Cape Town – At first glance, South Africa
appear to have a relative stinker of a group draw for the next ICC Champions
Trophy one-day international tournament.
The Proteas are the same pool (Group B) as
Subcontinent powerhouses India -- the defending champions -- Pakistan and Sri
Lanka for the eight-team event, to be staged in England and Wales from June
1-18 next year.
That leaves premier World Cup champions
Australia in Group A with close-proximity rivals New Zealand, England and
The top two teams in each group go into the
semi-finals, with the showpiece set down for The Oval in London; the only other
venues to be used for the tournament are Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and
Edgbaston in Birmingham.
AB de Villiers’s team would have reason to
feel pretty intimidated by their group, of course, had the tournament been
staged somewhere on the Subcontinent, but the fact that it is in English
early-season conditions, where strong seam attacks and sound batting techniques
tend to come into their own, helps to level things up a lot.
Currently ranked third in ODIs, they ought
to feel reasonably confident of advancing to the semis.
England also hosted the last edition of the
Champions Trophy, in 2013, and until fairly recently the future of the
tournament was in some doubt.
But there has been a resurgence in backing
for it, considering that some pundits believe it holds public attention better
even that the longer World Cup, which also features several minnow teams and
does not always guarantee “strength versus strength” contests.
It is important to South Africa as every
major ICC jamboree – whether World Cup, Champions Trophy or World T20 – is an
opportunity to end their big-tournament hoodoo.
They can at least boast having been first
winners of the Champions Trophy, back in 1998 under Hansie Cronje in Bangladesh,
but have not even made the final in six subsequent ones.
Next year’s event confirms a long Proteas
presence in the United Kingdom, as they are also due to play England in a short
bilateral ODI series immediately before the Champions Trophy – a useful acclimatisation
exercise – and then a four-Test series plus a handful of T20 internationals
stretching into August.
Confirmed SA fixtures at Champions Trophy:
June 3: v Sri Lanka, The Oval
June 7: v Pakistan, Edgbaston
June 11: v India, The Oval