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Champions Trophy: Eight To Watch

The ICC Champions Trophy got under way when India faced South Africa at the Cardiff Wales Stadium. Here ecb.co.uk chooses a player from each of the eight teams we expect to make a significant contribution.

Group A

Australia - Michael Clarke
Australia’s batting frailties were all-too evident in the absence of their skipper when they were bowled out for just 65 in the recent warm-up match against India.

Clarke is the man that the rest of the order fits around, a high-class player who marries a good temperament, fine technique and excellent ability to score quickly or dig in when the situation demands.

His ongoing back problem, which ensured he missed the aforementioned humbling in Cardiff, provides a real area of concern but it is difficult to imagine Australia’s talismanic skipper not playing if at all possible.

England - Jos Buttler
This was the selection long before yesterday’s 16-ball 47 not out against New Zealand, for Buttler is a truly special talent seemingly ready to flourish on the world stage in the same manner he has for Somerset.

His strokeplay, unsurprisingly, catches the eye for its remarkably inventive nature and breathtaking power, yet Buttler is also capable of producing substantial innings when given time to bat.

A one-day international average of just 16.83 in nine games hardly paints the correct picture of a man whose numbers tally at a mightily impressive 54.37 in 63 - at a strike rate of 123.97 to boot - in List A cricket.

Over the last year, he has shown an ability to play his array of shots against the world’s best bowlers - all of whom may well be quaking in their boots at the thought of being targeted by the 22-year-old at the end of the competition.

Sri Lanka - Kusal Perera
There are clearly more obvious options here, such as Mahela Jayawardene, but ecb.co.uk - like many others - sees a lot of another Sri Lanka left-handed opener in Perera.

The similarities between their latest big-hitting merchant at the top of the order and the original version, Sanath Jayasuriya, are plain for all to see.

Whether he is pulling off the front foot or carving over point, it’s clear that Perera has modelled his technique on Jayasuriya’s - and to good effect.

If he can have the kind of impact on this tournament that his hero did on the 1996 World Cup, buckle up!

New Zealand - Ross Taylor
Yes, we’ve ignored England’s recent nemesis, Martin Guptill, instead choosing the man who is probably New Zealand’s most complete batsman.

Taylor, following a brief, self-imposed exile from the team over the winter after losing the captaincy, looked back to his very best in the recent series, hitting three half-centuries in as many games.

A busy batsman, he more often than not lifts the tempo when arriving at the crease - be it through aggressive strokeplay or running - and should provide a stability for big hitters like Guptill and Brendon McCullum to build around.

Far from just an accumulator, Taylor himself also possesses immense power, a combination that will be crucial to the Black Caps’ hopes of causing a splash in the competition.

Group B

India - Virat Kohli
While this list aims to select some of the less-obvious names, the selection of Kohli is a no-brainer.

Just two one-day international appearances shy of a century, Kohli already has more hundreds in the format than the great Rahul Dravid managed in 344 appearances.

What is more, the classy number three has an average just shy of 50 at a strike-rate just above 85; a wonderful timer of the ball and powerful hitter, history suggests Kohli will be somewhere near the top of the run-scorer charts.

Pakistan - Saeed Ajmal
Arguably the best bowler in the competition, Ajmal provides the x-factor in Pakistan’s attack and could well have a huge say in the tournament on pitches looking increasingly like being very dry.

A mystery spinner of supreme quality, the 35-year-old’s recent impact has been reminiscent of Muttiah Muralitharan’s in its consistency across all formats.

While it is easy to immediately think of Ajmal bamboozling batsmen on turning pitches in whites, he is arguably a better limited-overs bowler who possesses an incredible amount of variations that allow him to be as inexpensive as he is dangerous.

South Africa - Morne Morkel
We’re going to assume that Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers fire sufficiently in an inexperienced South Africa batting line-up and, therefore, focus on a bowler.

With fitness questions surrounding Dale Steyn, who will surely not play at all if he has a side strain, all eyes or on Morkel and his ability to spearhead an attack that does not possess the same potency as its five-day equivalent.

Vernon Philander has seemingly been pigeon-holed as a Test specialist and, with Steyn potentially out, the fiery Morkel may need to claim early wickets to allow those around him to flourish.

West Indies - Darren Bravo
Many are looking at the big-hitting Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard and tipping West Indies to repeat their 2004 triumph last time the Champions Trophy was held in England.

Yet while the Windies prosper in Twenty20 cricket, a form in which they are world champions, their 50-over record is far from befitting of such predictions - largely due to a batting line-up that can be as flaky as it can fantastic.

In Bravo, however, they possess a man of genuine class who could well provide the essential bedrock.

The left-hander, eerily similar to his uncle Brian Lara technically, possesses all the shots and - having featured in 53 ODIs - now has the experience to complement his ability.

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