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The voracious appetite of cricket fans has been tested quite a bit in the last couple of years. The pinnacle of Test performances, the mace, has changed quite a few hands. A World Cup was won for the first time by a team playing the final in its home ground. A few seasons of IPL have flown dazzlingly past us, much like fire crackers that create the illusion of stars, only to fade away much too early to be noticed. The cricket lover is befuddled by the palette of cricketing news that is presented to him every morning. While he expects scores, stats and records being broken and legends being made, all he finds is suspended umpires, jailed players and suspect officials. The grandstands have taken a back seat, pun intended.
Even as Bayern Munich vanquishes its ghosts, and Rafael Nadal prepares to do something never done before in the world of tennis, cricket lovers are wistfully looking at the Champions Trophy. The tournament has always been the under-performing brother to the 50-over World Cup. It is a tournament that pretends to be something big, only to fizzle away as the show goes on. It is a tournament whose very existence is questionable. It doesn't serve much purpose, apart from irking the Associates which don't get to participate, and consuming a few days in a busy cricketer's life. So many stars have got on a plane again barely days after the IPL - colours altered, motivations rediscovered, enmities rekindled. Can this tournament do enough to drown the chaos that surrounds us in the form of news, bits and pieces, scraps of wheels coming off, mud slung and surprises thrown, almost at will, every day?
It could, if only because this promises to be of the more open limited-overs events in recent years. A few teams, including the world champions of the ODI format, are in transition. The host nation, perpetually gives the impression that cricket in coloured clothing isn't their thing. The men from Australia will have a small urn at the back of the mind, not the big trophy. The Caribbean bunch, led by a new captain, and the dust storm called Pakistan, that nearly lost a series to Ireland recently, will be unpredictable and dangerous as ever. The weather in England will add to the intrigue. The chill is in the air, the ball will swing, and a few hands are already weary after long seasons.
South Africa looks like the team to beat, with Dale Steyn in red-hot form and their captain AB de Villiers beginning to treat short-format cricket like a picnic in the backyard. For once, they will have an emotion stronger than the normal dread they carry into big tournaments. That emotion is the attachment to their coach, Gary Kirsten, in his last assignment. India gave him quite a memorable goodbye with arguably the biggest prize in international cricket. Can the Saffers do something similar? Two groups of four countries each, in a league shootout for semifinal berths: this is the no-nonsense format the full-fledged ODI World Cup will never give us. With the chances of one-sided contests greatly reduced, it might well be two weeks of spirited cricket.
What cricket needs is a good tournament. A few good days of hard fought cricket, hopefully clean and cheerfully tight. What the fans need is a few days of distraction, sadly speaking, from what cricket has offered in the last two weeks. Let the redemption begin.
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