It is important for any team to get off to a winning start in a tournament, but in the ICC Champions Trophy it is doubly important because of the cut-throat nature of the event. There are only three games in the pool stage, so beginning with a win will certainly calm the nerves and give a team belief that they can progress to the semi-final stage.
Australia plays New Zealand at Edgbaston in its first match and it will be an interesting contest. There always seems to be drama when these two teams meet. Who can forget the nail-biting finish at Eden Park during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, where Kane Williamson hit the winning runs in a low-scoring contest dominated by the bowlers. The Aussies did, however, bounce back at the MCG to win the ‘big one’ and be crowned world champions once again.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann has made no secret of his love for pace bowlers who bowl over the 140kph mark, but I feel there needs to be a balance in the attack.
The battle of the two captains will be an intriguing one.Both Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are tactically savvy and have been unbelievably consistent with the bat in all forms of the game. Both teams rely heavily on their skippers to set the tone and contribute runs.
They are world-class performers, but have very different mannerisms at the crease. Williamson seems very calm, calculated and controlled whilst batting – from the outside it looks as though he is never puffed and never sweats!!! Smith, on the other hand, is energetic, busy, bubbly at the crease, never still for a moment. It goes to show the importance of being yourself and playing your way in this game.
In Birmingham, for the start of this tournament, the BLACKCAPS will be hoping for leaden skies above to help their impressive swing bowlers in Tim Southee and Trent Boult. If they can get the ball moving in the air and off the seam then they will trouble the Australia batsmen. If the ball doesn’t swing or move off the seam, then the Australia batsmen will look to dominate the BLACKCAPS attack.
Aaron Finch and David Warner are two of the most aggressive one-day players, and Chris Lynn is one of the most powerful hitters in the world. Their natural instincts are to go hard at the bowling, try to put them on the back foot and in a defensive frame of mind and under pressure by looking to hit boundaries.
It will be interesting to see the make-up of the Australia attack. Australia coach Darren Lehmann has made no secret of his love for pace bowlers who bowl over the 140kph mark, but I feel there needs to be a balance in the attack.
It would be exciting to see Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson all charging in and bowling thunderbolts. But in English conditions, control and getting the ball to move is important. The grounds are small and when it’s dry, the outfields are lightning quick where a batsman can use the pace of bowlers to great effect.
Smith will have plenty of options in the middle with the likes of Travis Head, Finch, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell (if he plays) and himself who can all chip in with a few overs around the big guns if need be to mix up the pace and give some more variety to the attack.
It is great to see Starc back to full fitness and playing again after fracturing his foot during the Australia-India Test series a few months back. He is such a huge weapon for Australia and respected by all batsmen around the world. Having the ability to swing the new ball and then come back at the death and get the old ball to reverse at searing pace makes him such an asset to the team.
Starc is also one of the nicest guys you could ever meet OFF the field, but once he gets into the arena, he is a fierce competitor. If Starc has a successful tournament then, in my view, Australia will also have a successful tournament.
I literally can’t wait for the tournament to begin and am confident the Aussies can get off to a winning start against our friendly neighbours, the Black Caps.