Tournament review

ICC Champions Trophy, 2013

Hugh Chevallier

Shikhar Dhawan celebrates his maiden ODI century, India v South Africa, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff, June 6, 2013
Leaps and boundaries: Shikhar Dhawan gave India a flying start throughout the tournament. © ICC/Christopher Lee
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1. India 2. England 3= South Africa and Sri Lanka

An old joke claims there's more craic to be had at a Glasgow funeral than an Edinburgh wedding. Long before the eight teams assembled for the 2013 Champions Trophy, the ICC announced the competition's grave had been dug, and that its seventh incarnation would be its death throe. Defunct tournaments aren't always the cheeriest, but it soon became clear this would be a thoroughly Glaswegian wake. (Several months later, in fact, it emerged that this hadn't been a wake at all.)

None had a better time than India, whose batsmen took barely a false step until the final, where they met an England side eyeing their first global 50-over prize (even if it had shrunk in the wash to 20). But then the Indian bowlers, aided by a dire case of English jitters, proved their own sure-footedness, scoffing at those who had seen the attack as a weak link. No other semi-finalist took eight wickets or more in every match; no other team could boast a pair of spinners offering penetration and parsimony.

The tournament was not perfect - poor weather and two one-sided semis precluded that - but by golly it packed a lot of punch (literally, in one instance) into two and a half weeks. It thrived on the UK's manifold diasporas, and an enlightened ticketing policy. Children paid £5 for each match, adults between £20 for the cheapest seats at group matches and £60 for the best at the final.

Crowds flocked in, and 11 of the 14 completed games enjoyed attendance of 89% or higher. The atmosphere was charged throughout: a ban for breaching the spirit of the game, accusations of ball-tampering, scintillating performances from at least two Asian batsmen, a drunken blow aimed by one cricketer at another, and a near-miss from the valiant hosts - no, this competition was not short of action.

Indeed it was so popular that a head of steam built up to raise it, Lazarus like, from the dead. At first, this seemed improbable. But rumours began to spread that its replacement on the calendar - the World Test Championship - had failed to gather support. In early 2014, it was confirmed that the Champions Trophy had been spared, to reconvene in 2017.

There were signs, too, that the ICC had recognised the virtues of keeping things simple. When the Champions Trophy had last come to Britain, in September 2004, Wisden called it "ill-conceived and ill-executed in almost every particular. For sheer dreadfulness, the fourth Champions Trophy surpassed the third, which in Sri Lanka two years earlier had failed to produce a winner at all." Back then, the United States and Kenya had joined the ten Test nations in a tournament pinched by West Indies from under England's noses in autumnal gloom. In June 2013, participation was limited to the eight top-ranked teams, in theory eliminating mismatches.

The structure was as pleasingly straightforward as the midsummer days were long: groups of four in which all played all, with two teams in each progressing to semi-finals. But in the beauty of a short, sharp contest lay the seeds of its undoing. And all the seeds needed to germinate was a watering. The ICC made several sound decisions, but they courted disaster by discarding all reserve days. Broadcasters and spectators may dislike play spilling on to a second day, but it shows utter disregard for the integrity of a tournament if the result of a semi-final is decided by position in the group tables - as so nearly happened - or if there is no outright winner. As the competition began, though, a dreich spring gave way to warm summer sun, and the administrators breathed again. (Not that they were optimistic about the British climate: the journalists' welcome pack contained a puffer jacket and an insulated mug…) But then, as sure as night follows day, the weather turned.

Would the whole shebang unravel? Almost. Had rain lasted another half hour on the afternoon of the final, the trophy would have been shared, as it had been in 2002-03 by India and hosts Sri Lanka. In the event, a 50-over match was decided by a 20-over final (despite the next day being dry). Remarkably, just one group game failed to reach a result, though the weather bit deep into several, including a crunch match between South Africa and West Indies that ended in a Duckworth/Lewis tie.

India were worthy champions, despite a nervy win over a nervier England at a dank Birmingham, after both teams had come through anticlimactic semifinals largely decided by the toss. The Indians seemed at ease everywhere, even in the wateriness of a British June. Their support had a home-from-home feel, too. The moment M. S. Dhoni's team were involved, flags waved furiously, and the roar grew deafening, especially in the presence of the moustachioed Man of the Tournament, Shikhar Dhawan. With flamboyance and power, but no fear, he made the world listen to his tune. Given his head at the top of the order at the age of 27, the left-handed Dhawan hit two centuries and a fifty in his 363 runs - 134 more than anyone else, and at a strike-rate of 101 - as the ball sang sweetly from his bat. He and Rohit Sharma shared opening stands of 127, 101, 58, 77 and 19. (Sehwag and Gambhir - who they?) The openers epitomised the new athletic India. Fielding was fun, not a fag.

Another hero of the young brigade was slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja, who stifled the South Africans in a high-scoring first game, and demolished the West Indians in the second, which guaranteed India passage into the semis. He ended with 12 wickets at under 13, conceded just 3.75 an over, and lent clout to the middle order. And Dhoni could call on the variations of unorthodox off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. India, who were unchanged throughout the tournament, overcame Pakistan in what was nominally a dead match, though more than a billion subcontinental eyes render that notion absurd. India won on Duckworth/Lewis - and on decibels - to top Group B.

Injuries hampered South Africa before and during the competition. Graeme Smith was nursing his ankle, Dale Steyn was risked for just one game, Morne Morkel limped out of the opening defeat by India, while Jacques Kallis opted to stay at home. South Africa shuffled their order, playing a different No. 3 in each group game, while the depleted attack looked largely anodyne. Into the breach stepped Ryan McLaren, who swatted a brisk unbeaten 71 against the Indians to pep up the run-rate, before grabbing four for 19 against Pakistan to set up a do-or-die clash with West Indies.

Trouble was, rain just wouldn't leave Cardiff alone - and those seeds of undoing started to swell. South Africa made 230 in 31 overs, but as the weather deteriorated first Marlon Samuels and then Kieron Pollard walloped West Indies back into contention. After 26 overs, they were four to the good on Duckworth/Lewis - and with one West Indian foot in the semis. But Pollard kitchen-sinked the next ball, from McLaren, and Steyn held a spiralling catch at third man. It proved the last, dramatic, action of a tense match. The maths said there was no longer anything between the sides, and for once the tie suited South Africa, previously specialists at losing out in tussles with the tables.

That result eliminated the quietly fancied West Indies. Their first game, a thrilling, low-scoring victory over Pakistan, contained a vicious opening spell from Kemar Roach, who seized his fourth wicket when Misbah-ul-Haq was caught behind. Or so we thought. Square-leg umpire Nigel Llong harboured doubts about the validity of the catch. The evidence, writ large on the giant screen, was damning: the ball squirted from Denesh Ramdin's gloves as he landed on the turf and, as if trying to dispel the notion that the ball was never under full control, he nonchalantly threw it away. Match referee Chris Broad saw the move as calculated, and found Ramdin guilty of conduct contrary to the spirit of the game; he was docked his match fee and banned for two oneday internationals. Roach never did take a fourth wicket, either in the match or the tournament.

George Bailey all set to reverse sweep, England v Australia, Champions Trophy, Group A, Edgbaston, June 8, 2013
No frills, plenty of thrills. The competition zipped along at a cracking rate. Here's George Bailey all set to reverse sweep © Getty Images

The last team in the group was Pakistan. They too enjoyed impassioned support, their flags transforming The Oval and Edgbaston into seas of rippling green. But they enjoyed little else, because an exhilarating bowling unit was neutralised by the weakest of batting line-ups. Without Misbah, who scored an unbeaten 96 against West Indies, and the talented opener Nasir Jamshed, Pakistan would have faced total humiliation: those two accounted for 56% of their team's runs from the bat. In one sense, though, Pakistan were consistency itself, dismissed for 170, 167 and 165. It meant that arguably the tournament's best attack - and unarguably its best trio of left-arm seamers - departed with three defeats. Most eye-catching was the 7ft 1in Mohammad Irfan; when he toured England in 2010 he seemed something of a passing novelty, but now he had added pace and control to his unnerving bounce. He had the potential to trouble the world's best.

For England, the tournament represented a real opportunity to end their 38-year wait for a global one-day international trophy. Twice on the day of the final it seemed they would succeed: first when the rain looked set to bring an anticlimactic share of the spoils, then when Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara roke the back of the chase. But their eventual five-run defeat followed failure in three World Cup finals and the 2004 edition of this competition. England's approach was thorough and logical, and for the most part it worked. They reasoned that the use of separate balls at each end tipped the balance towards the seamer, so the need to conserve wickets was greater than ever. When setting a target, England's 20-over score was almost inscribed in stone: against Australia, it was 87 for one, and against Sri Lanka, 85 for one; in the one-day series with New Zealand just before this tournament, they had reached 81 for two and 74 for two. And if that sounded like batting by numbers, here was some truth to it: England were in danger of sticking to their preordained targets come what may. On an Oval featherbed, they should have been quicker at making hay, and an innings of utter genius from Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara inflicted resounding defeat. Jonathan Trott drew flak, as he often does, yet his 229 runs - only Dhawan hit more - came at a jaunty 91 per 100 balls; neither of the openers, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, could manage 80. The bowling, so strong when the ball obliged with swing or spin, looked clueless when it didn't.

The system had, however, delivered victory over Australia at Edgbaston and, with the next fixture five days away, the team were allowed to celebrate. Joe Root was one of a handful of players from both sides who in the small hours fetched up in the Walkabout, an Aussie-themed bar in the centre of Birmingham. The precise events remain unclear, but Root was apparently sporting a wig on his chin when David Warner swung a punch in what an ECB statement described as an "unprovoked" attack. Warner was banned from all matches until the Ashes and fined £7,000. A fortnight later Cricket Australia sacked coach Mickey Arthur; the Walkabout altercation was seen as the last straw.

England were involved in another controversy. George Bailey, Australia's captain, remarked (admiringly) how quickly their bowlers had found reverse swing; then, as the England attack floundered against Sri Lanka, the umpires replaced the ball. There was no five-run penalty, and the incident might have faded away had Bob Willis not waded in. "Let's not beat about the bush," he said on Sky Sports. "Aleem Dar… knows that one individual is scratching the ball for England… and that's why the ball was changed." All eyes were now on English hands, especially Bopara's, who was widely identified as Willis's "individual". A furious England despatched New Zealand in a rain-affected game to guarantee progress - and without exciting any more ball-tampering fervour. South Africa's captain, A. B. de Villiers, couldn't resist referring to the rumpus in the lead-up to the semis, though it was already feeling like a storm in yesterday's teacup before his side conked out, and Willis later wrote to Cook to apologise.

Sri Lanka negotiated a topsy-turvy path to the last four. They came within one New Zealand wicket of defending a meagre 138 at Cardiff, before sauntering past England's daunting 293 at The Oval. On both occasions, Sangakkara led the way. When they met Australia in the last group match, there were enough mathematical permutations to make the heads of even Messrs Duckworth and Lewis spin. The fact that all four teams had an interest in the outcome kept the spectacle compelling. Mahela Jayawardene ensured an adequate total, though Sri Lanka were fortunate to be playing a team desperate to inflate their run-rate.

The Birmingham weather had prevented the Antipodean clash reaching a result: had New Zealand won, their run-rate would probably have meant they finished above Sri Lanka, whom they had dismissed inside 38 overs; had it been Australia, any sort of victory in that last group game at The Oval would have seen them qualify. For New Zealand, Mitchell McClenaghan was even more incisive than in the NatWest Series, striking once every 13 balls, while Daniel Vettori put long-term injury behind him to bowl 21 overs for only 66.

Bottom of the heap came the defending champions, Australia. How they missed Michael Clarke, struggling to overcome a persistent back injury. Bowled out for 65 by India in a warm-up game, they rather matched the fireworks (think damp squib rather than pyrotechnics) that plopped and dolloped around the grounds in sheepish recognition of a six or wicket. The Australians had their moments - Adam Voges held a steady bat - but not many. Yet by early 2014, both they and the Champions Trophy itself had undergone astonishing revivals.

Match reports for

1st Match, Group B: India v South Africa at Cardiff, Jun 6, 2013
Report | Scorecard

2nd Match, Group B: Pakistan v West Indies at The Oval, Jun 7, 2013
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3rd Match, Group A: England v Australia at Birmingham, Jun 8, 2013
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4th Match, Group A: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Cardiff, Jun 9, 2013
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5th Match, Group B: Pakistan v South Africa at Birmingham, Jun 10, 2013
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6th Match, Group B: India v West Indies at The Oval, Jun 11, 2013
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7th Match, Group A: Australia v New Zealand at Birmingham, Jun 12, 2013
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8th Match, Group A: England v Sri Lanka at The Oval, Jun 13, 2013
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9th Match, Group B: South Africa v West Indies at Cardiff, Jun 14, 2013
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10th Match, Group B: India v Pakistan at Birmingham, Jun 15, 2013
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11th Match, Group A: England v New Zealand at Cardiff, Jun 16, 2013
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12th Match, Group A: Australia v Sri Lanka at The Oval, Jun 17, 2013
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1st Semi-Final: England v South Africa at The Oval, Jun 19, 2013
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2nd Semi-Final: India v Sri Lanka at Cardiff, Jun 20, 2013
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Final: England v India at Birmingham, Jun 23, 2013
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© John Wisden & Co.