Champions Trophy preview Group B

What might on the surface appear to be the weaker of the two groups could produce some of the most interesting match-ups in the Champions Trophy.

Group B sees South Africa grouped against three Asian foes in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Despite the abysmal form of both Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the last year or so the fierce rivalries between teams in this group should see each side up their game.

Here we look at the chances of each team in turn and isolate they key men in their squads.

India

The defending champions have been in imperious form in all formats of the game but have played most of their cricket at home in the last year travelling only to visit Zimbabwe.

They have seen off England and New Zealand at home but both pushed them to the limit.

Their lack of recent ODI cricket could pose a few problems but their squad have all been playing white ball cricket with their various Indian Premier League franchises.

Fast bowling is not a traditional strength of the Indian team but the emergence Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will leave India confident they can harness the swing-friendly conditions in a bid to repeat their 2013 win.

The real question is how well they will bat if the ball starts to move around particularly early on.

Key man: Not to be predictable but this has to be Virat Kohli, his dip in form which began in the Test series against Australia has to end at some time and it might very well end in the Champions Trophy. If he hits his straps India will be favourites to win it all.

Pakistan

India's great rivals could be forgiven for undue focus on their first match. If Pakistan beat India that will be almost as good as lifting the trophy for them.

Pakistan were poor in the ODI series in England and were downright woeful in Australia and New Zealand with all their recent triumphs coming against a West Indies team in crisis.

Umar Akmal was sent home from the tournament days before it was due to get underway for failing a fitness and the fact that the debacle was not even slightly surprising speaks volumes about the state of cricket in Pakistan.

The odds are stacked heavily against them and they are their own worst enemies but past ICC tournaments have proven that you write Pakistan off at your peril.

In what looks set to be a high scoring tournament Pakistan's batsmen will need to find another gear and in this regard, they will miss explosive opener Sharjeel Khan who has been suspended for suspected involvement in match fixing.

Key man: Left-arm quick Mohammad Amir is one the bowlers to watch and we know he has the ability to bowl devastating new ball spells especially if the ball is swinging.

South Africa

The Proteas were humbled by England in a three-match series ahead of the tournament but did record a consolation win once they shook off the ring rust.

A potent and settled top five has been South Africa's great strength for the last few years. Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and David Miller sport 660 ODI appearances between them with Miller's average of 39.01 the lowest of the group.

Their success has turned the South African lower order a little soft though and the specter of past tournament failures always looms large with an expectant and unforgiving public quick to brand their team as chokers.

The bowling attack is talented but at times has lacked the direction a world class senior bowler gives and they have struggled to handle being put under pressure by aggressive batsmen particularly at the death.

In Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell they have bowlers who can rip you apart up front on their day and leg-spinner Imran Tahir has a knack of getting wickets at precisely the right moment.

There is no disputing that the number one ranked side in the world are a class outfit but the expectations of a nation weigh heavily on this team placing extra pressure on them in circumstances that are already intense.

Key man: Rabada's ability to get wickets up front could prove to be decisive for a team that haven't quite come to grips with the art of death bowling.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's ODI woes have centred around their inability to convert starts into big scores registering only 7 centuries in their last 38 ODIs.

When coupled with less than ideal fielding displays it's not hard to see why this team have struggled to convert talent into results.

Having said that this is tournament play and much like Pakistan Sri Lanka have a habit of turning it on for the big occasions and they have some exciting players in their ranks.

Niroshan Dickwella is an opener who hasn't even seen the text book on the subject and is all the better for it, he is innovative and aggressive and among the bowlers left-arm wrist spinner Lakshan Sandakan has troubled the best in the world home and away in his rookie season.

These young men will need support and guidance from old hands Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, who returns for his first ODI in nearly two years.

Asela Gunaratne has been a standout performer for them but he has played far too many brave yet futile innings.

Key player: Malinga has been called into this squad because of his x-factor and the hat-trick king will need to be at his very best if Sri Lanka are to get out of their group.

Fixtures

June

3 Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (10:30 BST)

4 India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (10:30 BST)

7 Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (d/n) (13:30 BST)

8 India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (10:30 BST)

9 New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (10:30 BST)

10 England v Australia, Edgbaston (10:30 BST)

11 India v South Africa, The Oval (10:30 BST)

12 Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (10:30 BST)

14 First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (10:30 BST)

15 Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (10:30 BST)

18 Final, The Oval (10:30 BST; reserve day on 19 June)

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