Every great tournament needs a group of death. For the forthcoming Champions Trophy (and it really feels like there should be an apostrophe in Champions somewhere, although we’re damned if we can figure out where) it has to be Group B. The main reason for this is that Group A is actually rather fluffy and friendly, with those lovely New Zealanders and charming Sri Lankans, rather backing Group B into something of a corner. Luckily it’s a corner to which it’s well suited: with the unpredictable Pakistan, the unpredictable West Indies, the unpredictable South Africa (as in ‘we know they’re going to choke but when will it be?’) and the unpredictable India (as in, ‘can they be arsed?’), it’s going to be extremely hard to, er, predict the eventual escapees from this particular temple of doom.
Let’s start with South Africa. Despite currently being ranked third in ODIs – ahead of England – cricket’s perennial chokers appear to have a side made up of a combination of world-class players and utter, utter dross. Imagine Manchester United starting with a front two of Robin van Persie and a fresh from the street Noel Edmonds: that’s the South African team in a nutshell. But with Colin Ingram as Noel Edmonds. We should point out that the work experience boy also nicked our big book of metaphors, the shit.
The absence of both Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis is a huge blow for the Proteas, particularly with regards to the balance of the side that the latter brings. Hence, despite having a distinctly splendid bowling attack and the Amla/de Villiers combination, we can’t help but think that South Africa and the rubbish element of their team will underwhelm once again on the biggest stage. Although calling the Champions Trophy the biggest stage is clearly bullshit of the absolute highest order.
The West Indies’ win back in the 2004 version of this competition still rankles with us nearly a decade later. If it was an ice cream flavour it’d be pralines and dick. On paper they’re unlikely to repeat the feat in 2013: any squad with Johnson Charles in it has some serious issues to address. They are however the reigning World T20 champions and have generally seen a gradual upturn in fortunes over the last few years. Despite all that though, they’re still the lowest ranked of the sides in this tournament (and are actually closer to Bangladesh than sixth-placed Pakistan) and are basically relying on Chris Gayle going consistently mental for a fortnight. We can’t really see it happening, particularly when there’s such small margin for error in this competition.
Pakistan are a nightmare to write about, especially if you get fined and/or beaten by your crypto-fascist editor for using clichés such as them being ‘consistently inconsistent’, ‘predictable in their unpredictability’ and ‘having the shittest wicketkeeper we’ve ever seen’. But all of those things are true; we don’t care if it costs us a broken finger or two.
At the time of writing Shahid Afridi is between international comebacks, so someone else will need to provide the mindless throwing away of wickets in the middle order. There’s no doubt Pakistan’s bowling attack should do well in English conditions – Saeed Ajmal is a threat in any conditions, let alone on the dustbowls of Cardiff and south London – so the question will be around the batting. If that clicks, Pakistan are a decent outside bet. Particularly if you’re currently struggling with some huge gambling losses.
The final stop on our whirlwind tour of Group B is India. Winners of the last ODI World Cup they may be, but the team is currently transitioning between two different generations. There’s no Gambhir, Sehwag or Tendulkar, which means a fairly callow top order will be under pressure; MS Dhoni often bails them out, but even he fails sometimes and the bowling doesn’t look all that strong in English (and Welsh) conditions.
Despite their faults, Dhoni and Virat Kohli should have enough between them to conjure up a successful run chase or two, possibly just enough to squeeze into the semi-finals before suffering at the hands of a well-paced Jonathan Trott century. A lot hinges on the first game (against South Africa), a game at which not one, nor two, but three 51allouters will be in attendance. Look out for our banner in the crowd somewhere.
Pakistan to top the group (beating India in the process), with the West Indies to finish last. And South Africa to somehow conspire to finish third in unlikely circumstances. 51allout to suffer further gambling losses.