Mitchell Starc of Australia bowls against Pakistan earlier this year.
Mitchell Starc of Australia bowls against Pakistan earlier this year. DAVID MARIUZ

The players to watch in the Champions Trophy

THE Champions Trophy is a sprint rather than a marathon - a slow start could mean your race is over before it has even begun.

With only the top eight one-day international sides invited, a team can play as few as three matches before its tournament is over, with one defeat potentially enough to doom a campaign. With that in mind, no side can afford for its best player to falter.

Ahead of Thursday night's curtain-raiser between Bangladesh and England, we take a look at the men that will matter most in the UK.


Mitchell Starc

If there's any man who can make the ball talk on the flat pitches expected in the Champions Trophy it's Mitchell Starc - after all, he took 16 wickets at 12.25 runs apiece on the benign pitches dished up in Australia during the 2015 World Cup. Capable of bowling above 150km/h regularly, and gifted with arguably the best yorker in the game, Starc is the most dangerous white-ball bowler in the world right now. In a tournament where 300 is expected to be par, the x-factor that is Starc could be more important to Australia's hopes than the explosiveness of David Warner or the class of Steve Smith.


Virat Kohli

Rohit Sharma is in scratchy form, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh can no longer tee off from ball one, and as impressive as Kedar Jadhav's (average 58.50, strike rate 121.55) and Hardik Pandya's (53.33 and 121.55) numbers are, they're still rookies on the international stage. For India, so much hangs on Kohli bringing his A-game after a lacklustre Test series against Australia and a largely disappointing IPL campaign. If Kohli does find form India is good enough to go all the way - there's no man in the game better to build an innings around then Kohli. After all, this is a man who averages 53.11 in ODI cricket - 90.50 in the past 12 months - and has scored the fourth most ODI tons of all-time (27).


AB De Villiers

As well as having the top two ODI bowlers in the world - Kagiso Rabada (No.1) and Imran Tahir (No.2) - the Proteas have four of the top 10 batsmen. The best of those batsmen is AB de Villiers, who sits atop the rankings and hasn't been outside the top five this decade. With a strike rate of 100.22, an average of 54.38 and a 360-degree hitting arc, de Villiers could be the most perfect batsman in ODI history. If he gets going there may be no stopping South Africa. As captain, he's also the man in charge of making sure South Africa does not lose its nerve at another showpiece tournament.


England's Ben Stokes.
England's Ben Stokes. Saurabh Das


Ben Stokes

Joe Root is England's best batsman and Eoin Morgan is captain, but Ben Stokes is the heart of the team. Criminally left out of the side's 2015 World Cup squad, Stokes is the personification of the England that emerged from the rubble of that doomed campaign. Fearless with bat and ball, Stokes is far more dangerous than his numbers suggest (averaging 31.33 with the bat, 37.65 with the ball) and is the Englishman opposition will most fear. Stokes is carrying a knee injury into the tournament, which may hamper his bowling. He'll still be one of the first names on the team sheet - he's averaged 57.01 with the bat over the past 12 months, with two tons and five half-centuries from 15 innings.


Mustafizur Rahman

With the likes of Soumya Sarkar (average 40.21, SR 99.67), Tamim Iqbal (33.43, 77.93), Mushfiqur Rahim (31.84, 76.60) and exciting prospect Mosaddek Hossain (33.00, 92.30) all in the squad, Shakib al Hasan (34.64, 80.99) is no longer the beginning and end of Bangladesh's batting order. Where the side could come undone is with the ball - the Tigers conceded more than 300 runs in both their warm-up matches, including 342 against Pakistan after posting an imposing total of 341. This is why Mustafizur Rahman is Bangladesh's most important player. As exciting as Taskin Amhed and Rubel Hossain are, and as experienced as captain Mashrafe Mortaza is, Mustafizur is the only genuine star in Bangladesh's pace attack. After 18 ODIs, the 21-year-old has taken 43 wickets at 16.00 with an economy rate of 4.62.


Martin Guptill

Among the game's most destructive batsmen against the new ball, Martin Guptill heads into the Champions Trophy in imperious form. The opener battered a 76-ball 116 against Sri Lanka in New Zealand's final hitout before the tournament and earlier this year he hammered a 138-ball 180 against South Africa. Throw in the fact he averages 62.88 in England, and Guptill may be the Champions Trophy's most dangerous opener. If he has a big tournament, and Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor continue being their consistent selves, then New Zealand has as good a chance as anyone of going all the way.


Babar Azam of Pakistan.
Babar Azam of Pakistan. PAUL MILLER


Babar Azam

With Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali leading the attack, Pakistan will more than hold its own with the ball. However, chasing big totals could be an issue for Pakistan, due to a real lack of firepower in the batting order following the suspension of Sharjeel Khan. One man who could make a difference is Babar Azam, who is arguably the most exciting young batsman in the world. Still only 22, Babar has already scored five centuries and six half-centuries from 26 matches. Averaging 55.08 with a strike rate of 90.23, he is the only Pakistani in the top 10 batsmen in the world - he sits 10th - and much of the team's hopes rest on his young shoulders. If the elegant right-hander fails to fire it's hard to see Pakistan going far in the tournament.


Lasith Malinga

Sri Lanka's batting order is finally starting to recover from the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Kusal Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal have both matured to form a strong middle order with Angelo Mathews, and the likes of Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dickwella and Asela Gunaratne give the batting order oomph. The pace stocks, however, are dangerously low. Nuwan Pradeep averages 41.94 with the ball, Suranga Lakmal is not a man you build an attack around, and Nuwan Kulasekara's best days are long behind him. The same can be said of Lasith Malinga. The difference is, there's still a fear factor that accompanies Malinga. With his slinging action and his arsenal of slower balls, yorkers and bouncers, Malinga will be the Sri Lankan bowler batsmen want to face the least.

News Corp Australia

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