So we are down to the last four teams and the semifinals and there is no denying that the Champions Trophy has been a treat for the genuine cricket fans who love the game served piping hot. There has been much good fare, close finishes and an exhilarating contest for the semifinal berths as only to be expected with the top eight teams in world cricket taking part.
Pakistan were never really in the hunt with both the batting and bowling presenting problems while an Australian side plainly in decline not unexpectedly finished last in their group. There may be a few tears shed for New Zealand and West Indies who lost out narrowly but few will deny the semifinalists have deservingly earned their berths.
India of course are looking the best of the lot. The only team to win all three group matches, it will be a major surprise if MS Dhoni and his men are not posing with the trophy come Sunday. The batting was always strong and it has lived up to its lofty status. The top order in particular has been in superb form with the result that the middle order has hardly been tested.
The bowling does present problems now and then but relishing the helpful conditions in England, Bhuvneshwar Kumar with his swing and Umesh Yadav with his pace have emerged match winners. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin have backed them up admirably.
It has helped that they are two very different spin bowlers. Jadeja with his impeccable stump to stump line and Ashwin with his ability to flight the ball and keep the batsmen guessing with his assorted bag of tricks have excelled bowling in tandem. There remains the problem of Ishant Sharma who hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory but even he has the knack of picking up a wicket or two when it seems unlikely.
The major plus point of the squad has been the fielding and catching. Not for a long time have we seen an Indian team showing the exuberance of youth, coupled with the agility of a gazelle, throwing themselves at the ball, leaping and diving to make stops and pick up the half chances, running batsmen out with direct throws. Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are clearly the best of the lot but their but their high spirited stuff appears to have rubbed off on some of the others too.
The match between England and South Africa on Wednesday is too close to call in my view. Both are evenly matched in every department of the game and if South Africa have the world’s best fast bowler England have the world’s best spin bowler. England had just one bad game against Sri Lanka but otherwise have been methodical and professional in their approach in keeping with their reputation.
Being solid rather than spectacular has been England’s forte though they will be hoping that the middle order which has so far not delivered will come good. There is an added incentive for England - they are only team among the semifinalists who have not laid their hands on the Champions Trophy.
South Africa on the other hand can be pretty spectacular particularly in batting and fielding. They are a fine all round side though one feels that the batting so far has not done itself much justice. With Steyn back after missing the first two games I suppose much would depend on his opening spell and how the likes of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathon Trott handle him.
We have seen some superb batting during the competition including two hundreds from Shikhar Dhawan. But the best innings so far has been Kumar Sangakkara’s unbeaten 134 which saw Sri Lanka comfortably overhaul even a daunting total of 293 put up by England.
While Sri Lanka’s main strength is their batting – and Mahela Jaywardene striking form is the best news for the team - the bowling in the hands of Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath and Nuwan Kulasekara cannot be written off. However against an Indian team that can seemingly do no wrong every Lankan player will have to be at his best if they are to pull off a surprise victory.
But even as we discuss the possibilities of the semifinal results and the likely victor on Sunday it is worth mentioning that among the many commendable performances one has seen during the Champions Trophy, none has stood out in a more striking manner than the bowling of Mitchell McClenaghan. The left arm medium pacer from New Zealand has been a revelation.
The late swing, the accuracy, the manner in which he has repeatedly flummoxed the batsmen has underlined the fact that the Kiwis have unearthed a bowler of special talent, something driven home by his being the leading wicket taker in the tournament with 11 scalps.
He turned 27 last week but is a bit of a late developer having played only ten ODIs and six T-20 internationals. McClenaghan is obviously the latest in the best traditions of New Zealand seam and swing bowling and much more will be heard of him in future.