Something interesting happened in an office suite on the 108th floor of the Burj Khalifa a few months ago. At four in the afternoon, several men in dark suits, white shirts, blue ties and Ray-Bans waddled in, carrying leafy files. This was noticed by the tower’s security personnel and was promptly reported to us.
With our special transceiver (the one Tom Cruise failed to use in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, because it was too high-tech) we zoomed into the meeting and this is what we found. The men were cricket officials, who had preferred this venue to the ICC’s Sports City comforts, primarily because they wanted to discuss something important, and also because the Indian among them, Mr X, said so. The Australians, the English and the New Zealanders were fuming. They did vent their ire. But Mr Y, representing the West Indies, asked, “Is there any point going up with the Indian Board?” There actually wasn’t, the rest agreed. Chai and idlis were served, with sambar. “Can we get a waffle, at least?” asked the Aussie. “Nope,” repeated Mr Y, “but I could order some good rum.” No agreement. Finally, Mr X put forth his reading of world cricket. “The ICC Champions Trophy clashes with the World Cup. We want it out, rejected, ousted.” The ICC chief agreed: “Good. It’s decided then. No more Champions Trophy.” “But we host the 2013 tournament?” said Mr Z, the ECB guy.
So it came to pass, and we have first-hand information that, even as Mr Cruise was swinging around the tower on his magnetic glove(s), world cricket threw the Champions Trophy out of the window. Part of the tournament will be held in Wales, and good ale will be on the house (Mr Y’s rum-and-cola suggestion was stubbed out). The English pubs, one hears, would be tax-free for the duration, all players would have jacuzzi-attached rooms, and India would be exporting Malana. There will be cricket, too. Some matches would be attended by royalty, by those no-hopers from Wimbledon and by celebrity paparazzi. Chastity belts would be distributed free at whatever venue tourist Shane Warne visits, Chris Gayle would be asked to slow down to British burps, Sir Alex Ferguson would coach England, now that he is free, Ishant Sharma would be given two beds to relax and lots of conditioner.
Every evening would be party time, happy hours being from 9 am to 11 pm. We won’t even think of predicting a winner, because this trophy would be embalmed, and kept at the Louvre. Dan Brown is ready with his laptop and a new story idea: The Burj Khalifa Codes.
And, So, The Teams Call It In...!
We looked ahead at the tournament, to be held in England and Wales, and we saw several smoke signals, which we followed, blended with the inglorious uncertainties of cricket, and arrived at extraordinary analyses of the teams. There will be the world’s eight top teams, divided into two groups:
Group A Australia (defending champions), England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
Group B Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa and India.
The Aussies aren’t in the Steve Waugh or even the Ricky Ponting era. They’re going for the grassroots. At 21, Mitch Marsh, the youngest son of former Australia great and coach Geoff Marsh, is a guy to watch. He’s played only one ODI and three T20 games for his country, but he is being talked about, we mean yapped about, everywhere. This guy is good: He was sent home from Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence, because he was “unfit to train”; he was sacked from a team after a b-i-g night out in South Africa; he injured his hamstring. But he has batted well thereafter. Then there is Glenn Maxwell. (Remember him—the $1 million guy at the IPL?) They also have James Faulkner, Clint McKay and Matthew Wade. Shane Watson has the right credentials, as do Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson.
The Indian shadow is too long. And the phrase ‘Indian-origin’ is a killer. England, as hosts, had to call up Ravi Bopara into their squad. It was a surprise, say some. Only if they knew about the secret Burj Khalifa meeting. Bopara, please note, was not even in the team that defeated the Kiwis 2–1 in New Zealand in February. England are coming out of injuries, it seems, losing a star. Tim Bresnan has completed his rehabilitation after an elbow surgery, but Kevin Pietersen is yet to recover from a bruised knee that kept him out for months. The hosts will miss him. Six of the squad were in the last Champions Trophy: Jimmy Anderson, Bopara, Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan and Graeme Swann. Basically, they want a pace bowler, a spinner and an all-rounder to work one-day wonders. Guys to watch? A.N. Cook, S.T. Finn, Morgan, J.E. Root, J.C. Tredwell and I.J.L. Trott.
They always start off hard, then they get rubbery knees. There is little to choose, but if they can keep their nerves, and if batsmen Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor can keep at it, they could be a bit of trouble. They need a beefy bowling line-up, though, and they surely don’t have that. Spinner Daniel Vettori is a veteran, but will he shine in England? The squad’s Trent Boult, James Franklin, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee and Kane Williamson look good and should be able to fire.
How would you feel playing one-day internationals again after three years? Pretty rusty, eh? But Sri Lankans don’t believe in rust. They recalled left-arm pacer Chanaka Welegedara to the squad. The last time he played an ODI was in June 2010. Thereafter? Injuries, mainly hamstring. Actually, two more are back: Batsman Mahela Jayawardene (now he had a finger problem—and injury, we are told) and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath. He was, well, resting. But guess what? There will be absentees, notable ones. Opener Upul Tharanga and spinner Ajantha Mendis won’t be there. But the squad includes Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, so there’s no dearth of talent.
Not the ones to draw their punches, Pakistan too threw a surprise. They threw out all-rounder Shahid Afridi from the squad. Poor ODI form, they said. His figures have been pathetic: 161 runs at an average of 17.88 and he’s taken just four wickets at 113.75 runs each in the last 12 ODIs. So they had to take in a greenhorn: Fast bowler Asad Ali, the only uncapped player in the squad. They needed a pacer, after Umar Gul was missed. Gul is expected to undergo a knee operation in Australia next month. Pakistan want to blast their way out. They have six specialist batsmen in the squad, with the experience of skipper Misbah-ul-Haq to cocoon around. Off-spinner Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik are the all-rounders. There are also Imran Farhat, Kamran Akmal, Ehsan Adil and Wahab Riaz. You can never underestimate this side.
They are wise. They changed the skipper. So, 29-year-old Dwayne Bravo will lead the islanders to the tournament, instead of Darren Sammy. Frankly, “Sammy” shouldn’t be a captain’s name. “Bravo”... now that’s something. Clyde Butts, chairman of the selection panel, said: “Dwayne Bravo is an experienced, seasoned and senior cricketer who has demonstrated leadership qualities.” Bottoms up to Bravo (and Butts). Oh, and lest we forget, there’s another guy, called Chris Gayle. He can bat, sometimes. But he is mean, too outgoing. Too strong. The squad looks packed enough to cause a few scares, with the likes of Denesh Ramdin, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Ravi Rampaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Devon Smith ready to party.
Their problem is in the ankle. We mean, their Test captain’s problem—Graeme Smith is back home from his English county, Surrey, for surgery for a chronic ankle problem. The problem for the 31-year-old is not new, and flared up again in Pakistan. He is in a race to be fit in time. Note that South Africa’s opening game is against India on June 6. And then they don’t have Jacques Kallis either. He has opted out. Here is an amazing bit of statistic: Between the two players they have played 514 ODIs! And the rest of the squad put together? Just 652. Kallis alone has played more matches than all of the bowlers combined. Poor thing... he would have been the only man from any squad to have played the first and the last Champions Trophy. South Africa haven’t won a trophy in 15 years. It’s time they won something. Watch for fireworks from A.B. de Villiers, J.P. Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn.
This is a somewhat set team, except that Gautam Gambhir is out. One expected Yuvraj Singh to be dropped, so that is not a surprise, and the recall of Dinesh Karthik and the return of Umesh Yadav from injury are welcome. Shikhar Dhawan is heavily onto commercials, but has also done well in the IPL. Of course, this is 30 overs more a side, but that is okay, he can cope. All-rounder Irfan Pathan, seamer Vinay Kumar and batsman M. Vijay also return. These are good tidings. They say Irfan, on the seaming English wickets, would be a killer. And this is for the record: From India’s last ODI series (vs England at home) squad, four others miss out too—batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara (injured) and Ajinkya Rahane, and fast bowlers Ashok Dinda and Shami Ahmed. Guess what? Those left are strong enough, such as specialist batsmen Dhawan, Vijay, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. And spinners R. Ashwin and Amit Mishra. Plus, the pace (which is going to count in England): Irfan, Umesh, Vinay, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma. And, of course, the strategically-gifted M.S. Dhoni.