The Champions Trophy of 2013 finished this weekend with India lifting the trophy after a narrow, nerve-wracking victory over the hosts, England. The tournament has been hailed as a success with good crowd attendance and high quality cricket. Personally, I enjoyed the tournament immensely and have made a few observations about it, which I am going to share with you now. If you think I have missed anything out or disagree with what I say then please feel free to contact me and tell me!
The right team won:
India batted well, India bowled well and India, for maybe the first time in their history, fielded well. Last time they came to England, India looked disinterested and ageing. Their body language was negative and their cricket was dismal. MS Dhoni looked weary and fed up of leading the side. Boy, how that has all changed! I’m a huge fan of Dhoni’s, I think he is a wonderful tactician who isn’t afraid to do something unusual or take a risk on a hunch, he holds his hands up when he gets it wrong and doesn’t boast when he gets it right. He is a fantastic batsman and his glove-work is up there with the very best right now (if not all time). He’s formed this team himself, by taking key components from CSK, removing the egos and giving younger players a chance to shine. India picked players on form rather than reputation, a decision which could have had nasty connotations if they hadn’t done well in this tournament. A lot of people in England don’t watch the IPL and so didn’t see the horrible form that the likes of Gambhir and Sehwag have been in. To leave them at home and bring Dhawan and Rohit Sharma was frowned upon over here, well they’ve proved everyone wrong! I was also pleased to see Karthik get a run in the side and Kumar looks like a very promising young bowler. I expected more from Ishant Sharma and Yadav, a bowler who I have always liked, but when required they both produced spells that had a massive impact on where the match went. From the moment they started India looked like the real deal and few can have complaints with their victory! Despite the greying beard, Dhoni looked young and enthusiastic for the sport again – a sight which all cricket lovers must savour; he is a true great of this era.
England are the true chokers, not South Africa:
India deserved to win given their performances over the tournament, England were in the better position to win the final after the first innings. England messed this up big style and my first reaction was to blame it on the batting against spin. Truth be told, I don’t think that excuse holds up anymore. We won a test series in India against these exact spinners, with the same line up that faltered when it mattered. The Edgbaston pitch shouldn’t have caused us more problems than the Kolkata, Nagpur or Mumbai equivalents. Ok, so there’s an argument that we can’t bat against spin in one day cricket but at the same time we weren’t chasing 200. Bell got unlucky, Trott got done by a great piece of wicket-keeping and Cook didn’t face the spinners. Even so, the first two looked like rabbits in the headlights against them and Root didn’t fare much better. Morgan and Bopara batted well but both, including the usually reliable, ice-cool Morgan, played stupid shots at unnecessary times. 20 from 15 was the scenario when Morgan got out and I actually have no problem with him trying to get that down to less than a run a ball. I have an issue with the panic that him getting out caused. Bopara, who had a magnificent tournament, played a shot to a ball that would have been called a wide otherwise, Buttler played the ugliest slog shot you will ever see (20 from 12 so the scenario still didn’t require it!) and Bresnan, as Harsha Bhogle put it, redefined the single. The last two overs were painful to watch and undid all the good work that Morgan and Bopara had done. Plain and simply; we got in a position to win and we blew it. Not for the first time either; I quote the 2004 Champions Trophy and the 1992 World Cup as perfect examples. The fact we have never won a 50 over tournament loomed large over our heads during those last 2.5 overs, and we need to find a way to change this or we will never taste One Day success, something which I feel is important.
This was a tournament for the batting all-rounders:
Jadeja, Bopara and McLaren aren’t exactly names you consider when you mention stars of international tournaments but all three of them had excellent tournaments. I would suggest that all three would say batting was their strong suit and yet all three excelled while bowling. Ok, McLaren was expensive but he took 8 wickets. Bopara took wickets and had a decent economy rate of 5.5 (the spell of 4-1-20-3 in the final was so nearly the difference between the sides) while Jadeja finished as the leading wicket taker in the tournament with 12. This is all made even more incredible when you consider that Jadeja is a spinner bowling in mid-June English conditions; hardly a spinners paradise, and Bopara and McLaren probably weren’t being considered for this tournament until last minute changes. England lost a One Day series to New Zealand but during the last match they realised that Bopara’s bowling was more than handy and he could chip in with lower order runs. Kallis pulled out of the tournament due to personal reasons, allowing McLaren in, but if Kallis was available I’m sure he would have had a major role in this tournament.
Slow and steady almost wins the race, although this slowness may only be a pre-conceived perception:
England’s top 3 were criticized before, and during, the tournament for batting too slowly. Cook, Bell and Trott couldn’t possibly open an innings because they don’t know how to accelerate despite the amount of runs they will score. This seems to be the argument to people who only watch T20 cricket and believe that every innings should start with a flourish. This is a stupid argument when you consider how many runs they scored between them this tournament. Let’s throw another name into the hat: Kumar Sangakkara is hardly a bish bosh batter and he didn’t have a bad tournament either! Rohit Sharma batted with caution, with a strike rate around 76 (lower than Sangakkara, Cook or Trott’s) and yet no-one was ever on India’s case for batting slowly! Trott had a strike rate of 91, Sangakkara 80 and Cook 79. The only batter, batting in the top 3, with a better strike rate then Trott’s was Dhawan! So, my argument here is that this perception that England bat too slowly at the start is a myth. Cook showed he can accelerate when needed to and Trott looked busier at the crease than usual, scoring more early boundaries then I’ve seen from him in the past. There is still an issue though as England or Sri Lanka didn’t win whereas India did. This is where Dhawan becomes the massive difference and maybe having 1 and 3 taking their time is fine if you have 2 going at a run a ball. Hence, I suggest that Kevin Pietersen replaces Ian Bell, and I’m a massive fan of Bell so it’s hard for me to say that! Also, Morgan looks lost at 5 – he doesn’t spend long enough at the crease there and as he can score big when he gets in I think England need to find a way to utilise him better – the way India use Kohli and South Africa use AB de Villiers is a way forward as Morgan is a similar batter to those two. But that would be very harsh on Joe Root who had a good tournament; it’s a problem but a nice one to have! What I’m trying to say is that slow and steady is a good policy to have, as long as you can flexible with the batting order and have someone that takes more risks during the powerplay.
Play to your strengths; not to the opposition weaknesses or the weather:
The top 8 sides in the world all have their differences and it was a breath of fresh air to see each of them play to their strengths; rather than trying to play to the opposition weaknesses. Sometimes in major tournaments, tactics can take too much precedence and you end up trying to expose the opposition rather than doing what you do best. I don’t recall any of that happening in this tournament. West Indies used their power hitters to get quick runs, Pakistan used their left-arm seamers and spin attack to bowl sides out cheaply, England accumulated then unleashed their fast bowlers, India preferred to try and bat teams out, New Zealand’s bowling attack was economical and therefore used to strangle teams and so on. The teams that succeeded in this tournament were the ones who had numerous strong suits; for example Pakistan fell apart when their bowlers failed whereas India’s bowlers eventually won them the tournament. The weather is also a factor in England and when there was rain in the air, teams tended to stick to their formulas. Sri Lanka captain, Angelo Mathews, stated that this was a reason for him being happy to bat first against Australia.
New Zealand have a brilliant bowling attack:
Mitchell McClenaghan took 11 wickets, Kyle Mills had an economy rate of just over 3.8, Vettori, McCullum and Williamson were more than useful spinners and Tim Southee is hardly a bad bowler; although he didn’t have a great tournament. This all amounted to a very formidable side that managed to restrict teams including some of the best batsmen to low scores. New Zealand were my outside tip for the title and despite them not making the semi finals, their bowling didn’t disappoint. It was the weather that let them down, not allowing a result against Australia and reducing the match against England. McClenaghan was the star of the tournament, combining wickets with a deadly yorker at the death of the innings. He was expensive at times but bowled exclusively at the start and at the death so that was to be expected. New Zealand’s success in the seam bowling department was even more impressive when you consider that seam bowlers didn’t get swing and leaked runs at times. James Anderson was the only bowler who managed to put together some genuine swing with wickets and a decent economy rate. The tournament lacked Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, both only played one game due to injury. England have played New Zealand a lot recently and in that time they have quickly become the international side I respect and admire the most.
The organisers got almost everything right:
England and Wales have a lot of cricket grounds that are vying for international matches. Therefore, the ECB have to continually rotate where England play cricket and on the whole they usually do it well. Picking the grounds where the Champions Trophy should be played must have been tough but I can see the reasoning behind all three of them, and believe they got 2 spot on. Firstly, I don’t believe international cricket should be played at Cardiff. The ground has never looked good enough for me and the stands only ever seem to be half full. Test matches there have been a disgrace. No-one watched our win over Sri Lanka and then the match against the West Indies got moved to Lords because Glamorgan hadn’t paid the fees for that Sri Lanka match in time. For me that should have been it, but the ECB gave them another chance to impress this tournament. The Oval was allowed to showcase itself as a major stadium, being taken out of Lords shadows and it didn’t let anyone down. Also, putting most of Sri Lanka’s group games at the Oval allowed the ground to get filled as the biggest Sri Lankan population in England exists in London. However, the best choice was Edgbaston. Edgbaston doesn’t have an Ashes test match this year, which hasn’t gone down well there given how much they’ve spent on redevelopments. This gave them international cricket, including the England-Australia match – which probably went somewhere in replacing the Ashes pain. Birmingham has the highest population of Indian and Pakistani residents in our country too, and that showed when all matches involving those countries were packed. The organisers deserve a massive pat on the back for how they set up this tournament. There wasn’t much that they could do about the weather but most of the time they showed flexibility, although the lack of reserve day for the final was a strange decision! Luckily there was a break in the rain to allow us to get that match in!
The ICC has a massive decision to make; and you can guarantee that someone will hate it:
This tournament has a brilliant format, the top 8 sides going against each other and it was over before it got dull and predictable. It left us craving for more, the exact opposite of the 2011 World Cup. There was only one dead match in the whole tournament, and that’s if India-Pakistan could ever be called dead! This was how 50 over tournaments should be, yet that means it is incredibly harsh on Ireland, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. One option is to have a qualifying tournament between the 7-12 ranked ODI sides, therefore giving the smaller nations the chance to stake their claim in this tournament; aswell as giving the established nations incentive to improve to become the 6th best team in the world. However, this should only happen if the ICC scrap the World Cup (which is something they have to consider if they want the Test Championship). 50 over tournaments can get boring if they go on for too long so the ICC need to find a way to stop that while still catering for the needs of (especially) Ireland, who have a genuine claim to getting test match status. I certainly don’t envy those in charge at the ICC! One thing is for certain after these few weeks though; DRS is a must have in all international matches and you should be allowed more than 1 challenge.