ICC cup: On current form Aussies are favourites

Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2002, 17:05 [IST]
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Colombo: Cricketers, administrators and fans will heave a collective sigh of relief as the focus shifts from the sponsorship controversy to cricket with the start of the Champions Trophy here on Thursday. The run-up to the 12-nation Limited Overs tournament was marred by a contract row between players and administrators that nearly led to the pull-out of some of the world's best cricketers, especially from India.India took the longest to resolve the crisis, threatening to send a second-string squad to Sri Lanka if the top players did not sign a sponsorship agreement with the International Cricket Council (ICC). India named its best team barely three days before the tournament, the biggest to be hosted by Sri Lanka and considered a dress rehearsal for next year's World Cup in South Africa. It is a tournament with a difference. The tournament will rely more on technology this time as on-field umpires have been given an option for the first time to consult the TV umpire before giving a leg- before verdict. The sport's world governing body, however, has said it is being done on a trial basis and will be discontinued if it is unsuccessful. It is also a tournament with a deceptive format. The event will he held on a league-cum-knockout basis for the first time, unlike the previous two editions at Dhaka (1998) and Nairobi (2000), which were played on the knock out format. However, a team can still be knocked out of the tournament after losing a match to a strong team. Twelve teams have been divided into four groups of three each, with the winners advancing to the semi-finals. Each group consists of two experienced and one inexperienced team. The fear of a knock out punch still remains, for each big team is aware it is virtually out of the competition after losing to the experienced rival. Australian skipper Ricky Ponting will draw little solace from the fact that his team will play two matches for the first time in what has been a jinxed tournament for his country. Australia has never played more than one match in this event despite parading star players at Dhaka and Nairobi as it was twice beaten in the first round by India. The first-match blues haunt Ponting's skilful team, which is learning to live without the Waugh twins, Steve and Mark. Australia is favourite on form, but also familiar with the fickle nature of the One-day game. Australia again finds itself in a must-win situation with the first match itself as it clashes with defending champions New Zealand in its opening league encounter on Sunday. "It's a disturbing fact that we've been knocked out early on two previous occasions," said Ponting. "There are some talented teams in the competition this time, but we're well equipped to deal with any situation. We're ready to set the record straight this time." Their first match in the league is virtually a knock out contest for both Australia and New Zealand because a victory in the second, against minnows Bangladesh, will then prove inconsequential. New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming does not believe the 'champions' tag will be a burden. "We go into the tournament with pride as defending champions, but pressure will be there. It's a crucial tie having to play Australia first," he said. New Zealand beat India in the final of this event in Nairobi two years ago for its first major international success, thanks to Chris Cairns who hammered an unbeaten century batting with an injured knee. New Zealand, however, will miss the services of dashing all-rounder Cairns along with star batsman Craig McMillan this time. India is currently in form, having beaten England in the final of a triangular One- day series on the strength of its talented young players. It meets England again here hoping to repeat its performance. Shaun Pollock's South Africans are also to be feared despite their defeat against Sri Lanka in the Morocco Cup final at Tangiers last month. Sri Lanka could turn out to be the dark horses as it has the resources to stun the best in its backyard. Pakistan and the West Indies are the other big teams in the fray, hoping their key players overcome inconsistency to do justice to their stature.

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