The ICC Champions Trophy begins on Saturday amid greater anticipation than usual with the tournament acting as the first leg of an exciting six months of cricket, highlighted by the Ashes and next year's World Cup.
World champion Australia starts as favorite, as it has in every one-day tournament over the last decade, bidding to capture the only item of silverware missing from its overflowing trophy cabinet.
As well as strength in depth and a wealth of experience, Australia's form is also encouraging after claiming a one-day tri-series victory in Malaysia last month, upstaging West Indies in the final after knocking out India.
The biennial event is rated as the second most important one-day tournament after the World Cup, which is next being contested in the Caribbean in March-April 2007.
Eight teams will be lodged in two pools for the main rounds, with Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and England gaining direct entries as the top six teams in the ICC rankings at the April 1 cut-off date.
Two others will join them from a four-team qualifying league involving defending champion West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
The qualifiers start on Saturday with Sri Lanka taking on Bangladesh in Mohali. The main rounds open on October 15 with India playing England in Jaipur.
The top two from each pool will qualify for the semifinals with the final to be played in Mumbai on November 5.
The International Cricket Council introduced qualifiers after one-sided contests drew criticism in previous editions of the event launched in 1998 to raise funds to develop the game globally.
However, there is an air of anticipation this time around.
Sparks could fly when Australia meets England on October 21, the day India celebrates its biggest festival "Diwali" or "Festival of Lights."
That game acts as a prelude to the Ashes series starting in Brisbane on November 23, with Australia desperate to reclaim bragging rights between the nations after England's 2-1 test series victory last year.
Ranked second behind Australia, South Africa has concerns over key batsman Herschelle Gibbs, who faces possible questioning by Delhi police for his part in the Hansie Crojie match-fixing probe launched during their 2000 tour.
Gibbs was fined and suspended for six months after admitting he agreed to under-perform in a one-dayer against India, but has never traveled to the country since then to answer the charges.
The run-up to the event was marred by the Pakistan ball-tampering row during the Oval test against England in August.
Pakistan refused to take the field to protest the decision by umpires Darrel Hair and Billy Doctrove to penalize it for ball-tampering, resulting in the first forfeit in test history.
Skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq was cleared of ball-tampering charges last week but will be absent after being slapped with a four-match ODI ban for bringing the game into disrepute.
Australian Hair, at the center of the row, has been omitted from the panel of umpires for the Champions Trophy.
Younis Khan, leading the side in Inzamam's absence, has said his team would be motivated to win the trophy for their captain.
Host India also needs to dig deep to silence its critics after a dip in its one-day form led to a 4-1 series defeat in West Indies followed by a shoddy display in Kuala Lumpur.
Fast bowler Stuart Clark has been ruled out of the Champions Trophy because of a thigh injury, Cricket Australia said yesterday.
Clark injured his upper left leg in a club match last weekend.
Australia selectors have not named a replacement for the 14-man squad set to compete this month at the limited-overs tournament in India.
"The nature of the injury means it would be unlikely that Stuart would be able take any part in the ICC Champions Trophy. Therefore, the decision was made for him to stay in Australia and undergo treatment to maximize his chances of a full recovery before the Ashes," team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris said.
Clark will be sidelined for four to six weeks, but expects to be available for selection in the first Ashes test against England starting November 23 in Brisbane.