ICC Champions Trophy | Group B: Detailed analysis and Predictions

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ICC Champions Trophy | Group B: Detailed analysis and Predictions

While India and South Africa enter the contest as favourites with few issues to address, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a lot to prove on the big stage after the former has suffered an overall decline and the latter is going through transitional phase after the retirement of their batting greats.

INDIA

Strengths

The core of the Indian squad is the same as the successful 2013 one with added experience, confidence, and not to forget, momentum across all three formats. They are heading into the tournament with an impressive bench strength in all departments with the four fast bowlers in the squad in incredible form. Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been really impressive with the former undergoing an admirable transformation during the home season while Bhuvneshwar heads into the tournament on the back of being the leading wicket-taker in the IPL. Shikhar Dhawan, who played the starring role four years ago, appears to be in good touch lately while Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya’s newly found abilities as potential finishers ease the pressure on MS Dhoni who can now beef up the middle order.

Weaknesses

The uncertainty over the Indian opening pair still persists as both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have not played an International match since their long injury lay-off. Virat Kohli's form is also a concern for the Men in Blue after ordinary outings in the IPL and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The Indian captain also has to carry the tag of being an underperformer in England considering his overall average in English conditions is a meager 28.50 in ODIs. Finally, reports of a rift between coach Anil Kumble and Kohli right before the tournament is an uncomfortable backdrop for the team ahead of their title defence. 

2013 result: Champions

Best finish: Co-Champions in 2002, Champions in 2013.

Probable XI:  Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (capt), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.

PAKISTAN

Strengths

Pakistan will step into the tournament with some momentum on their side after a decent ODI performance against the West Indies. Riding on the back of the in-form Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik and with youngsters like Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, and Fahim Ashraf rising to the occasion, the side now has a great mix of experience and youth. Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy will probably bring a fresh approach that Pakistan severely need to change their position in world cricket. Though he was left out for the series against the West Indies, Azhar Ali’s return will boost Pakistan's albeit bleak chances because the batsman has an impressive track record in England at an average of 43.75.

Weaknesses

Pakistan’s overall decline as an ODI side is reflected in their ODI ranking at No. 7. They haven’t been serious contenders in major tournaments majorly because of the lacklustre batting display which has also brought them the reputation of an unpredictable side, despite the immense talent they possess. Sarfaraz Ahmed is one of the nine players in the squad who will debut at the Champions Trophy and will be leading the side for the first time in an ICC event. Though they managed to edge past West Indies to end up 8th in the rankings, in order to qualify for the tournament, they now have no margin for error considering that they have to register wins against defending champions India and top-ranked South Africa. More importantly, Pakistan are coming into the tournament with a relatively inexperienced side, after the retirement of some of their batting greats. And the lack of previous experience on the big stage might come back to haunt them. Further, they also possess a soft middle-order apart from Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez.

Last time: Group stage exit.

Best finish: Beaten semi-finalists in 2000, 2004, 2009.

Probable XI: Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt/wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan

SOUTH AFRICA

Strengths :

The reality check of a 2-1 series defeat against England just days before the Champions Trophy begins is perhaps just what the top-ranked ODI side needed. Apart from being the no.1 team in ODIs on paper, the Proteas also boast of having the best ODI batsman, AB de Villiers, and the top two bowlers, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir in their ranks. Hashim Amla is in the form of his life, to say the least with two centuries in the Indian Premier League and together with Quinton de Kock, forms arguably the best opening partnership in the tournament. Finally, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, and JP Duminy add steel to the middle order. David Miller and Chris Morris provide the power hitting, if needed, to the team, with the former in particular, expected to be a surprise package for most opponents.

Weaknesses :

It’s not the side’s tendency to “choke” but the psychological pressure that has probably resulted in their failure when it matters most. Over the years, ICC semi-finals have become a mental block for the team and that has to be the biggest weakness surrounding the side. When David Miller gets going, he is capable of producing a whirlwind knock, but consistency remains a problem for him. Though the pitches in the recently concluded ODI series in England were a batsman’s paradise, the bowlers leaking 300 runs eventually led to disastrous ends for South Africa. So, an effort to reduce the runs given per over would be key in such extremely batting-friendly conditions. Most importantly, AB de Villiers must avoid being bogged down because his contribution in the team is vital, as captain and as the most impactful Protean batsman.

Last time: Beaten semi-finalists.

Best finish: Champions in 1998.

Probable XI: Quinton de Kock (wk),  Hashim Amla,  Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt),  JP Duminy, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir

SRI LANKA

Strengths : Lasith Malinga’s inclusion after 18 long months will bolster the team’s confidence as well as their depth in bowling. He is currently the third leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 22 wickets from 13 games and needs another seven to surpass Kyle Mills and become the leading wicket-taker in the history of Champions Trophy. His partnership with Nuwan Kulasekara could prove vital for the bowling department if Sri Lanka are to provide any form of resistance in the tournament. Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews can play the role of the batsmen that lay the foundation for the innings after Upal Tharanga so that the stage is set for the lower middle-order consisting of Asela Gunaratne and Seekkuje Prasanna who can also provide some handy cameos in the lower-middle order with that would be essential on the English pitches that require a deep batting line-up.

Niroshan Dickwella could be the key to success if he plays to his potential, having been the top run-getter for Sri Lanka in the ODI series in South Africa. Though he has missed games due to injuries, he has displayed fine skills with the bat when given a chance and is also a strong wicketkeeper.

Kusal Mendis is a surprise element for the side. Last year, he rose to fame by scoring 176 runs against Australia in a Test and also became the youngest to score above 150 runs. He also hit an ODI century against Bangladesh. How he fares against the hard ball in England could set the tone for them Lankan lions.

Weaknesses:

Being pooled with India, South Africa and Pakistan, Sri Lanka will certainly have a mountain to scale if they are to qualify for the semi-finals. The Angelo Matthews led side has won only 13 out of 38 ODIs in the last 2 years, having been defeated by Pakistan, New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa. After the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tilakartne Dilshan, the batting line-up is yet to fire as a unit. Malinga’s addition to the squad adds to the experience of a weakening ODI side, but he has not played an ODI since 2015 and has had an ordinary outing in the IPL. Apart from this, his recurring niggles raise doubts his fitness and constant availability to the team.

Last time: Beaten semi-finalists.

Best finish: Co-champions in 2002.

Probable XI: Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Angelo Mathews (capt),  Asela Gunaratne, Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal

Predictions:

June 3: Sri Lanka vs South Africa, Kennington Oval

The team that wins the toss must opt to bowl first because the average first innings score is 242 compared to the second innings score that is around 242. Moreover, out of the 8 matches played, the teams bowling first have won 5 matches. The conditions will be slightly demanding for batsmen considering that there are chances of rain and overcast skies that will provide assistance for swing.

While Sri Lanka has no room for complacency in the entire tournament as they are placed alongside dangerous sides, South Africa is fortunate to begin the tournament against the underdogs of the Group. The last 7 series played between the two were won by South Africa. So, South Africa should manage an win over Sri Lanka. 

June 4: India vs Pakistan, Edgabaston

With the weather expected to play spoilsport with a few showers on the big day, the swing should be lethal. The team batting first must exploit the advantage of the average first innings total (243) on this ground compared to the second innings total (195). However, if the team batting first is unable to post a big total to defend, the team batting second should be able chase it down easily.

The head to head show that Pakistan lead 2-1 in the Champions Trophy but India have the edge if we consider the recent numbers and the fact that India play Pakistan with the same core that beat them in 2013. Interestingly, India’s performance at this particular venue has been excellent with a 100% win percentage. India will be able to equal the head to head record with a win over Pakistan.

June 7: Pakistan vs South Africa, Edgbaston

Since it’s going to be cloudy on the match day, it will be an opportunity for the fast bowlers to feast on. Though Mohammad Amir has not played on this ground, he is one to watch out for in English conditions while Kagiso Rabada at the other ned can play the same role for the Proteas. The teams will depend on the pacers who have a 56.8% dominance in the ground also because the team that wins the toss, in all likelihood, will bat first. 

The fact that Pakistan has lost both its Champion Trophy encounters against South Africa is notable. Pakistan will take confidence from their last win against South Africa in a rain-hit match at Eden Park where Sarfaraz Ahmed played the leading role, however, AB de Villiers averages 61.86 with three centuries against this side makes it an interesting battle. South Africa will win their third encounter against them as well.

June 8: India vs Sri Lanka, Kennington Oval

With the weather expected to be rainy again, the encounter should see Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav rattling the stumps very often. The side that wins the toss must opt to bowl first. The sub-continental rivals have enough knowledge about each other and in the 149 ODI games the two have played, India have dominated having won 83 of them. Virat Kohli has an exceptional record against Sri Lanka with an average of 56.24 and six centuries. The defending champions will win against Sri Lanka comfortably. 

June 11: India vs South Africa, Kennington Oval

It should be an even contest between bat and ball considering that the Oval hasn’t provided a single 300+ score in England’s domestic competition. With the weather set fair and no rain predicted, the pitch should be good for both the batsmen and the bowlers.

This will be a high-octane match as both these teams are favourites to qualify among this group. India in the recent past has faltered against South Africa in this format and this will be their toughest challenge in the Group stage. Going by the records and conditions best suitable for the team, it should be South Africa winning against India.

June 12: Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, Sophia Gardens

It depends on the team’s ability to put up a big total and defend it. The average 1st innings’ score is 271 while the average 2nd innings’ score is 209. Out of the 141 wickets taken, the pacers have taken 92 wickets, which is around 66% while the spinners have taken 37 which is around 27%. So, this ground and the cloudy weather on that day is best suited for bowlers who can swing the ball.

Pakistan has won 2 out of the three matches played against Sri Lanka at previous Champion Trophies. Moreover, Sri Lanka has lost all three games it has played against Pakistan in England. The two sides have a lot in common. They are both stepping into the tournament with a mixed bag of youth and experience, have been unthreatening on the big stage in the past few years and have slipped down the rankings but they both possess the firepower to present the opposition with a surprise. Pakistan will win the match, solely because the team is better suited for the conditions.

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