Comment - Filling Holes At The Champions Trophy
Champions Trophy 2013
Analysis by John Pennington
Every single sports team, from your local club's junior team to the best Test, One-Day International and Twenty20 International sides in the world, go through the same processes of having to replace key players who suffer injuries, retire, or move on.
The ICC Champions Trophy 2013, falling right between two World Cups, has seen most of the competing teams without major stars - some by accident, some by design. Others, like Sri Lanka and West Indies, will soon be forced to replace some of their stalwarts.
It is a favourite phrase of many commentators, bloggers and tweeters to say, for example, that there was a 'Michael Clarke shaped hole in Australia's batting order'.
Against England, there clearly was, but the bigger picture for Australia is that they are beginning life without Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, two of their most prolific and dependable ODI performers. This has also come on the back of the departures of Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
Whether Clarke, Adam Voges and George Bailey can form a strong enough unit in the middle-order to give Australia a fighting chance of winning the World Cup on home soil in two years from now will be just one of the things exercising the minds of their National Selection Panel.
England have a more settled line-up, but the absence of Kevin Pietersen through injury has clearly unsettled their batting line-up, often leaving the likes of Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler with too much to do, particulary if the top three, often derided for their pace of scoring, don't lay a good enough platform. And this is a team that Matthew Prior doesn't even get into.
New Zealand aren't doing too badly. Always a safe bet to be underestimated ahead of any tournament, the only batsmen they are arguably 'missing' would be Jesse Ryder, although he wasn't in the squad at the time of his distressing incident earlier this year. Although they are well used to life without him, they were woeful in South Africa when Ross Taylor was absent.
The Black Caps have coped fine in the absence of Daniel Vettori with Nathan McCullum and Kane Williamson stepping up to take over spinning duties, even though his experience and guile has undoubtedly been missed in spin-friendly conditions such as India and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka moved Tillakaratne Dilshan up the order following Sanath Jayasuriya's retirement and in Suraj Randiv, Rangana Herath and Sachithra Senanayake, among others, aren't short of quality spin bowling options, even if they will never find a replacement for Muttiah Muralitharn.
Their major test will come when Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene decide it is time to call it a day. Then Kushal Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews will have to perform and do what Jayawardene and Sangakkara did when Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva moved on. They may make the transition well. They may not. Such is the beauty of sport and the challenge of rebuilding teams and staying competitive at the same time.
South Africa went into this tournament already missing Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. Their problems intensified when Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel also picked up injuries. In Test cricket, South Africa's strength in depth has been one of the reasons why they have stayed at the top, but in limited overs, even though it is largely the same set of players coming in to fill the gaps, they struggle when their key men aren't available.
In fairness, any team would struggle without their two best fast bowlers and two most experienced batsmen but opportunities are available for the players brought in to make a strong case for future inclusion. If they don't, then the Proteas, early favourites for this tournament, have lots of work ahead of Australia/New Zealand 2015.
In recent years, Pakistan have probably lost more players than any other teams and for more reasons, from suspension, to disagreements with the board, to retirement and injury. Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younus Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Danish Kaneria, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir, Abdul Razzaq, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Shoaib Akhtar is a team's worth of those players, and not a bad team either.
Yet, they still reached the final of the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 and the semi-finals of the 2010 and 2012 competitions as well as the 2011 World Cup. Young talents such as Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan have been unearthed and the cool head of Misbah-ul-Haq is the guiding hand launching the recovery.
Nevertheless, they could have done with a Younus when they were in trouble against West Indies and a Shoaib or Afridi wouldn't have gone amiss when defending a low total either. Who knows what Pakistan could have achieved without the myriad of off-field troubles they have had to deal with?
The West Indies have, like England with Pietersen, successfully reintegrated Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels into what is a very strong side. Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Kemar Roach look to be in the best form of their careers while Darren Bravo is one of a number of emerging young batsmen ready to build their own legacies, emerging from the shadows of the greats who first inspired them to pick up a bat.
As for India, who brilliantly won the World Cup on home soil, they are also making changes, and they seem to be working well. They have left out Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Harbhajan Singh while Sachin Tendulkar has subsequently retired and we can assume Shanthakumaran Sreesanth will not play international cricket again.
In have come Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav while in Virat Kohli, they have a player who could feasibly dominate all three formats of the game for years to come. All skilfully and quietly led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose own departure, whenever it might happen, might provide India with their biggest challenge.
While there are a slew of batsmen queueing up to take over Tendulkar's spot in the Test line-up, no shortage of spinners ready to step in should Ravichandran Ashwin or Pragyan Ojha falter, and Kohli would appear to be the captain in waiting, replacing one of the finest finishers the game has ever seen, will take some doing. For now though, finishing is the last thing on Dhoni's mind.
Who would you say is the biggest 'miss' at the Champions Trophy. Younus? Pietersen? Hussey? And who do you think will prove to be irreplaceable in the years to come? Leave your comments below or tweet us @Cricket_World
© Cricket World 2013
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CT 2013 Fixtures
Champions Trophy History
1998: South Africa
2000: New Zealand
2002: India/Sri Lanka
2004: West Indies