Champions Trophy: India and South Africa set for opener

Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni

India and South Africa, two of the top three one-day teams in the world, get the Champions Trophy under way on Thursday.

The sides meet at Cardiff in the opening Group B game of a tournament regarded by many as a "mini World Cup".

Hosts England begin their campaign on Saturday against defending champions Australia in Group A at Edgbaston.

The final of the eight-team competition, which features 15 matches, will be held at Edgbaston on 23 June.

India are the reigning world champions and sit top of the International Cricket Council one-day rankings,external-link but captain Mahendra Dhoni knows they cannot afford to make a slow start.

"You don't really have much time," he said. "You have to get your act together really quickly, be at your best right from the very start. It's a tough tournament."

South Africa skipper AB de Villiers, who could be without pace bowler Dale Steyn on Thursday because of a side strain, said: "We know we have a good chance and we're just going to free up those wings and give it a good shot.

"There aren't a lot of concerns. I'm very positive about what's lying ahead; I'm very confident going into this tournament."

Gary Kirsten stands down as South Africa coach after the Champions Trophy, marking the end of a two-year reign in which South Africa have established themselves as the best Test team in the world.

"It would be nice to give him a good farewell; he's been a great coach to us," said de Villiers.

"I find it funny calling him coach because no one calls him coach. He's almost like one of our friends and a mentor. He'll be dearly missed."

West Indies face Pakistan on Friday, with new Windies skipper Darren Bravo promising to "give the English fans something to support".

"Winning is my main priority, but we're going to entertain and we're going to continue to play the game with flair and glamour," said Bravo, who, in Chris Gayle, has arguably the most destructive limited-overs batsman in the world at his disposal.

Australia, who were bowled out for 65 in their final warm-up game against India, will attempt to defend the title they won in South Africa in 2009 - before the Ashes against England start next month.

"If we win the Champions Trophy that's the best preparation possible (for the Ashes)," said skipper Michael Clarke, who is doubtful for Saturday's clash because a long-standing back problem.

England go into that encounter on the back of a one-day series defeat by New Zealand.

This edition of the Champions Trophy looks likely to be the last, with the ICC keen to introduce a Test Championship for 2017external-link and have world champions in all three forms of the game.