When the Champions Trophy rode into town two weeks ago, it was not so much welcomed as the prodigal son, returning to these shores after a nine-year absence, but more as an unwanted visitor grudgingly invited in for a cup of tea.
Historically the runt of the ICC trophy litter, and squeezed into an English summer already heavy with the weight of Ashes anticipation, the pre-tournament sentiment largely ranged from indifference and scepticism all the way to downright resentment.
Critics pointed to the tournament’s fairly undistinguished past, from the sharing of the inaugural title in 2002 – after the final was washed out twice, to holding the 2004 version in the treacherous conditions of English September, not to mention the postponement and relocation of the 2008 tournament following security concerns in Pakistan.
However perhaps because it was so written off beforehand or maybe just to spite the ICC, who are set to remove the tournament from their future plans, the feeling is that this edition of the Champions Trophy has been a quiet success – vindicating the small band of dissenting sages who always predicted it would be.
Helped originally by some unseasonal June sunshine and a quick-fire format that simply pits the top eight nations against each other, the tournament has had just one dead rubber and only one match abandoned due to rain.
There has even been time for a bit of controversy, with accusations of ball tampering, and the fists of Australian opening batsmen both flying around with reckless abandon.
Perhaps appropriately then, this unwanted but exciting tournament has also been notable for some fantastic performances from similarly underappreciated players.
Leader of that particular gang has been Jonathan Trott, who despite possessing an ODI average of over 50 – considerably better than anyone in England’s history to have played more than a handful of games, has attracted criticism with the same consistency that he has acquired his runs.
His detractors point to his marginally sluggish strike-rate but seemingly overlook the fact he has the fourth highest average of anyone in history to play more than 20 ODI innings.
He will never be a Chris Gayle or an AB de Villiers but the stability he provides at the top of the order has helped England climb the one-day rankings in recent years and the 209 runs he has scored in this tournament, at an MS Dhoni-worthy strike rate of 89.69, have propelled them to their first 50-over final in nine years.
Misbah-ul-Haq is another man to receive undue criticism from large sections of his own supporters, seemingly mainly just because he is not Shahid Afridi – when in reality Pakistan should be thankful that he isn’t anything like his fiendishly inconsistent countryman.
Without his runs in this tournament their woeful batting performances would have bordered on disgraceful. In the end Misbah’s 173 runs in three innings, including an excellent 96 not out, made up more than a third of all Pakistan’s runs in the Champions Trophy.
Another sub-continental scapegoat of recent years, Ravi Jadeja, has also thrived over the last two weeks, starring with both bat and ball as part of a very impressive India side.
The only time he has been needed at the crease, he made an unbeaten 47 from just 29 balls to prevent his side from blowing a position of great strength against South Africa.
With the ball he has picked up 10 wickets at an average of just 13 and an economy of 3.51, including 5/36 to decimate the West Indies – the sarcastic Twitter taunts of ‘Sir Jadeja’ seem a distant memory now.
Honourable mention should also go to George Bailey, a dignified stand-in skipper of a beleaguered Australia side, who despite much mockery over the years is currently one of the few top order batsmen not letting his team down, as half centuries against England and New Zealand proved.
So while the imminent consignment of the Champions Trophy to the tournament scrapheap might cause people to look back on it with a certain nostalgic fondness, we should remember just how unpopular it was with some and give credit to a few equally formerly underappreciated players who have helped to change that perception.
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