The Champions Trophy will be Shane Bond's first outing in the hot and humid conditions of India © Getty Images

New Zealand

Stephen Fleming will lead - on paper at least - the rustiest team in the Champions Trophy. New Zealand haven't played international cricket since May this year and their last one-day series was against West Indies at home in March which they won 4-1. They are short of match practice, although several players played during the English domestic season, and need to switch to match mode from the word go. They'll have a lot on their plate when they take on South Africa in Mumbai on October 16. However, the lay-off has also allowed several players to heal injuries and Fleming now has a full-strength squad at his disposal. Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori and Scott Styris have recovered from back injuries but the biggest boost will be the return of spearhead Shane Bond, who has recovered from the knee injury that forced him out of the tour of South Africa in April.

Whom to watch
Bond is a delight to watch and has often been irresistible during the brief periods when fully fit. He missed the Chappell-Hadlee trophy in December 2005 because of a hamstring strain but when he returned for the home series against Sri Lanka and West Indies he took 40 wickets in four Tests and nine ODIs. In his first series after a two-year injury lay-off, he made India hop, skip and jump during a searing spell that reaped 6 for 19 in the tri-series in Zimbabwe. Bond bowls in one fashion, extremely fast - and his pace in the air could set flat Indian tracks alight. However, he hasn't played in India before and the hot and humid conditions will test every bit of his fitness. If Bond lives up to expectations, he could well out shine the other menacing fast bowlers in New Zealand's group - Shoaib Akhtar and Makhaya Ntini.

New kid on the block
Mark Gillespie is New Zealand's unknown quantity. A strong performance for Wellington - 43 wickets at 23.16 - and a successful development tour to Australia won him a ticket to India. Word has it that his run-up evokes memories of Bob Willis and Dennis Lillee. However, his pace doesn't. Few outside New Zealand would have seen Gillespie bowl. John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, hinted that Gillespie would be used as a slog-over specialist - the hardest role for a bowler made harder by the tarmac-like pitches on the subcontinent. If Gillespie holds up well against the likes of Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq during the slog, chances are he'll do pretty well in most situations.

Stats
New Zealand haven't been happy travellers to the subcontinent where the conditions are diametrically opposite to the cold weather and fast, seamer-friendly tracks of home. They've lost 24 of their 36 matches in India and won just ten. While their batting average per wicket - 27.5 - is marginally higher in India than elsewhere, their bowlers concede 37.6 runs per wicket in India compared to 29 in other countries. Daniel Vettori, their lone spinner among several seamers, will play a crucial role. He's toured India twice with moderate returns - 13 wickets from 11 ODIs at 26.92 each which is a significantly better than his career 33.58.

South Africa



Herschelle Gibbs returned to India for the first time since 1999-00 © Getty Images

South Africa earned a creditable draw on their last one-day campaign in India. Their battery of fast bowlers coped with the tough conditions and neutered India's celebrated batting line-up and they'll take that confidence into the Champions Trophy. South Africa's batsmen will feel that no target is beyond them after stacking up totals in excess of 400 twice in their last four games. Their sick bay is currently empty: Graeme Smith is back at the helm after an ankle injury sidelined him for two months and Jacques Kallis has also recovered from an elbow injury. Although he played against Zimbabwe and domestic teams trying to get some practice ahead of the Champions Trophy, sterner tests await in India. But Kallis revels in the Champions Trophy. He is the tournament's second highest run-scorer and wicket-taker and South Africa will bank on him.

Whom to watch
Herschelle Gibbs could be in the spotlight for events off the field as much as his exploits with the bat and at point. He is visiting India for the first time since the match-fixing scandal broke out on South Africa's tour in 1999-00. Gibbs had opted out of tours to India in 2004-05 and 2005-06 for fear of being detained by the police. This time, however, he decided to tour even though the police said that they would question him on his involvement in the match-fixing scandal. Gibbs will join the team for their first practice game on October 13. For the record, he averages 47.71 with a century and a fifty in seven games in India.

New kid on the block
Loots in Afrikaans means launch. And launch is what Loots Bosman tries to do to the bowling every time he bats. If he gets a game during the Champions Trophy, expect him to go hard at the bowlers. He may lose his wicket to an indiscreet shot but that won't make him shelve his shots. Bosman's exploits in the Standard Bank Pro20 Series include a 43-ball century and 50 off 22 balls, a record for the competition. He was picked for the Twenty20 international against Australia and thanks to injures to several players made the cut for the tri-series in Sri Lanka. However, South Africa abandoned that tour because of a bomb blast in Colombo. Bosman eventually made his debut against Zimbabwe and smashed 88 of 70 balls in his third match.

Stats
South Africa's pace battery - though not their deadliest in history - was enough to quell the Indian batsmen on their tour of India last year. In November 2005, Makhaya Ntini and co reduced India to 35 for 5, 71 for 5 and 83 for 3 in three of the four ODIs. Pollock, though much reduced in pace, was extremely potent, taking seven wickets at 17.28 apiece. And if he could snare Sachin Tendulkar cheaply thrice in four games in his backyard, you'd reckon he could get anyone. South Africa have a favourable win-loss record in India, winning 13 of their 25 games and losing 11. They also had the better of both the identified teams in their group - they beat New Zealand 4-0 in their last series and won seven out of their last ten games against Pakistan.

Pakistan



After much ado, Younis Khan is the leader of Pakistan's campaign © Getty Images

Pakistan have suffered severe turbulence in their build-up to the Champions Trophy. But while the rest of the world watched agape as the events unfolded, Pakistan would have wondered what the commotion was about for they often travel with controversy in their kitbags. After The Oval hearing, the captaincy shifted from Inzamam-ul-Haq to Younis Khan, Younis to Mohammad Yousuf, and then from Yousuf back to Younis. Why exactly? Not many people know. Captaincy turmoil aside, Pakistan enter the tournament with enough firepower to cause serious damage. Provided they remain fit, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif will form a formidable opening attack backed up by Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and the spinners. Their batting even without Inzamam oozes destructiveness and if Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Razzaq - not counting the two Ys - get going the spectators will have to scramble for cover.

Whom to watch
Younis and Yousuf. Younis has averaged 47.91 in ODIs in 2006 while Yousuf averaged 49.66 in recent one-dayers in England and was prolific in the Tests as well. When they bat together, their potency seems to skyrocket. Both batsmen have a point to prove in India where Younis averages a meagre 16 and Yousuf 23 . In Inzamam's absence, they will have to form the eye around which the hurricane blows and should they falter, Pakistan will suffer. Will all the commotion over the captaincy affect their performances although Younis reassured everyone that it wouldn't? Can they make Inzamam's absence irrelevant? It's a tall ask but given their performances in recent months, the two Ys can.

Stats
Pakistan have been in mixed one-day form over the past year. They beat England 3-1 at home in December 2005, then lost 1-4 to India, beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in an away series and surprisingly drew 2-2 in England when all and sundry expected them to walk over England. However, their recent record in India is heartening; they've won five of their last seven matches since November 2004, including four wins in a row to win the series after being 2-0 down in 2004-05.

George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo