India start as defending champions in the 2017 Champions Trophy that will be played in the same country they had won their previous title but it's South Africa who start favouites to top their group in the event. Can Sri Lanka & Pakistan buck up and dish out a better showing in this format of the game?
Get 15/8 at Coral for India to top Group B in 2017 Champions Trophy
Group B of the 2017 Champions Trophy will see India clubbed with Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka as the four sides looking to flight it out to make it to the last four of the tournament. The top two teams at the end of the league stage of that competition will enter the semi-finals and bookmakers have installed South Africa and India as favourites to make it to the knock-out stage from this group.
It's interesting to note that according to the current ICC Rankings, India and South Africa are both on 110 Rating points. India are marginally ahead on decimal points which means they are placed third in that ranking table and South Africa are fourth, behind the top two teams, Australia and New Zealand. What will however, be crucial is the teams' form in the lead-up to the actual tournament itself and the personnel they have at their disposal.
Interestingly, both teams haven't played a lot of ODI cricket in the first half of 2016 which is a pointer towards the scheduling of series by their respective boards. The Indian board scheduled a plethora of T20I games in the first half of 2016 and this will be followed by a total of 13 Test matches at home leading up to the end of the Indian home season in March 2017. This will be followed by the IPL before India leave their shores for this Champions Trophy.
It's not like there won't be an ODI cricket for India during this time - they will be playing ODI series against New Zealand, Australia and England. But that does not take away from the fact the Indian focus will be on the longer format of the game and that could mean India enter the Champions Trophy a tad under-prepared.
South Africa, on the other hand, have already played in a couple of series in the first half of 2016 with a few more to follow in the second and the initial portion of 2017. They got the better of England 3-2 at home, and were then involved in a tri-series in West Indies where they did not even make the final, going down to Australia and the hosts in the league stage of the competition.
They will now host Australia in what can be expected to be a tough five-match ODI series before taking on Sri Lanka and New Zealand as well in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy next year. With their key cog in the wheel, AB de Villiers showing signs of injury, South Africa's resilience in his absence will hold the key to their success in not only these three series but also the Champions Trophy to follow.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the two other teams in the group but with the form they have shown so far in the limited overs format, it's easy to see why BetFred are offering 4/1 and 7/1 respectively for them to top Group B. As things stand as on September 30, Sri Lanka are the seventh ranked side in the world and Pakistan are ninth in that same table, behind even Bangladesh.
If either team has to challenge the likes of India or South Africa, they will need to dish out a sterling performance over the course of the next few months in ODI cricket. Pakistan will, for instance, look to not only defeat West Indies easily in a home series but also test Australia away in a five-match series. Sri Lanka will hope they can find some breathing space after losing to Australia at home, in a series they went down 4-1.
Champions Trophy 2017 betting tips:
India to top Group B: 15/8 (Coral