Who said the ICC Champions Trophy was a dull and dead tournament? Shame on you if you even thought about muttering words to that effect.
Two thrilling matches back to back have given the current edition of the Champions Trophy some much needed oomph. First, Abdur Razzaq single-handedly accounts for Sri Lanka (who I thought were genuine contenders for this title, mind you) and last night Jerome Taylor cleaned up the Australian tilt at the West Indies total by claiming the first ever hat-trick by a West Indian in an ODI.
First things first, I was extremely surprised to learn that a legacy left by the likes of Wes Hall, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, et al did not include a hat-trick in an ODI. The legacy sounds almost as incomplete as Sachin Tendulkar retiring without recording a triple hundred next to his name.
In a clear sign that experimentation is not the sole preserve of Team India, the Australians and West Indians both decided to test out a few different combinations. In a very sensible move Simon Katich was replaced by Shane Watson. This is not necessarily different on the part of the Australians, but it signals an end to the unsuccessful experiment with Katich as an ODI opener and the desire to provide a spark to the Aussie top-order that has been missing ever since Matthew Hayden's days became numbered.
The West Indies dropped Shivnarine Chanderpaul in favour of Runako Morton, a move that was slightly mystifying considering he scored a 31 ball duck in his last outing. Either way, whatever the reasoning behind the move, it paid handsome dividends and the West Indians can credit their win to Morton, for he played with maturity belying his age and provided crucial runs towards the end of the innings that ultimately proved the difference between the two teams.
Brian Lara, for all his deficiencies, seems to pull a rabbit out of the bag when it matters most. Coming in at number six (to face the spinners according to Cricinfo?), yet within the first 15 overs, played a knock that even Tendulkar would have been proud of! Calm and steady at first. Blossoming later to showcase his pure genius. Unfortunately, that may be the last we see of Lara in this tournament. He seemed in increasing discomfort, owing to a sore back.
Although uncharacteristic, Adam Gilchrist innings - almost painful, compared to what he has treated us to in years gone - may be a sign of the application that will be required of the key batsman in all the teams to eventually win this tournament. Contrary to popular beliefs about Indian conditions, the slam-bam-thank-you-mam approach is unlikely to pay consistent dividends in this tournament. Who said 300+ scores were what ODIs were about?
Furthermore, Gilchrist's, Morton's and Lara's innings also proved that a decent score can be posted on a tough/tricky/challenging wicket. After Graeme Smith's tirade a couple of days ago, I hope he and his team were watching and taking notes on how to play in-the-trenches cricket. I don't think I would be out of place in placing Virender Sehwag's name alongside Smith, too.
What does this mean for the Australians you ask? It means that they will be doubly fired up for their next game against the Poms. They will most likely thrash them with 25 overs/8 wickets to spare. Hence, do not read too much into their next game.
Their real test will be against India. With McGrath's role being reduced to that of a trundler in this match, it will be interesting to see what role he plays against India. I would bet a fair amount that he will open the bowling, for the Tendulkar factor - if nothing else. Although, the Jaipur wicket is not quite as challenging as the Brabourne, I still think the Indian spinners will be the key against the Aussie batsmen.
I will definitely proffer more after the next few matches. Until then, I seriously hope that the Indians are going easy with the Ladoo's during Diwali. The West Indians are not going to be the easy-beats they fooled us into believing they were after the Sri Lanka match.
This Champions Trophy may yet be the most competitive and balanced tournament we have seen in a while. For this, hearty thank yous must be delivered to the curators for producing "sporting" (in the real sense of the word) wickets. No, Graeme?
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