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It may be the first of many England versus Australia clashes over the next few months but both teams have their eyes on the initial prize at Edgbaston
June 7, 2013
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News : Australia's collapse good for us - Giles
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Matches: England v Australia at Birmingham
Series/Tournaments: ICC Champions Trophy
And so it begins. Not just the Champions Trophy campaigns of England and Australia, but a saga that will see these two sides play up to 66 days of cricket against one another across 26 matches within the next 34 weeks. It may well prove, in time, that such exploitation of this fixture damages "the brand" but, for now, Edgbaston is a 25,000 capacity sell-out and this event has the high profile it required to capture the public imagination.
This will be the 100th international match - including women's games - at Edgbaston. If it lives up to some of the previous encounters involving Australia - the World Cup semi-final of 1999 and the Ashes Test of 2005, for example - then it will prove to be quite an occasion.
It says much for how the balance of power has changed between these two nations that England go into Saturday's game as favourites. Despite Australia having won both the two previous Champions Trophies and despite England having just lost an ODI series against New Zealand, England are still expected to prevail. It was no doubt a slip of the tongue when Alastair Cook delivered the faint praise that his side would have to play "close to their potential" to win, but there may also be some truth in that.
While Australia make-do without their captain and finest batsman, Michael Clarke, all 15 of England's squad are fit for selection. And while there is a doubt over Tim Bresnan's availability due to his wife's impending labour - she was due last Monday - both Steven Finn and Stuart Broad have returned to something like full fitness and are highly likely to play. The final selection decision will almost certainly come down to a choice between Ravi Bopara and Bresnan.
Bearing in mind the fine weather and excellent batting surface expected for this match, then Bopara has a decent chance of playing. England have based many of their plans around the idea that two new balls in English conditions will aid the seamers and require technically correct top-order batsmen. That may still prove to be true but in an attempt to cover their options, Bopara may well come into the side in order to not just strengthen the batting, but provide a little more freedom to Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler. Besides, Bopara is a much-improved bowler over the last 18 months and has an ability to work on the ball and help his colleagues gain reverse swing.
Certainly Cook admitted that the white ball might not provide as much help to bowlers in such fine conditions and agreed that England may alter the balance of the side to reflect that.
"Last year we played some one-day cricket when there was some rain around and the ball did a lot for a long time," he said. "But thankfully we've got some good weather and in England that normally determines what the ball does.
"We are thinking about the balance of the team. I think it's a good position to be in. It's nice that the option of having three seamers and one spinner, with the fifth bowler being Ravi and Joe Root, has worked well. So it gives us the option. We can change the way we play, which we probably haven't been able to do in the past. It gives us a selection headache in one way, but a good one."
It will not be helpful for either side to look too far ahead. While there may be some truth in the suggestion that previous limited-overs encounters - the Champions Trophy semi-final encounter at this ground in 2004, for example, or the T20 match at the Ageas Bowl in 2005 - have proved important blows in establishing dominance in subsequent Ashes series, this event deserves to be treated as important in its own right.
England are the only side in this tournament who have never won a global 50-over event. They know that the habit of defining success by the results against just one other side has led to underperformance in limited-overs competitions for decades. The Ashes may have tradition and a marketing industry all of its own, but in terms of global appeal, the Champions Trophy could arguably be defined as more important. Indeed, you could argue that England's obsession with the Ashes was unhealthy for a long time.
"The Champions Trophy is such an important event in itself," Cook agreed. "Clearly everyone is going to talk about us playing Australia with the Ashes coming up. But I think both sides will be seeing it just as a game they need to win to get the tournament off to a good start rather than anything else.
"We've spoken about trying to win a 50-over tournament. This is an opportunity to do that. Alongside the World Cup in 2015, it's a very important tournament. We know what we can do. It's about us delivering it in these two weeks."
Cook also dismissed the relevance of the warm-up match against India in which Australia were bowled out for just 65.
"Those warm-up games are irrelevant," he said. "You're not going to be remembered for what happened in the warm up games. You're going to be remembered for what happened in the actual tournament. Just like what happened to us against New Zealand. In the ideal world, we'd have beaten New Zealand in that series. We didn't play as well as we could have done, but that will count for nothing when we start this game."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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