The competition has thrown up some enduring memories
It is hard to understand where exactly to locate the ICC Champions Trophy. The overpowering spectrum of one-day cricket, it seems, is bestridden by the World Cup and married to its four-year cycle, so much so that most other competitions are spoken of as steps in that one grand direction.
It can be difficult, therefore, to feel giddy about the Champions Trophy as a second major prize, despite its exciting brevity and quality. It ought to be bigger than a bilateral knockabout; and it is.
But for a gathering of all the world’s elite, it seemingly suffers from one flaw: it is simply not the World Cup.
The Champions Trophy instead holds a curious, mezzanine status: elevated from the rest, but designed to squat below the best. From a concept in 1998, through six chapters, the ‘mini-World Cup’ (a shining irony therein) has found its relevance questioned many times — and now, it turns out, answered.
When the curtains go up on the seventh edition in Cardiff on Thursday, they do so for the last time.
There will be, it can be safely assumed, few murmurs of protest from the assembled eight teams.
Although captains have spoken in recent days of this being the second-most-important ODI event in the world, there will be no tears shed on its passing.
All this does not imply, however, that the Champions Trophy 2013 will struggle to hold interest.
The tournament arrives a healthy two years before the next World Cup, an ideal milestone on the road for teams to measure their progress.
There is much about the top four to prompt rubbing of the hands in anticipation: India wears a thoroughly new look from the outfit that won the 2011 World Cup; South Africa, minus Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, is finding its feet under a new captain; Australia — champion the last two times — is seeking any inspiration ahead of a long summer on these shores; while England — despite the Ashes dominating cricket-talk here — chases a first major trophy for reassurance.
New Zealand has been in the semifinals, or better, of the last four global ODI events, a ‘tournament side’ not unlike the Portuguese in football.
World T20 champion the West Indies, equipped as well as anyone else for success in the limited-over game, returns to the land of its 2004 triumph with a new leader in Dwayne Bravo.
Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, another young appointee, faces a sizeable challenge, commanding players older and more experienced than he.
The heaviest fixture
The heaviest fixture of the group stages pits Pakistan — on the back of a wobbly time in Ireland but possessing yet another pack of impressive fast bowlers — against India at Edgbaston (Birmingham).
Tickets sold out in three hours and support for both teams, in a city where close to a quarter of the population is of South-Asian ethnicity, will doubtless be vociferous.
Although there is no stand-out favourite, England — notwithstanding this week’s series loss to the Kiwis — must start with a definite advantage on home soil, the use of two new balls in these conditions bound to make batsmen queasy. Teams must also wrap their collective heads around the rest of the new ODI rules quickly.
The Champions Trophy would have vanished without a chance for us to say goodbye, if not for commercial considerations.
The ICC Test Championship that was to take its place in the calendar this year was put off after the executive board meeting in October 2011.
“I am disappointed it is not going to take place sooner but it is a reality of the commitments we have already got,” the ICC’s then-chief executive Haroon Lorgat lamented at the time.
The Champions Trophy will not be mourned, but there will undeniably be nostalgic looks back at it.
It has after all thrown up some enduring memories — South Africa riding on a young Kallis’s shoulders to its only worldwide triumph till date; New Zealand, similarly, capturing its only big trophy; West Indian tail-enders Ian Bradshaw and Courtney Browne ambushing England in the darkness; and a callow left-hander called Yuvraj Singh flogging Australia speechless at the Nairobi Gymkhana.