, they will be awarded 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw/no result, and 0 points for a loss.
If teams finish level on points, their group position will be determined by the team with the most amount of wins taking the higher position. If that is equal (as well as points), the team with the higher net run rate will take the higher position. And if miraculously that can't separate the teams, head to head will decide the final positions.The top two will then qualify for the semi-finals. The winner of Group A plays the runner up of Group B and vice versa. In the event of a tie in either semi-final, a super over will be bowled. If the semi-final ends as a 'no result,' the initial group winner will go through to the final. If the final is a tie, a super over will be bowled. If it is a 'no result,' the trophy will be shared.
You can read more about the format and some of the history of the ICC Champions Trophy history in our ICC Champions trophy history article.
Onto the eight teams involved, and I think it would be fair to say that injuries have already had an effect on the tournament with the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Smith missing out with injury. Starting with England, the bookmakers have them at 4/1. Some have them as outright favourites, some have them as joint favourites with South Africa, and some have them as second favourites.
England seem to have formulated a method of play that suits them while playing at home. The English game plan seems to have been building towards this tournament for a couple of years now. It is a steady approach to batting with Cook, Bell and Trott at the top of the order. Backed up by a well disciplined bowling attack good at stifling the opposition (if bowling first), and dogged when defending modest totals, in English conditions.
South Africa are vying with the English for the tag of favourites. Some of the bookmakers make them 4/1 favourites, while some have them at 9/2. Over the next few weeks they will no doubt be continually reminded about the perennial chokers tag that has followed them around for years now. And like on so many occasions in the past, they look to have a side capable of shedding that tag - or at least on paper they do!
They lost former ODI captain Graeme Smith to injury in the build up to the competition, he has been replaced by Alviro Peterson, who will bat at the top of the order. As well as the absence of Smith, the South Africans will also have to make do without Jacques Kallis who has skipped the tournament for personal reasons.
Australia come in as third favourites, they are available at between 9/2 and 11/2. There is no James Pattinson or Ryan Harris, but the bowling attack looks dangerous with Mitchell Starc, Clint McKay and Mitchell Johnson, as the three main quicks. A lot of the Aussie batsmen that failed so miserably in India recently look more suited to ODI cricket in my view, Phil Hughes, Dave Warner and Shane Watson all have reasonable to decent ODI records. While the middle order looks strong with Adam Voges recalled, and Matthew Wade is a more than decent wicket/keeper batsman.
India come next, they can be backed at between 11/2 and 7/1. Duncan Fletcher's side are going through a bit of a transformational period at the moment. Fletcher seems to be gradually getting rid of the old school and trying to replace them with more athletic (in the field), younger cricketers. Out have gone Gautam Gambhir and Youraj Singh (joining Sehwag and Harbhajan), to be replaced with the likes of Murali Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and Umesh Yadav.
Next come Pakistan who are available at 6/1 to 7/1. The world's most unpredictable cricket team. Capable of putting in a world beating performance one day, and a club league performance the next. Betting on Pakistan, is like betting on the English weather, you just don't know what will turn up. Umar Gul, probably Pakistan's most reliable seam bowler is out injured. That's a shame for Pakistan, because Gul is well used to English conditions and is well capable of exploiting seam and swing. Shahid Afridi and Umar Akmal are the big name omissions from the squad, Afridi has now been dropped twice in the matter of a few months. The team are led by the experienced Misbah-ul-Haq, and have the dangerous Saeed Ajmal in their ranks.
Sri Lanka are sixth favourites at 7/1 to 8/1. The Sri Lankans are now captained by all-rounder Angelo Matthews. Matthews took over the captaincy from Mahela Jayawardene at the start of their recent Test series with Bangladesh in February, and has been trusted with the role in both Test cricket, and ODI's. It may be seen as a new fresh start for Sri Lanka under Matthews, but they still have a vast array of experienced, world class players at their disposal, and shouldn't be taken lightly. Matthews has players of the calibre of Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Lasith Malinga in his squad, any team who can boast that shouldn't be underestimated.\r\n\r\nIt just goes to show the strength of Sri Lanka, that they are sixth favourites in an eight horse race, and their price is as short as 7/1 with some online bookmakers.
West Indies are seventh in the betting at odds of between 7/1 and 9/1. They are another one of these enigmatic teams that you don't always know what you are going to get from, when you come up against them. They have players like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Kemar Roach and Sunil Narine, and are the current World T20 Champions, yet they have only won three ODI's in the last two years. This dodgy recent ODI record has cost captain Darren Sammy his job (although he remains Test and T20 skipper, and retains his place in the ODI side), as he is replaced at the head of the team by Dwayne Bravo. On paper they have no ODI form and a new captain, but on paper they also have some very good limited over players. They also won the last Champions Trophy to be held in England, back in 2004.
And finally come New Zealand at odds of 12/1 to 16/1. The Kiwi's are led (well in my view) by the attack minded Brendon McCullum. They have a good blend of youth and experience, and after the just finished Test series in England, have recent first hand experience of English conditions. They have the luxury of being able to recall the experienced Daniel Vettori. And in Kyle Hogg they have a proven ODI performer. I know it's a bit of an old cliche, but it's true when it comes to describing New Zealand, to say that they are a proper team with no stand out players. New Zealand won the tournament in 2000, and were runners-up in the last tournament in 2009, losing to Australia in South Africa.
England, South Africa and Australia top the betting and I can understand why. All three have a seam attack capable of causing damage in seaming English conditions, and all three have talented ODI batsmen.Of the other sides in the competition, Duncan Fletcher's Indian side could be dark horses. Fletcher will know what it takes to win on English soil after his stint running the England team. And despite recent Indian performances in England, I expect this team (his one this time) to be a lot more organised, fitter and definitely more competitive.
A lot will also depend on the weather. If we get the normal English summer, it's surely got to favour England. If games get scrappy and are played on low scoring wickets, I would have to fancy England as their attack is very capable when it comes to defending low scores, and/or exploiting seaming conditions. I believe New Zealand would also come into the reckoning in those sort of conditions. If on the other hand the weather picks up and we have sun drenched flat track batting paradises, I think that Sri Lanka, Australia and India come right into the reckoning. India and Sri Lanka have batting line ups capable of posting over 300 runs on flat tracks, as do Australia on their day, and probably South Africa as well. This is where England might struggle though.
If I was pushed to call a winner, I'd say South Africa are the best team in the tournament, but that hasn't stopped them blowing tournaments in the past. So beware!