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06-05-2013, 12:47 AM #1
[Cricket] India, South Africa kick-start ICC Champions TrophyIndia and South Africa will open the final ever staging of the ICC Champions Trophy in Cardiff on Thursday.
The Champions Trophy - initially designed as a one-day international tournament secondary to the ICC World Cup that was held every two years - has flagged in popularity recently.
The introduction and subsequent hype around Twenty20 cricket has seen attendance figures for the 50-over format plummet, and with the introduction of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup - and the mooted ICC Test Championship - cricket's governing body has seen fit to remove the event from the international calendar.
The Champions Trophy has been contested just twice since 2004, with Australia winning both titles in 2006 and 2009, but good crowds are expected over the month of June with the tournament being staged in England and Wales.
And this Group B fixture is an ideal way to begin the tournament, with the third-ranked South Africa doing battle with the world number one side in the 50-over format.
Apart from two warm-up matches in Britain, India will head into the tournament having not played any 50-over cricket since January.
Shortly after a 2-1 series loss to Pakistan in December and January, in which MS Dhoni starred with 203 runs, India beat England 3-2 in an exciting five-match series.
The performance of batsman Suresh Raina (277 runs at an average of 92.33, including four half-centuries) was particularly encouraging for India, while all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja (nine wickets at an average of 15.77 and an economy rate of 3.49) also performed superbly.
In 23-year-old paceman Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India have a bowler who will be perfectly suited to the British conditions.
Kumar, who is capable of swinging the ball both ways, has taken nine wickets in his eight one-day internationals.
He is a talented prospect though, and should thrive in the often overcast conditions and pitches that will suit his style of bowling.
South Africa have played far more recently, with an 83-run win over the Netherlands last week giving them some match practice in the international arena.
JP Duminy scored a confidence-boosting 150 not out in that match, while spinner Robin Peterson (4-67) bowled well.
In March, the Proteas edged a five-match series against Pakistan 3-2, largely thanks to the performance of wicketkeeper-batsman AB de Villiers.
De Villiers scored 367 runs in his five matches at an average of 91.75, hitting one century and three 50s. Bowler Ryan McLaren took 10 wickets in the series for South Africa.
With India's squad coming straight off the Indian Premier League season, they may be in better preparation for the shorter form of the game.
Of course, many South Africans have also played in the IPL, and the conditions should suit them better, with the low and slow pitches of India unlikely to be replicated in Wales.
An exciting encounter is expected in Cardiff and due to the short nature of the tournament, the loser will already be under pressure in a difficult group that also contains Pakistan and the West Indies.