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Stand by, cricket chums. The Champions Trophy is almost upon us. Eighteen days of moderately pointless 50-over action in the sun.*
In the gaggle of triangulars, quadrangulars, and franchise leagues, it is the ugly medium-sized gosling that never grew up. A once-vigorous young tournament but now on its last legs; it stands stiffly and awkwardly, an antique stuffed tiger in a dusty corner, waiting to be taken to the charity shop.
Still, it is an international tournament and I can't let one of those pass by without a flutter. Unfortunately, I find myself out of step with modern cricket betting and at a distinct disadvantage, since I am not related to any of the players, the coaches, the physios, or the team astrologists. Instead, I'm going to have a bet the old-fashioned way, by quickly perusing the list of entrants, closing my eyes and plumping for Sri Lanka.
South Africa are favourites, and straight away we have a problem. If I predict that South Africa are going to choke like a man who has attempted to swallow the plot of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons whilst eating a bag of extra dry pretzels, I will attract angry comments. South African supporters do not like you mentioning the C-word, they get quite vexed; rightly so, since it is a lazy stereotype perpetuated by lazy writers. So I won't say it.
Then there's England. Dress like Zimbabwe, so the saying goes, and sooner or later, you'll play like Zimbabwe. England's recent outbreak of failure has prompted the usual calls from the Sky commentary box for lots of drastic changes right now, all of them futile. Unless the ECB have invested their Stanford loot in an accelerated cricketer cloning programme, and can come up with six players in the next three days, they are pretty much stuck with the ones they have (and the ones they can steal from Ireland).
As for the chaps in yellow, I've just finished watching the IPL, which is awash with reserve Australians, so reading down their squad list was a yawn-inducing experience. Coulter-Nile, Warner, Watson, one of the Marshes, blah blah blah. I am not excited.
Pakistan won't win because they have arrived on these shores as a relatively settled side, with a forward-looking, slightly dull squad, and have taken the time to prepare thoroughly for the tournament. This is not the Pakistan way, and will surely fail.
India won't win because their players will feel they have no chance of grabbing the headlines. Even if they trounce Australia by 500 runs in the final, at the very moment MS Dhoni lifts the trophy, a cleaner from the BCCI will be charged with using unauthorised bleach in the gentleman's executive toilets and his arrest will steal their thunder.
West Indies might win, but they have Dwayne Bravo as captain. Given what we saw in the IPL, I fear that he might start dancing in the event of a victory, and I'd hate to encourage that. New Zealand might win too, and that would be lovely for them, but betting on New Zealand to win something is like paying to enter your daughter's pony in the Derby. It may be a lovely pony, but it's only going to win if all the other entrants run in the wrong direction.
So, the moment of truth. I've tipped Sri Lanka for every major tournament since the last time they won a major tournament, and every time they have let me down. I am far too easily seduced by the unorthodox bowling actions, by the excess of syllables, by the presence of Dilshan, by Kumar's cheeky smile. So I'm not going to be fooled again. I have learned my lesson. Sri Lanka it is.
* Readers are reminded that English weather forecasts are not to be taken literally and that rain, sleet, snow, hail and frogs are also distinctly possible.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets hereFeeds: Andrew Hughes
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73