The return of the ICC Champions Trophy this week is a rare chance to see one day international cricket with meaning. Unlike the seemingly endless parade of two-team ODI series, there should be a real appetite for knockout matches, following the 2015 World Cup, in which high-octane T20-style cricket came to the fore.
The ICC has acknowledged the growing desire for matches with consequences, by pushing for the creation of an international ODI league earlier this year, which would give context to regular bilateral series. That plan has floundered for now, although qualification for this year’s eight-team Champions Trophy was dictated by the ODI rankings, accounting for the sad absence of the charismatic World T20 champion West Indies, whose 50 over form has been less impressive.
The Champions Trophy has had a strange history, disrespected by media, overlooked by fans and pushed around by administrators, summed up by the fact that it was scrapped after the 2013 edition, to create space in the schedule for a world test championship.
That plan was abandoned, a victim of ICC politics, so with a gap in the schedule and money to be made, the governing body resurrected the unloved tournament, which has been variously held every two, three or four years, and was created to provide some excitement and cash between world cups, a role that has now been filled by the World T20.
The Champions Trophy has one advantage, brevity – 15 matches in 17 days, as opposed to 49 in 44 days at the 2015 World Cup. In such a short tournament, with only three group games per team, every result will count, offering a reminder of what a thrill a good 50 over game can be when there is something riding on it.
However, with the Champions Trophy now just an elite eight-team competition, the ICC’s decision to cut the World Cup from 14 teams to 10 for 2019, making it just a longer version of the same tournament, seems even more short-sighted, as it will be barely more of a global championship than the Champions Trophy.
LIVE BY THE SWORD, DIE BY THE SWORD
England are in the unusual position of being favourites for a limited overs tournament, but it is well-deserved, following 27 wins in 44 ODIs in the two years since a disastrous group stage exit at the 2015 World Cup, in which they not only lost all their games against test-playing nations, but played boring cricket to boot.
They modelled their reinvention on New Zealand’s bold run to the World Cup final, led off by big-hitting batting from the start and a varied, attacking group of bowlers.
But that strength is also a weakness. New Zealand fell apart in the 2015 final, stumbling to a disappointing 183 all out and losing to Australia by 7 wickets. It was no choke, they did not collapse under the pressure, but all-out attack is inherently risky and, on that day, did not come off.
England fans, anticipating a home victory, should look no further than Monday’s warm-up ODI against South Africa, in which the team was bowled out for 153, to see how it can go wrong, but should embrace the possibility. It is a high risk, high reward approach, and to reap the benefits you must be willing to accept the dangers. The thrill of the ride is part of the fun.