Besides living up to its reputation as the second most important event in the ICC calendar the sixth edition of the Champions Trophy currently being held in South Africa carried the added responsibility of warding off the growing challenge from Twenty20 cricket which over the last couple of years has caught the public fancy in a big way.
Over the past few months ways and means to change the format of Fifty50 have been discussed, almost everyone has come up with an idea to make it more interesting while the more cynical have questioned the very survival of ODIs. Much the same doubts were raised about Test cricket’s future in the days when one day cricket was a raging popularity. I for one have always believed that all three formats of the game have their own charm and they can co-exist.
This belief has been strengthened by developments over the past week. At the halfway mark there is little doubt that the Champions Trophy has done much to generate interest once more in ODIs. The right conditions, the right pitches and the right attitude has seen large crowds, vibrant contests and outstanding performances. The up and down results have been a bonus. Things are bound to get better and the cynics who wrote the obituaries of the ODIs have been way off the mark.
Not unexpectedly the early exit of South Africa, India being virtually out of the tournament at the preliminary stage and England’s resurgence have been the main talking points. Few gave Andrew Strauss’ men any chance particularly after they were drubbed -1 in the ODI series against Australia just prior to landing in South Africa. But then unexpected results are still very much a feature of ODIs and add much to its charm.
An encounter between India and Pakistan is the one game guaranteed to bring in the crowds anywhere as well as a worldwide TV audience of millions besides generating the tension and excitement that no other match-up can generate and last Saturday was no exception. The game lived up to all the hype and in a tough group it was obvious that the winner would have a major advantage and that is what Pakistan enjoys at the moment. Three equally matched teams in a group considerably raises the interest level among cricket followers and while India are at a disadvantage the semifinalists will not be known till the final pool matches on Wednesday.
If anything group B has turned out to be even tougher with each match vitally important as the results and the placings have illustrated. Sri Lanka started strongly only to falter, a skilful New Zealand side must fancy their chances of making the semifinals while England as I said have been the team of the moment. Here again the qualifiers will not be known till the final group clash on Tuesday and the only sure thing is South Africa’s elimination. When will they add another trophy to the only major title they have won – the inaugural Champions Trophy in Bangladesh eleven years - is anyone’s guess.
The remaining group matches and the semifinals and the final to be played on October 5 will no doubt add spice to the flavour as the Champions Trophy moves to a pulsating climax. Somehow one can sense a fitting finish to a tournament that has already done much to bring the much maligned format back to life.