Cricket Australia has more on its mind than just the Ashes

Date: May 3, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Mention the word ‘cricket’ in Australia at present and in next to no time the conversation will turn to the Ashes – will we or won’t we? – win that is.

It has been in every cricket fan’s mind seemingly before the summer’s twin home series against Sri Lanka and South Africa, even though the Proteas are the world number one Test nation.

But there is a little engagement for Australian cricket before the battle for the little urn kicks off at Trent Bridge on 10 July

It is called the Champions Trophy and it is to be staged in England and Wales from 6 June.

So what, I hear you say.

Don’t get me wrong, I will be paying a lot more heed to what happens during the five-Test Ashes series, but nonetheless, the Champions Trophy is one of only two events that brings together the top-tier one-day nations.

It has always been the poor cousin to the quadrennial World Cup and perhaps that fact, along with the ever growing beast that is Twenty20, are the primary reasons that this year’s event will be the last time it will be staged.

The Champions Trophy was the brainchild of former ICC President, Indian Jagmohan Dalmiya.

It was initially planned to be a tournament that would bring the top one-day nations together in countries that were largely emerging nations internationally.

The first tournament was staged in Bangladesh in 1998 with the next in 2000 staged in Kenya when the event was known as the ICC Knock-Out Tournament before switching to the name by which we have known it over the past dozen years.

The concept of playing it in emerging cricketing venues was soon cast aside with the next two tournaments staged in Sri Lanka and England.

When England staged the tournament in 2004 many an Aussie wag suggested that in fact it was being held in a developing cricket nation – sadly that joke lacked any humour after the Ashes series 12 months later!

Australia named its 15-man squad for this year’s event yesterday.

Michael Clarke and his deputy George Bailey will be impressing upon the group that it is time that Australia became the pre-eminent force once again in ODI cricket.

At Test level the Australian team lost its number one ranking a lot sooner than it did in the limited-overs arena with its fall from the top occurring in August 2009 when it was usurped by South Africa.

Australia has not regained the number one spot since then and did plunge as low as number five – it currently is in fourth position on 110 points behind South Africa (128), England (114) and India (112).

On the other hand, from October 2002 until August 2012, Australia held the official number one spot in limited-overs cricket for all bar 12 of those 118 months – each time it was South Africa which briefly held the top position for three periods of one, seven and eight weeks.

It was during that reign that Australia won a historic three consecutive World Cups in 1999, 2003 and 2007.

Last start, in the sub-continent in early 2011, it was swept aside by the eventual winner, India in the quarter-final stage at Ahmedabad.

At Champions Trophy level, Australia has won it twice – the last two occasions in India in 2006 and South Africa in 2009.

Australia lost the number world ranking to England in August 2012 and at one point since then dropped to a fairly distance fourth in the rankings but of late they have climbed back up the standings.

It enters the Champions Trophy with a possibility of reclaiming the number one mantle, such is the tightness at the top – India (119), England (117) and Australia (116).

Cricket Australia will be hoping that the team’s ODI fortunes continue to ascend as the next World Cup in 2015 will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

It took India, at the tenth staging of the event, to become the first host to take out the final in March 2011.

An early departure from the 2015 tournament on home soil would be an embarrassing outcome for cricket in this country.

With the future in mind the selectors have gone with some young players for this year’s Champions Trophy.

Twenty-five year-old West Australian swing bowler, Nathan Coulter-Nile has been chosen for the first time on the back of another solid domestic one-day summer where he captured 16 wickets at 23.

He will find English conditions to his liking.

Mitchell Marsh is also back in the fold – the 21-year-old made his only ODI appearance at Centurion against South Africa in October 2011.

Since that one-off showing he has faced problems in the form of both injury and behavioural issues – he was sent home from the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane and also was on the receiving end of further disciplinary measures during the Champions League tournament in South Africa prior to the Australian summer.

However, having hopefully learned his lesson in that regard and back to full fitness, he showed during the domestic summer he is a player of the future with 278 runs at 69 from his five Ryobi Cup appearances – the highlight being an innings of 104 off 96 balls against Tasmania at Perth.

While Glenn Maxwell was overlooked for the Ashes he has been retained in the ODI squad.

Young all-rounder James Faulkner will have a busy few months having being named to tour England for both the Champions Trophy and the Ashes.

While his Test form has been extremely lean in in the last 18 months, Shane Watson was always going to a definite starter for the Champions Trophy – back in coloured clothing in the IPL, he peeled off an unbeaten 98 off 53 balls for the Royals against the Sunrisers last week.

He has also returned to the bowling crease in India which augurs well for him in both forms of the game.

Mitchell Johnson may be out of favour at Test level but he made the Champions Trophy squad, perhaps indicating that his Test career may still have some life left in it.

He will form a formidable fast bowling alliance alongside Mitchell Starc and Clint McKay.

After being mauled by India’s batsmen in the recent Test series Xavier Doherty will feel a lot more at ease back in his most successful form of the game – he will be backed up by Clarke, Maxwell and Adam Voges in the spin department.

Matthew Wade will be behind the stumps and his batting will be important in support of Davis Warner, Phillip Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Bailey and Voges.

At 33 years of age, Voges is perhaps the surprise inclusion however his form for Australia during our summer was outstanding – in his three matches he made scores of 80no, 28 and 112no of 106 balls. The side looks well balanced and should go deep into the tournament.

A strong performance will bring a smile to those at the Jolimont headquarters of Cricket Australia.

It would be also be a morale boost ahead of the main course this northern summer.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 2 April 2014