BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
As the group stage of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 has concluded, I look back at the some of the individual and collective successes of what’s been an engrossing tournament so far.
1. India: This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. English conditions, two new swinging balls, no support for spin, not to mention a horrible scandal surrounding the sport brewing and getting worse back home. India simply weren’t anyone’s favourites for the tournament.
Since the first ball of the tournament has been delivered however, India has been head and shoulders above the rest of the field. The nature of their victories has been dominant, and they have been superior to their opposition in all three areas of the game so far.
India has scored 669 runs at a run rate of 6.19 while losing only 10 wickets. The bowling unit, which was supposed to be the Achilles heel, has taken 29 wickets averaging only 24.2 for the opposition batsmen. Here’s the ultimate kicker though, India have been the best fielding side of the tournament so far.
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2. England: Stoic, methodical, bookish, metronomic, risk averse. It is England’s lot in international cricket to be damned with faint praise. They will always be critics of this team crying out for more flair, but the reality is under Alistair Cook’s captaincy, England are a formidable ODI unit in home conditions, and have worked out a clear formula for winning matches.
They might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott have delivered solid starts, and except for the last game against New Zealand, at least one of Joe Root, Eoin Morgan or Ravi Bopara have finished with the big shots at the end.
The bowlers have functioned extremely well as a group. James Anderson remains a master of swinging the ball, both new and old despite conditions not being entirely to his liking. While he has been expensive at the death, Tim Bresnan has always managed a breakthrough as first change, James Tredwell has bowled economically, and even Ravi Bopara has chipped in with wickets.
3. South Africa: Without being entirely convincing, South Africa have qualified for the semi-finals. One gets the feeling that this team is still developing a new identity under de Villiers. There are some obvious holes in the team, but it is balanced out by the presence of at least four genuine match-winners.
However, the biggest satisfaction for the team might just be coming out on the right side of Duckworth-Lewis for the first time in a major tournament, after all the heartbreak they have suffered from in the past due to rain.
4. Sri Lanka: A team made for international tournaments. Sri Lanka has now reached the semi-finals or further in six of the last eight ICC tournaments. Despite their consistency, Sri Lanka always seems to be unheralded, perennially flying under the radar. It seems that the players and management actually thrive on being written off.
Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardane have finally regained some form, both stalwarts playing match-winning knocks in must win games. Lasith Malinga continues to bamboozle batsmen at all stages of the innings, and the fielding despite some dropped catches remains solid.
5. Misbah-ul-Haq: The Pakistani captain played the role of lone ranger to perfection. In the worst batting unit seen at a major tournament in a long time, Misbah somehow ended up being the third-highest run scorer in the group stages, scoring 173 runs at an average of 86.5. Oh, did I mention he was also the best fielder of the team at the spritely young age of 39?
It was unlucky in the extreme for Misbah to finish unbeaten on 96 depriving him of his maiden ODI century in the first game, but it was to be topped off by the Pakistani fans booing him at every post-match presentation.
6. Mitchell McClenaghan: If anyone had put some money on this young Black Cap being the leading wicket taker of the group stages of the Champions Trophy, they are probably millionaires. Of the three left-arm fast bowlers named Mitchell, McClenaghan was by far the most effective and most intelligent.
He was a tad bit expensive, but with good carry in the initial overs, and a beautifully disguised slower ball in the slog overs, McClenaghan finished his campaign with 11 wickets at an average of 13.09 and a strike rate of a wicket every 13 balls.