ICC Champions Trophy 2017
Oval beginnings for World Cup journey
Australia's Champions Trophy campaign officially underway at south London venue where one eye is on the long-term prize of World Cup glory
Martin Smith The Oval, London
22 May 2017, 10:13 AM AEST
Australia's cricketers shook off the proverbial cobwebs at The Oval on Sunday as their campaign to reclaim the ICC Champions Trophy, the world No.1 ranking and early favouritism for the 2019 World Cup officially got underway.
Eleven of Australia's 15-man Champions Trophy squad were put through a light fielding drill on a sunny late spring morning, a short 45-minute session aimed at alleviating any travel weariness following journeys earlier this week to London from near (James Pattinson travelled just 200km down the M1 from Nottingham, where he's been playing county cricket) and far (the majority of the squad came direct from the Indian Premier League or Australia).
Missing were skipper Steve Smith and leg-spinner Adam Zampa, whose Rising Pune Supergiant lost the Indian Premier League final overnight, as well as batsmen David Warner and Chris Lynn, who have just arrived in the English capital from the subcontinent.
The Oval has been a scene of great upheaval and turmoil for Australian cricket in recent years; it was here four years ago that their winless 2013 Champions Trophy campaign spluttered to an end, the resulting fallout sensationally costing Mickey Arthur his job and leading to the elevation of Darren Lehmann as head coach.
And some 20 months ago in August 2015, it was here that Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers farewelled the international game following an Ashes series defeat and were quickly followed into retirement by Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and – three months later – Mitchell Johnson.
Australia's first trip to the south London venue since that Ashes tour was far less eventful, and they will be hoping for at least two triumphant visits over the next month given the second of their three group games is here against Bangladesh on June 5 as well as the tournament final on June 18.
The three-week, eight-nation Champions Trophy is the entrée in a two-course feast of major one-day international tournaments in the UK across the next two years, with the World Cup to get underway at The Oval on May 30, 2019.
So while the Champions Trophy decider a month from now is Australia's major short-term goal, strong performances against the white ball early in the English summer will be a welcome confidence boost to their World Cup defence two years later.
Quick Single: Stoinis feared his tournament was over
The unique early-season English conditions, where surfaces and overhead conditions traditionally favour the swinging ball early in the innings, have proven to be Australia's kryptonite during an era of unrivalled success in 50-over cricket; over the past decade, the Aussies have won just two of 11 ODIs played in the UK during June and July compared to 11 of 15 in September, when the warmer weather and wearing pitches nullify the effect of the moving ball.
"I don't have as much experience as others in English conditions, but from all reports it could do a little bit more early with the ball (early in the season)," allrounder Marcus Stoinis, who made his ODI debut at Headingley in September 2015, said on Sunday.
"But I think in international cricket, you've just got to adapt to that. Maybe scores won't be as high (as most ODIs), but maybe they will be."
While the use in this tournament of the white Kookaburra ball, as opposed to the red Dukes ball that has long troubled Australia in Test matches here, will bring some familiarity, the task ahead is nonetheless an imposing one.
Not least because of the cut-throat nature of the tournament, where the ever-present threat of inclement weather early in England's summer, which can bear a close resemblance to Melbourne’s winter, means a single defeat could potentially be a fatal blow to the campaign.
Which is exactly what happened to Australia four years ago, when a first-up loss to England and a wash out against New Zealand left them needing to beat Sri Lanka by a near-impossible margin in their final group match to avoid an early exit.
And given just four members of that forgettable 2013 campaign – David Warner, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc – have returned for this tournament, there is a sense of the unknown ahead of their opening match against the Black Caps at Edgbaston on June 2.
An extra carrot for the Aussies in this tournament will be to regain their official No.1 ODI ranking, which they lost to South Africa last February after more than two years on top.
South Africa enter their three-match series against England starting on Wednesday with a five-point advantage over Australia in second place, meaning the Proteas will start the Champions Trophy in top spot even if they are whitewashed by the hosts, who are the early tournament favourites.
And while the current 23-point deficit between the Australians and the cherished No.1 ranking in Test cricket would be far more galling than their status as No.2 in ODIs, the team's oft-stated desire to be the world's best in all three formats will get a significant boost if they are able to hold the trophy aloft at The Oval a month from now.
Champions Trophy 2017 Guide
Squads: Every Champions Trophy squad
Group A: Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh.
Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.
26 May – Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval
27 May – Bangladesh v Pakistan, Edgbaston
28 May – India v New Zealand, The Oval
29 May – Australia v Pakistan, Edgbaston
30 May – New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston
30 May – Bangladesh vs India, The Oval
1 June – England v Bangladesh, The Oval (Day)
2 June – Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (D)
3 June – Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (D)
4 June – India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (D)
5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)
6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)
7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)
8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)
9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)
10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)
11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)
12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)
14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)
15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)
18 June – Final, The Oval (D)
19 June – Reserve day (D)