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SA face tough task in 'group of death'

While the IPL is winding down it is time to start looking ahead at the upcoming Champions Trophy.

The tournament is wide open. None of the major international teams have dominated world one-day cricket over recent times. It is therefore the first time in a while that there are no clear favourites to take the title.

Due to the IPL preparation for the different teams will also be an issue. Star players worldwide are all involved in the IPL and will go from the tournament straight to the Champions Trophy.

The countries least affected in this area will be Pakistan and England. Pakistan players don’t play in the IPL and not many English internationals are still at the tournament.

The Proteas find themselves in a very strong group. They share the group phase with India, Pakistan and the West Indies.

Finishing in the top two in this group won’t be an easy task. The fact that Gary Kirsten announced that he will step down after the tournament was quite a bombshell. There will be no Graeme Smith or Jacques Kallis either.

Make no mistake, the Proteas are still a very talented unit. It may take them a while to come to terms with the proposed coaching change as well as the absence of senior players.

Establishing a new team dynamic during the short time before the tournament starts will be paramount. It will also be of the utmost importance to select the right combination for prevailing conditions in England during the month of June.

India will have a strong batting line-up. They may lack in the seam bowling department but their spinners will be more than adequate. I am wondering whether fatigue won’t affect them after seven weeks of IPL cricket.

The Indian players attach a lot of value to the IPL. Their whole squad plays in the event and although most of them have been in good form they may well find it difficult to compete in a world tournament straight after a taxing seven weeks.

Pakistan have been in training camp for a while. On their day, as we know, they can beat anyone. Whether they will be consistent enough to win the trophy is another matter.

Unlike India their bowling should be a factor, but their batting may well be a problem in England.

The West Indies for me has become a dangerous opponent. Anyone who has the match-winning skills of a Chris Gayle in its ranks poses a threat.

It won’t be quite as easy for Gayle and Kieron Pollard to dominate against international opposition under English conditions, but they will still provide a stiff challenge.

The West Indian bowling attack has good variety as well. They will be led by the enthusiastic Dwayne Bravo so it will be a surprise if they fall by the wayside in the early phase of the tournament.

This group is the group of death. There is not much margin for error in the tournament so it will be important to make the best of the two practice matches on offer and then hit the ground running.

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