BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
Group B of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 might not feature the intriguing characters and star players of Group A, but nonetheless there is plenty of excitement and unpredictability surrounding the protagonists involved.
Strengths: Michael Clarke’s attacking captaincy. With two new balls in English conditions, expect Clarke to attack the opposition in the first 20 overs. It opened up India’s top order in the warm-up, and if the bowlers push through a whole innings, Australia can find themselves in very strong positions.
Shane Watson’s performance as opener will be absolutely crucial. Watson has the rare ability of striking at a rate of over 100, without looking out. If the likes of David Warner and Adam Voges can back up Watson, Australia will have little to worry about.
Weaknesses: Despite the potential of the new ball attack in swinging conditions, they are extremely vulnerable in the slog overs. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner can at times be too similar and easy to pick up for opposing big-hitters.
The dark clouds surrounding captain Clarke’s fitness simply refuse to go away. In Clarke’s absence, there seems to be a leadership vacuum, not to mention the loss of a steadying hand in the middle order.
Key Players: Shane Watson, David Warner, Michael Clarke, Mitchell Starc
Strengths: Despite the recent setback against New Zealand, England have an extremely strong record in ODI series at home. Captain Alistair Cook has an exceptional record in the format.
The bowling of James Anderson with the new ball in home conditions is bound to generate a few wickets for England, and Graeme Swann can keep the middle overs tight. The top order of the batting is extremely consistent, and in Eoin Morgan and Joe Root they have match-winners in the middle order.
Weaknesses: If Stuart Broad and Steven Finn don’t recover in time for the tournament, then the backup bowling to Anderson is mediocre at best. Jade Dernbach’s bags of tricks have lost their magic at international level, and Chris Woakes is surely too inexperienced.
While the top order is extremely consistent, Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott do take their time getting big scores. Of course, setting a platform is important, but when every other team has opening batsmen who can clear the boundary at will, England can get stuck in a rut in limited overs cricket. This puts too much pressure on their young trio of Root, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler.
Key Players: Alistair Cook, Eoin Morgan, Graeme Swann, James Anderson
Strengths: Swashbuckling batsmen throughout the order. Martin Guptill has hit a purple patch with two centuries in the ODI series against England. Guptill can accumulate steadily before launching the big shots. Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum can tear apart any attack on their day.
Nathan McCullum has been delivering some very astute spin in the middle overs, and in tandem with veteran Daniel Vettori and the underrated off spin of Kane Williamson, the Black Caps have potentially the best middle over attack in the tournament.
Weaknesses: In light of Trent Boult’s withdrawal due to injury, the inexperienced Mitchell McClenaghan has stepped up to the real plate, but for the NZ attack to be at its best with the new ball, experienced campaigners Kyle Mills and Tim Southee have to step it up.
If Guptill and Taylor fail, then it’s unlikely that Williamson and Grant Elliott can accelerate and set up big totals for the team. Captain Brendon McCullum should consider using James Franklin higher up the order if circumstances demand improvisation.
Key Players: Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee
Strengths: The experience, explosiveness and class of their fabled batting trio – Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. If two out of the three click in the same innings, it’s highly unlikely Sri Lanka will lose.
Lasith Malinga’s bowling in the death overs and the ability to surprise opposing batsmen with his variation at any stage of the innings will be Sri Lanka’s crucial weapon in the field.
Weaknesses: This will be the first time that Angelo Mathews’ young captaincy will be under the spotlight. We still don’t know his captaincy style, and how he deals with the last three captains still on the team will be a crucial factor in this year’s success.
Other than Malinga, the bowling attack is pretty weak. Nuwan Kulasekara can certainly swing the ball both ways with the new ball, but with Rangana Herath’s effectiveness nullified by the conditions, the skipper and Thisara Perera will have to contribute with the ball considerably for the attack to have any zip
Key Players: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga