The timing of the Champions Trophy-one month before the Ashes and six months before the World Cup-can certainly be faulted. But there is no doubt that it has created a buzz in India since this is the first major tournament the country is hosting since the 1996 Wills World Cup. The duration is also jarring-21 matches in 30 days when it could have all been wrapped up in 15. But these minor quibbles apart, it is definitely an exciting prospect that all the top teams in the world will take part in one tournament instead of yet another meaningless tri-series in some backwaters of the world. Since it was launched in Bangladesh in 1998, the tournament, initially known as the ICC Knock-out Cup has changed its format constantly. The inaugural edition was faulty in that a team would have to travel thousands of miles, lose one match and head straight back home. Then in 2004 in England we had the sorry spectacle of the United States of America and the Netherlands competing with the big boys when they were completely out of their depth. In 2002 there another sorry spectacle--the final being washed out after one completed innings and then being replayed the very next day from the start-also washed out. Two teams sharing the title was farcical. The ICC is the cricket world's punching bag and often deserves the barbs. But it has finally got the format right this time around. There has been some criticism that West Indies, the defending champions have to go through the qualifying round this time around. Then again, this is the same method employed by Fifa for the first time in the 2006 World Cup football where Brazil were forced to qualify despite winning the title in 2002. In both the Champions Trophy and the football World Cup therefore now it is only the hosts who automatically make it to the main draw and that is how it should be. Yes, it is ironical that two of the three form teams (Australia seem to be perpetually in form), namely the holders and Sri Lanka are competing with Bangladesh and Zimbabwe for two places in the main event. But both these sides struck form just in the last 3-4 months whereas the cut-off point for the top five (plus hosts India) set by the ICC was April 2006. Yes, it is feasible that either the Windies or the Lankans could conceivably take the title this time around. After all, they get the chance to play three matches before they will almost certainly qualify and this can only do they some good. The other sides will come in to the tournament cold. India are certainly in the tougher of the two groups with England, Australia and one of the two qualifiers. England though have their sights firmly set on the Ashes and don't appear particularly keen to be part of this tournament at all. The best games should be Pakistan v South Africa on October 27 and India v. Australia two days later, both at Mohali. The staging association, the Punjab Cricket Association may have a litany of complaints against the ICC. But the spectators are surely going to come in droves to support these games. My prediction is that India will go all the way.
The timing of the Champions Trophy-one month before the Ashes and six months before the World Cup-can certainly be faulted. But there is no doubt that it has created a buzz in India