Stephen Brenkley: Fifty-fifty chance to revive flawed format

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The Independent Online

Fashions in cricket come and go. Today's cool switch-hitting is tomorrow's reckless gamble. This week's doosra is next week's run-in with the beak for chucking. But one thing has remained constant: the Champions Trophy is a waste of time and effort, a meaningless tournament without context or tradition.

In all its manifestations it has been a failure from its inception in Dacca in 1998 via Nairobi, Sri Lanka, England and India. Perhaps its lowest point was in Sri Lanka when two finals were played on successive days, in both of which only one completed innings was possible. Put them together and there might have been a match. But that was not in the ICC regulations and Sri Lanka had batted on both days, so it was not possible. The upshot was joint champions, which gave the lie to the very idea of a Champions Trophy.

Somehow – well, actually because of lucrative television deals and, crucially, audiences who keep coming back for more – it has survived. In South Africa in the next fortnight it has a real opportunity to answer the naysayers.

The format has changed so that only the world's leading eight teams are competing and they are playing for prize-money of $4m (£2.5m), with $2m going to the winners. It is short and sharp and it could be a shock.

The world's best cricketers, barring a few absentees such as the injured Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen, are present in all their glory. Some, mainly from England and Australia, will be tired after a long period of hostilities in other spheres.

There is, however, the sense of genuine competition. Two groups of four with each team playing three times will be followed by two semi-finals and a final. It is almost perfect knockout cricket and that should affect the approach of the players.

South Africa and India will start as favourites. Australia are the holders and, having hammered England 6-1 in the one-day series which ended on Sunday, are in form.

England's chances are difficult to promote. They look like a team unsure how to play the game and are not taking individual responsibility. Andy Flower, the coach, was candid in his assessment. He said: "Our form is poor, we can't hide from that, but we only need a couple of wins to get into the semi-finals. So we've got a chance."

That chance is affected not only by their poor form, however, but by the difficulties of acclimatising to playing 2,000 metres above sea level three days after arriving. "I don't think that will be a huge problem," Flower said. "We've got to go out there and play good cricket. There's not a lot of time but we are looking forward to it, it's another challenge and we want to take it on. I don't think it is ideal we are getting there late but there is no way we are going to start making excuses, either before or after the tournament."

South Africa should win, India probably will, but do not rule out Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. The real beneficiary could be the 50-over format. It has a real opportunity to be rehabilitated in the next fortnight – and make the Champions Trophy all the rage.