BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
As the excitement ratchets up for the ICC Champions Trophy starting on Thursday in England and Wales, I preview Group A today, highlight the players to watch out for and analyse the teams strengths and weaknesses. Look for my Group B preview Wednesday.
Strengths: With the possible exception of Murali Vijay being susceptible to the new ball in overcast conditions, and Suresh Raina’s dilemmas against the fast bouncer, there is no obvious weakness in the batting department.
In addition to Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and MS Dhoni having consistent averages, they also have the temperament to reign themselves in in tricky situations before unleashing boundaries and sixes at the business end of the innings. The warm-up games illustrate this further, as India recovered from 111 for four and 55 for five, to end up scoring 300 plus in both matches.
Weaknesses: While no chase is beyond their batsmen, no target is truly safe for India’s bowlers. With the exception of Umesh Yadav, all their fast/medium bowlers have been found wanting at international level.
Dhoni also has a dilemma if he wants to use both Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as spin options. With new rules allowing only four fielders outside the circle, playing both will be a huge gamble. Jadeja might just get the nod along with three seamers due to his batting ability at the death.
Players to watch out for: Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Umesh Yadav
Strengths: Few teams have the luxury of variety that Pakistan’s bowling attack possesses. Junaid Khan’s incisive swing with the new ball seems to guarantee at least one wicket if not more in the opening overs. New entrant Asad Ali enters the fray with excellent figures in domestic cricket, and his performance in the warm-up against South Africa yielded excellent returns of three for 30.
Wahab Riaz is hit or miss, and in the absence of Umar Gul, Pakistan is missing a death over specialist. However, the miserly bowling of the spin trio, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Mohammed Hafeez, compensates for Gul’s absence. Hafeez in particular holds the key with an economy rate of less than six in the past three years.
Weaknesses: Despite conditions not appearing to be as difficult for batsmen as many initially thought, one simply can’t make any guarantees on behalf of the Pakistani batsmen. Hafeez will have a crucial role to play in the top order, especially as Imran Farhat and Nasir Jamshed are both vulnerable to the new ball.
There is also a fear that other than Kamran Akmal, the squad has no batsman capable of scoring consistently at a strike rate of 100. This could haunt the team especially in big chases. Finally, the tail is too long, with the possible exception of Wahab Riaz who can sporadically hit the big shots at the end of the innings.
Key Players: Mohammed Hafeez, Misbah-Ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal
Strengths: As usual, South Africa enter a major tournament with one of the most balanced squads. Strength in depth in the batting department, allied with reliability and accuracy in the bowling department.
Hashim Amla thrives in English conditions, and he will be expected to set the platform for AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and David Miller to launch into the fireworks. Dale Steyn will lead with the bowl, coming into the series in tremendous form, and if he fires, South Africa will be hard to beat.
Weaknesses: The intangibles are leadership and experience. With their two oldest stalwarts, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis missing due to injury, the fairly new leadership team of de Villiers and du Plessis will not get much assistance in dealing with pressure situations.
Finally, South Africa will want to get rid of the “c” word. South Africa are always favourites on paper, but when it really counts, will they “choke” again?
Key Players: Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn
Strengths: Every cricket fan’s second team, the West Indies squad contains some of the most entertaining and enthralling cricketers in the current game. Their biggest strength is without doubt, having many of the biggest hitters in the game.
If Chris Gayle gets going, West Indies can launch totals that should be easily defended. Throw in Darren Bravo’s silky touch, Marlon Samuels blend of sensible batting in the middle overs and easy hitting at the end, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard’s fireworks in the slog overs, and the sky is the limit for this team.
Weaknesses: The bowling can be extremely inconsistent. Besides Kemar Roach’s brilliance, neither Tino Best, Ravi Rampaul nor Dwayne Bravo are consistent with their lines or lengths, and you always get the feeling that the opposition batsmen can attack them. Sunil Narine will be crucial, although he has limited experience in English conditions.
Finally, the one thing you can vouch for with the West Indies is inconsistency. Between one match and the next, the team can veer from sheer brilliance to reckless incompetence. New captain Dwayne Bravo will have to ensure that the flair and eccentricity is matched with determination and focus.
Key Players: Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Kemar Roach