How important is the ICC Champions Trophy to the participating teams? What is its stature in international cricket as compared to the Fifty 50 World Cup and the T-20 World Cup generally considered the twin jewels in the international calendar?

The tournament has had a roller coaster of a ride ever since it was first held in 1998 in Bangladesh and at its lowest ebb was termed as the ''unwanted stepchild of international cricket’’ after the 2006 edition in India. In the crammed schedule that was the international calendar one wondered whether another Fifty-50 tournament was required even if all the Test teams took part especially in the wake of the popularity of Twenty-20 cricket and the mushrooming growth of T-20 leagues the world over following the tremendous success of the IPL.

But despite the cynics writing its obituary or speaking of it in unkind terms it has survived seven editions and as the eighth edition takes off in England on June 1 there is no denying the fact that there is renewed interest in the competition, the players look forward to it with undisguised enthusiasm and the standard of cricket is predictably high. Indeed the feeling now is that with an overdose of T-20 cricket this Fifty-50 tournament has a purpose to serve and is most welcome.

Contrary to expectations the success of the game’s shortest format has not affected Test cricket or Fifty-50 overmuch. To be sure the crowds at the Test matches may be dwindling but interest in the game’s traditional format continues to be high and there is enough evidence to indicate that ODIs too can still draw spectators in droves to the venues. Perhaps the 2017 edition of the Champions Trophy will provide ultimate proof of this.

Certainly it is a trophy that international teams would like to showcase in their cupboard. One recalls how badly Ricky Ponting wanted to win the 2006 edition as Australia had not won the tournament after four editions despite having held aloft the World Cup three times. For good measure they did an encore in the 2009 Champions Trophy.

This time around however it is India who are the defending champions having won the trophy in England four years ago. But a cursory glance at the participating teams and it is clear that this is going to be perhaps the most open Champions Trophy of all. And is if this is not enough the fact that only 11 points separate the top five in the ICC rankings lends further credence to this view.

There are four teams in each group and hardly anyone will want to stick his neck out and predict the table topper let alone the ultimate winner Even Bangladesh who are normally around to make up the numbers cannot be taken lightly. They have shown vast improvement of late and the very fact that they are ranked No 6 ahead of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies (who in fact did not qualify having failed to make the cut within the stipulated date) is proof enough that a semifinal berth cannot be ruled out even from a group which has England, Australia and New Zealand. Just last week Bangladesh upset New Zealand at Dublin to cement their upward surge in international cricket particularly in the limited overs format.

Predictions about the other group which has India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa are also fraught with danger. Indeed the groupings clearly illustrate that every team must put their best foot forward at all times. One bad day at the office can mean elimination at the group stage itself. Virat Kohli summed up the situation succinctly last week when he said that the Champions Trophy was tougher than the World Cup for in the latter tournament with associate members among the mix there could be a couple of easy games but this time around every match is important. And while India, South Africa, England and Australia are widely expected to make the semifinals it would not constitute a major surprise if one of them is eliminated at the group stage itself.

Even the past record is not a big help when trying to pick the winner for there has been no dominant side in the competition. South Africa, India, New Zealand and West Indies have won it once each, Australia has won it twice while in 2002 India and Sri Lanka were the joint champions after rain played spoil sport. Further proof if any is needed that it is really anyone’s cup.