Pakistan are not short on motivation

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

It's a fashionable cliché to say about any competition that it is an open tournament. But then this is so true of the ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa.


Any one of half a dozen teams has a chance of lifting the trophy on October 5 with only a second string West Indian team and an England side reeling under successive setbacks ranked as outsiders.


A full strength Caribbean outfit would still have had their chances, particularly, keeping in mind their surprise triumph in the fourth edition of the ICC Champions Trophy in England in 2004. This time, however, in the intense competition that the tournament is bound to see Floyd Reiffer's squad can safely be rated as no-hopers.


Much the same can be said about England, the only one among the participating teams not to have a major title. Moreover, the 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Australia could have done their morale no good and it is clear that they don't have the personnel to go on and win the ICC Champions Trophy.  


Still, when you have six teams with fairly even chances of winning the trophy, it certainly wears an open look and that is the most positive aspect of the competition which has come under flak in recent times for serving little purpose beyond being a scheduled event in the ICC calendar every two years.

Indeed the last ICC Champions Trophy was held three years ago with the cancellation of the scheduled 2008 event in Pakistan due to security concerns. It was first postponed and then shifted to South Africa after a year's delay.


This year's ICC Champions Trophy is thus being staged amidst growing skepticism about its relevance. But more important it is being conducted amid growing concerns about the future of ODIs given the fact that the format is reeling under the onslaught of the raging popularity of Twenty20 cricket.


The sixth edition of the ICC Champions Trophy could either turn out to be a beacon of hope for ODIs or mark its death knell. But, all this will be of little concern to the players whose topmost priority would be to ensure their team's victory.


In an open competition there can be no clear favourites and while some experts have named Australia, others have named Sri Lanka while still others feel India have the best chance.


Pakistan will certainly fancy their chances given the fact that they have won the ICC World Twenty20 in England in June while the hosts who won the inaugural tournament in Bangladesh in 1998 would like to believe they can lift the trophy after having just surrendered their No 1 ranking to the Aussies.


New Zealand who won the second edition in Nairobi in 2000 have not really performed well of late and their chances of lifting the trophy on October 5 are remote.


On the basis of being defending champions and on current form Australia would seem to have the best chance. But they will have to overcome a jinx first. No team has won the Champions Trophy twice in a row.


Six teams have won the title on the five occasions it has been held with India and Sri Lanka being adjudged joint champions after rain ruined both the final as well as the replayed title clash in Colombo in 2002. On current form, however, the Aussies will be hard to beat.    


On the strength of their showing over the last year or so, India must stand a good chance. Dhoni and his squad have run up an enviable record winning two bilateral series in Sri Lanka, winning a series in New Zealand and following it up with one more in the West Indies. At home they thrashed England 5-0 and they have just notched up their latest triumph - victory in the Compaq Cup tri series in Colombo.

There is every reason to believe that they can continue being on a roll and having won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa two years ago will be an encouraging factor.


Pakistan are not short on motivation and determination and Younus Khan has made it clear that he would like to win one of the big two - the ICC Champions Trophy or the 2011 ICC World Cup besides beating India in these competitions.


The same factors will be important for South Africa for there is nothing like winning a major title in your own backyard. If they are able to do so they will wipe out to a large extent the unhappy memories of their disastrous campaign in the 2003 ICC World Cup.


Sri Lanka are another team whose chances cannot be ruled out. It should not be forgotten that they were runners up to Australia in the World Cup in the Caribbean two years ago. And New Zealand proved that they too are right up there with an impressive win over India in the warm up game. 


The groupings are interesting and should make for some exciting clashes. India, Pakistan, Australia and West Indies are in group A and South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are in group B.


Group A seems to be the tougher one with three equally matched teams but then Group B virtually has four equally matched teams. One wouldn't be surprised if the preliminary league games generate more excitement than the semifinals and final.