No choke, it really is South Africa's turn

England look hopeless and only India can stop hosts winning what will be a memorable Champions Trophy.

This must be South Africa's time. But then it has been South Africa's time many times before. With a succession of accomplished teams in a succession of big tournaments, they have not so much seized the day as fled from it in a blind panic.

It must therefore be with some apprehension that they have been installed as clear favourites to win the Champions Trophy in their own country. They are the No 1 side in the world, they have home advantage, they are well rested having played no cricket since the World Twenty20 in June, they have a balanced side with a blend of wise old heads and raw go-getters.

Their unerring ability to lose big games, however, is always likely to haunt them. Only winning can enable them to shed a reputation as chokers and their tendency to choke precludes them winning. If it was not choking that ensured their elimination from the semi-finals of the World Twenty20 by the eventual winners, Pakistan, they had dealt clinically and efficiently with everybody else in the tournament.

The Champions Trophy is the runt of the International Cricket Council competition litter, friendless and ugly. This year's event is a re-run. It was meant to be staged in Pakistan last summer but was cancelled at the last minute because teams would have refused to go.

If the competition has struggled to find a place in a crowded calendar, the ICC have attempted to change its status by throwing money at it. The total prize pot is $4m (£2.46m) and the winners will receive half of that. This is not Indian Premier League-style cash where individuals can earn that amount in a single tournament, but it is still a whopping amount.

The sniffy might opine that the money cannot lend the Champions Trophy any class. A tart who wins a million dollars is only a tart with money. But the other thing the ICC have done is amend the tournament.

So instead of having 12 teams, as they did in England in 2004, or 10 as they did in India in 2006, there are now eight. These are the top eight in the world, the full-member nations of the ICC apart from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, who have been told thanks but no thanks. The competition will be short and sharp and therefore it might provide a shock by actually being a decent spectacle involving the world's best cricketers. The whole event contains 13 matches in 14 days. Somebody somewhere is learning.

The cricket has a chance of being of a high quality and it will move quickly on. There might be some close groups, though the fact that the shambolic West Indies have sent what is at best a second team means that Group A will be a three-way fight. The dispute between the Caribbean's leading players and their board continues. It is lamentable and it besmirches both the competition and the game.

Nor is it possible to predict anything but disaster for England. A win in the opening match on Friday against Sri Lanka might open different horizons but they have forgotten how to win. Their employers have demeaned the tournament by sending out the team so late. England (and Australia) will arrive at their hotel in Johannesburg at about the same time as the opening ceremony starts up the road.

Only West Indies have less of a chance of progressing than England. Of course, if something suddenly clicks then Andrew Strauss may find his lads on a roll. But England look bereft.

South Africa's main competitors will be India, who do not quite have a full-strength team but have enough depth for that not to matter. Although their overall playing record in South Africa is poor, they reached the World Cup final in the country in 2003.

Australia will take encouragement from the thrashing of England but better, more clever teams lie in wait. Pakistan, the surprise World T20 champions only three months ago, might have another shock left in them.

Despite precedent, however, it is hard to look beyond the hosts. And if South Africa do muck it up it will, as always, provide memorable theatre.

Group-by-group guide

Group A:

Australia

Captain: Ricky Ponting.

Key player: Brett Lee. Still has the astonishing gift of changing course of innings in a trice with fast, late swing.

Prospects: Holders, but not the team they were. Although self-belief is never to be underestimated, the semi-finals should be the limit of progress if not ambition.

***

India

Captain: Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Key player: Sachin Tendulkar (right). Still sets the tempo at top of order and still magnificent – and may have Rahul Dravid as opening partner.

Prospects: Could, maybe should go all the way despite absence of some stars like Virender Sehwag. Have lost only four of 17 ODIs this year, three of them dead rubbers.

***

Pakistan

Captain: Younis Khan.

Key player: Shahid Afridi. Mercurial, multi-gifted cricketer who can make decisive interventions in both skills.

Prospects: Patchy record this year – three ODI series played, all lost – should be ignored. Well rested, have skilled fast bowling and just enough experienced batting.

***

West Indies

Captain: Floyd Reifer.

Key player: Darren Sammy. In a shamefully weak squad, about the only player with international credentials.

Prospects: None – unless the dispute between their best players and the board is settled. The present squad are no better than a second team. Talks continue and the ICC say late replacements are acceptable.

***

Group B

England

Captain: Andrew Strauss.

Key player: Strauss. In a woefully underperforming, weary team he alone looks capable of accumulating a workmanlike score – and he keeps giving it away.

Prospects: As slender as they can ever have been. Look well off the pace, short of inspiration and ideas. Will probably win.

***

New Zealand

Captain: Daniel Vettori.

Key player: Shane Bond. Has returned hungry and still quick after Indian Cricket League sojourn.

Prospects: As ever, dark horses but recent form suggests that they will do well to survive the group.

***

South Africa

Captain: Graeme Smith.

Key player: Jacques Kallis. Still churning out the runs and overs after all these years; high class.

Prospects: Should win, will probably lose because it is their destiny to lose, heart-breakingly, home or away and a nation will mourn.

***

Sri Lanka

Captain: Kumar Sangakkara.

Key player: Sanath Jayasuriya. The man who changed the face of one-day cricket for good has it in him one more time.

Prospects: Have consistently punched below their one-day weight lately as potency of talismanic Muttiah Muralitharan fades.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?