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Champions Trophy kicks off: India ready to defend title

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London, May 31:

With a few players emerging from a disappointing Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign and injuries, defending champions India, who have unmatched pedigree on paper, are all set to defend their title in the ICC Champions Trophy to be held in England and Wales from June 1-18.

After winning two warm-up games against New Zealand and Bangladesh, the Indian team, who have retained several players from the victorious 2013 side, is high on confidence and will be looking to continue their form throughout the tournament.

Skipper Virat Kohli will also be looking to shrug off his disastrous IPL campaign and start afresh in the eight team ICC tournament.

India are placed in Group B along with Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka, and will start their campaign on June 4 against arch-rivals Pakistan at Edgbaston.

The last time India and Pakistan were engaged in a 50-over game was during the ICC World Cup in 2015. They, however, faced off in the shortest version of the game during last year’s ICC World T20 at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. India won both matches.

India will play their next two matches at The Oval, against the Sri Lankans on June 8 and then South Africa on June 11.

Group A comprises New Zealand, Australia, England and Bangladesh. The top two sides of each group will proceed to the semi-finals.

Hosts England, who were the losing finalists in the last edition in 2013, are among the favourites this time because of their current form and the fact that that they are playing in their home conditions.

With the likes of Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes in their ranks, England will have a slight edge over the other teams, at least on paper.

Australia, who have a pace battery that includes Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson, are expected to top Group A. So it could be an interesting battle in the semi-finals with India. England, Australia and South Africa.

South Africa, who are often labelled as chokers due to their poor record in ICC events, will also be looking for a fresh start. With AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla in the side, one cannot rule them out from reaching the knock-out stages.

Apart from them, Pakistan and Sri Lanka also have an outside chance of reaching the knockout stage.

As always, Pakistan have an excellent selection of fast bowlers in their ranks in the form of Wahab Riaz, Mohammed Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali who could prove to be dangerous in English conditions. However, their batting line-up could prove to be a weakness for Pakistan.

One may call it a mini World Cup, but there will be nothing miniature about the thrilling matches which will be played during the 16-day tournament.

(IANS)