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Champions Trophy: England, SAfrica bid to end title droughts

Associated Press logo Associated Press 30/05/2017 By STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
South Africa's bowler Kagiso Rabada, centre, celebrates taking the wicket of England's Adil Rashid during the third One Day International cricket match between England and South Africa at Lord's cricket ground in London, Monday, May 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) © The Associated Press South Africa's bowler Kagiso Rabada, centre, celebrates taking the wicket of England's Adil Rashid during the third One Day International cricket match between England and South Africa at Lord's cricket ground in London, Monday, May 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

South Africa and England are the perennial underachievers in one-day international cricket, mixing high hopes with high-profile failures in the big tournaments.

They'll have to cope with the favorites' tag at the eight-team Champions Trophy starting on Thursday.

The South Africans are the top-ranked ODI team, with the top-ranked batsman (AB de Villiers) and the top two bowlers (Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir). That should install the Proteas as the outright favorites but it's been a long and painful trophy drought since winning their only piece of ICC silverware at the inaugural Champions Trophy in 1998: Four semifinal defeats in the Champions Trophy to go alongside four semifinal losses in the Cricket World Cups.

The English, playing at home and with a new-found enthusiasm for the one-day format under coach Trevor Bayliss, are many people's tips. Yet they have never won an ICC trophy, having been a runner-up three times at the World Cup and lost finals on home soil in the Champions Trophy in 2004 and 2013.

Still, it would be a surprise if the two teams didn't qualify for the semifinals in what should be a competitive tournament played under heightened security after last week's bomb attack in Manchester, and being held across three locations from June 1-18: The Oval in London; Edgbaston in Birmingham; and Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, Wales.

India and Australia — ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, and teams that regularly deliver on the big stage — are the other likely semifinalists.

With its rapid-fire schedule and the strength of its field, the Champions Trophy is arguably the preferred 50-over event for players and fans compared to the Cricket World Cup, which can drag on for six weeks and where many results can be predicted.

Pakistan, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka should be competitive, while the rank outsider, Bangladesh, is capable of causing a shock — as shown in the 2015 World Cup when it beat England to reach the knockout stage.

That Bangladesh qualified for the event ahead of the West Indies, the 2004 winner and current T20 world champion, underlines the team's quality.

"This tournament is going to be hard for us, playing a group that is very hard in the conditions," Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said of opponents England, Australia and New Zealand. "On your day, you can do anything; we have quality players who can change the game."

India might be the team to beat. The defending champion has not played an ODI since January and is burdened with expectation, as ever, but has match-sharp players due to the majority of its squad being involved in the T20 Indian Premier League.

So high-scoring are modern-day ODIs that the mindset and range of shots are not too dissimilar over the two shorter formats, so the IPL could prove to be ideal preparation for India.

And then there's Virat Kohli, cricket's superstar player not just in India but beyond. The captain averages nearly 82 in his last 16 ODI innings and top-scored with 43 in the 2013 final, which was reduced to 20 overs because of rain.

"We won last time because our fast bowlers did very well, our spinners were strong and our opening batsman did well. They were the main three factors," Kohli said.

"This year, the team is a lot fitter, the cricketers are a lot more mature, because that was a very young group four years ago."

GROUP A

Australia

Bangladesh

England

New Zealand

GROUP B

India

Pakistan

South Africa

Sri Lanka

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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