The first major one day international (ODI) tournament since the 2015 International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup will begin on Thursday as hosts England take on Bangladesh in the opening match of 2017 ICC Champions Trophy from The Oval in London.
South Africa come into the tournament as the top-ranked ODI team, with world champions Australia, along with defending champions India, New Zealand and hosts England all looking like serious threats to claim the ICC Champions Trophy.
This is not without discounting the chances of Bangladesh, who are ranked sixth in ODI cricket, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who are all capable on their best day of challenging and upsetting their more fancied opponents.
However, in contrast to the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand where 37 out of the 49 matches were Day/Night matches, only two out of the 15 matches to be played during the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy will be Day/Night matches.
Looking at both groups, it appears that Group A (England, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh) is the slightly tougher group than Group B (India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan).
Looking in-depth at Group A, since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand, it has been England who has had the better form.
Since their disastrous exit in the group stage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, England has won 27 out of the 44 ODI matches they have played, with a winning percentage of 61.36 percent.
This is compared with Australia, who have won 25 out of the 42 ODI matches (59.52 percent) they have played since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, New Zealand, who have won 24 out of the 43 ODI matches (55.81 percent) since that time, and Bangladesh, who knocked out England from the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, have won 16 out of the 28 ODI matches (57.14 percent) they have played since that tournament.
The rise in England’s performance is due to their changed mindset under Trevor Bayliss, and since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, England have scored 300 runs or more on 21 occasions, and have bowled out their opposition on 15 occasions.
While Australia, who will be relying on Steve Smith (batting), David Warner (batting), Mitchell Starc (bowling), and Josh Hazlewood (bowling) to perform, and New Zealand, who will be relying on Martin Guptill (batting), Kane Williamson (batting), and Trent Boult (bowling) to perform, have not changed their approaches to one day cricket too much, England have changed their mental mindset and their approach to selecting a one day team, and it has reaped rewards.
They will be looking towards their two leaders in Eoin Morgan and Joe Root to lead the way with the bat, while Liam Plunkett and Chris Woakes have been fantastic with ball so far in 2017, taking 20 and 17 wickets respectively.
Bangladesh have also improved a lot in one day cricket, and they will be looking to Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan to lead them towards glory.
However, I see England and Australia making it through to the semi-finals.
It is clear looking at Group B that the two strongest teams in this group are South Africa and India.
South Africa have won 26 out of 41 ODI matches (63.41 percent) that they have played since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, while India have won 15 out of the 27 ODI matches (55.55 percent) since the last World Cup.
However, South Africa look in much better form in comparison with India after their performance against Australia last year, and the questionable form of Indian captain Virat Kohli.
They will be looking to Faf du Plessis (677 runs), Quinton de Kock (560 runs) and AB de Villiers (557 runs) to lead the way with the bat, with each of them scoring over 550 runs so far in 2017, while Kagiso Rabada has taken 21 wickets so far in 2017, and he will be the one to lead the South African bowling attack.
Although Kohli’s form is questionable after a long season of Indian cricket, the form of the other two teams in the group, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, are looking far worse.
Sri Lanka are going through a changing of the guard, and have only won one match so far in 2017, while Pakistan’s approach, not so much with their bowling, but with their batting has been ancient for quite some time, rarely scoring 300 runs or more per innings, and have only won three of their eight matches so far in 2017.
To me, South Africa and India are clearly better than the other two, and by some distance!
Final tournament predictions
In terms of who will win the tournament, I think South Africa are the favourites to win the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, and are my tip to win the tournament.
However, you can never rule out Australia of contending for any piece of silverware in the world of cricket, and as long as they are in the tournament, they will be the team that everybody fears!