Champions Trophy: England looking strong but who are the challengers?

Prior to the last ever ICC Champions Trophy, Alastair Cook’s England were favourites to take the title at the end of June until two heavy One Day defeats at the hands of New Zealand saw them drift behind South Africa in the market. However, the home side have regained their status after an emphatic win over old rivals Australia but who are the most likely challengers as the tournament reaches its vital stage?

One Day Specialists

As comfortable as that English victory may have been, the most impressive team in this tournament so far has been India who despatched South Africa on the opening day. MS Dhoni’s men accumulated the highest score of the Champions Trophy to date – 331 from their 50 overs – and with Shikhar Dhawan leading the way with a rapid century, India are already looking like the side everyone has to beat.

India also have the added benefit of the recent IPL tournament where the majority of their players took time to find their best form over the two months of the competition. They are discovering their touch just at the right time and at this stage, Dhoni’s men look certain to make the final at the very least.

The Hosts

England have enjoyed some impressive results in the limited overs arena during the last twelve months but those two defeats against a lower ranked New Zealand side raised some questions. Were the top three batsmen scoring quickly enough? Was the selection right and could key men such as Stuart Broad stay fit for the entire competition.

Those questions have been answered to some extent by the win over Australia and one more victory against either of the weaker sides in the group – New Zealand or Sri Lanka – should be enough to book a semi-final place. There are concerns however that Cook’s men will struggle in the knockout phase so can they go any further?

Pre-Tournament Favourites

South Africa may head the World rankings in the 50 over game but recent form hasn’t been perfect against touring sides such as New Zealand and Pakistan. The pre-competition withdrawals of Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith further hampered the Proteas’ chances but the real problem for AB De Villiers has been the injuries sustained to strike bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

South Africa’s bowling looked poor in their opening match against India and while the side won their next match against under-performing Pakistan, are De Villers’ men strong enough to take a second victory and march into the semi-finals?

World T20 Champions

Standing in South Africa’s way will be a West Indian side who are current holders of the World T20 title and are a constant danger in any format of the One Day game. Dwayne Bravo’s men struggled to chase a low total against Pakistan in their opening contest but that victory means that it could be a showdown between the Windies and South Africa for that semi-final place.

Predicting the winner of that game will be tough but as always, much will depend on the power hitting of Chris Gayle if the West Indians are to prevail.

As for the rest…

Of the remaining sides, Pakistan are already eliminated and they are likely to be joined by Sri Lanka who looked vulnerable in their first game with New Zealand. That could leave a straight battle with the Kiwis and Australia for the last place in the semis and that should be decided when the teams meet on Wednesday.

The Aussies have been widely criticised over their form and their chances have been damaged by the absence of injured skipper Michael Clarke, but the defending Champions could yet scrape through and when this side reaches the knockouts, they have as much chance as anyone of claiming the title.

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