Lara starts case for Caribbean defence

It is easy to sneer at the Champions Trophy. Which is why most people, unless they have appeared on a winning side or work for the International Cricket Council, do so.

The tournament that begins in India with qualifying matches next Saturday is the fifth version. It is generally held, mini-World Cup or not, to be a competition too far, especially as the real World Cup is being held next spring. It has never won hearts, and the last two events have hardly helped. The 2002 competition in Colombo was a cosy affair, utterly ruined by the final twice being washed out so that there were no winners.

The 2004 staging was played in September in England, which made for some deadly one-day cricket in awful conditions. Nor was it well organised. The final, however, almost compensated. West Indies won a thriller against England at The Oval by two wickets, chasing 217 after being 147 for 8.

Brian Lara, captain then and captain again, now finds his side having to qualify for the group stages proper in a round-robin tournament because they had slipped so far in the rankings. They should be safe enough with two of the sides being Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, whose historic win against Australia at Cardiff in 2005 seems to have been a false dawn.

The fourth team in the round-robin qualifier are Sri Lanka, who start proceedings against Bangladesh. They had tottered badly when the draw was made but perversely their majestic form since, including a 5-0 hammering of England, puts them among the tournament favourites.

There will be 21 matches in 29 days, at least three involving England (against Australia, India and a qualifier). The event is optimistically dedicated to the spirit of cricket and while the ICC are often accused of being too keen on money, the $165m (£88m) the Champions Trophy will have raised in all by the end of the 2006 event is not to be sneered at.

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