New Delhi:Cricket's elite captains on Thursday threw their weight behind the ICC Champions Trophy 2008, which will be held in Pakistan this September.
Ricky Ponting, the captain of defending champions Australia, said his side was already focused on retaining the trophy, the second most important tournament after the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Ponting's positive sentiments were shared by the leaders of the other top teams, including Pakistan's Shoaib Malik and Graeme Smith of South Africa, who said the two-group, round-robin format meant every team would have to be on top of its game from the very first match.
According to an ICC media release, Ponting said: "The ICC Champions Trophy is a major tournament on our radar and one that we were extremely pleased to win for the first time in 2006 in India.
"The Champions Trophy is the number two one-day tournament on the calendar behind the ICC Cricket World Cup and it is for this reason that our players will ensure they are at the peak of their form to take on the world's best in this format of the game.
"We are particularly focused on performing well this year in the Champions Trophy in Pakistan and I am excited by the prospect of some new Australian players having the opportunity to be tested against the world's best 50-over players.
"Competition is always tough in this tournament and we are expecting a great challenge again in Pakistan during September."
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said: "The Indian team did very well in limited-overs cricket in 2007-08. Winning the one-day series in Australia was a monumental achievement. Not only did we beat the World Cup winners, but also Sri Lanka, which was runner-up in the Caribbean.
"We would like to continue in the same vein and take the ICC Champions Trophy home with us to India."
Shoaib said his team was ready to give its best to win the tournament on home turf. "It is my dream to captain my country to victory in the ICC Champions Trophy on home soil and my team will be doing everything we can to convert this dream into reality," he said.
"This is the biggest cricket event to come to Pakistan in more than a decade. I am sure that there will be a fantastic atmosphere for all the games and that the people of Pakistan will make it a happy and memorable event.
"The new format of the event should mean that there are lots of exciting matches, especially as I don't think there is that much to separate many of the teams in ODI cricket at the moment.
"The fact we beat India earlier this week, which showed what a good side it is when it beat Australia earlier this year, means that it will be very difficult to predict the outcome of matches. I think this could be one of the most closely contested tournaments for a long time."
Graeme Smith said: "The new format of the ICC Champions Trophy with the eight best teams in the world taking part poses new challenges. It means that we will have to be on top form from game one to the finish. It should make for a very exciting tournament.
"Having won it once before (in 1998) we are obviously keen to do so again and it is important that we take the extra step because we have been in a lot of semi-finals without going to the final stage."
West Indies captain Chris Gayle said with the last two ICC Champions Trophy tournament being good events for his team, he wanted to carry forward the same momentum.
"The West Indies team is delighted to participate in the ICC Champions Trophy 2008 as this is an event in which we have a very good record," he said.
"In 2004 it was great feeling to be part of the team which won that amazing final against England at The Oval. I will always remember that day and cherish those memories. Two years later we went close again, only to lose to Australia in the final in India.
"This time around we will again be looking forward to the tournament and we are hoping that we can come out victorious and make all our supporters proud. It is a slightly different team this time around a younger group of players but the boys are really looking forward to the challenge of competing and pushing themselves to the limit.
"We enjoy the one-day format and we plan to put up a good show in Pakistan. We believe we have the right combination and all the players know their roles and responsibilities. You can expect the West Indies to be bold and brave in the ICC Champions Trophy 2008."
England captain Paul Collingwood said his team was developing as a one-day side and was ready to make a big impact on the tournament as his players now had good knowledge about conditions in the Asian subcontinent.
He said: "We are developing as a one-day side with some exciting new players coming through and I believe that this tournament will be a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against the best in the world.
"We have come close to winning the Champions Trophy before and would love to go one better this time. In England, in 2004, we played some excellent cricket beating Australia in the semi-final and were very disappointed to lose to West Indies in the final after getting ourselves into a very good position to win the game.
"Most of our squad have the experience of playing in Pakistan. We have played plenty of cricket in the subcontinent in recent years so I am sure we will be able to adjust to the conditions quickly and we will be very keen to make a big impact on the tournament."
New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said: "We see this as an important tournament. It was the first major tournament that we won back in 2000 and we want to repeat that again this year in Pakistan.
"We have been a good one-day side for several years and to vindicate our world ranking we need to win a major tournament. We have made the top four several times in recent years at ICC events without going any further. This is an opportunity to put that record behind us."
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardena said: "It's the biggest event after the World Cup and it gives you the opportunity to test your skills with the best in the world.
"We want to do well, particularly with the event being held in Asia, and want to maintain our position as one of the biggest forces in world cricket."
However, according to reports in a section of the Australian media, Cricket Australia is heading towards a major crisis with its leading cricketers set to boycott the Champions Trophy in Pakistan owing to security apprehensions.
The 'Sydney Morning Herald' claimed most of the leading Australian cricketers would pull out of the event if the International Cricket Council is adamant to host the elite tournament, second only to World Cup in stature, in the trouble-torn country.
"It is going to come down to the individual's decision," an anonymous member of the Australian team, currently touring West Indies, told the daily.
"We have talked about it, and there are some guys who will go if security advice says it's OK. But there are others who have said they won't go, regardless. At this stage, we are waiting to hear more," he added.
Earlier this year, all-rounder Andrew Symonds did not hide his reluctance to tour Pakistan and Australia had no other option but to defer the full series to 2009-10 after consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Though CA is aware of the players' mood, the board would prefer its player to play in Champions Trophy even though it looks a distant possibility now.
Incidentally, players from New Zealand, England and South Africa too are apprehensive about touring Pakistan.
Though the ICC and the Pakistan Cricket Board have been asserting that security would not be an issue for the players, the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) is not convinced yet and would conduct a recce of its own before giving thumbs-up to the event.