Cook dismisses ‘irrelevant’ Johnson talk ahead of Ashes

England’s Alastair Cook (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Updated 21 November 2017
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Cook dismisses ‘irrelevant’ Johnson talk ahead of Ashes

BRISBANE, Australia: Alastair Cook dismissed talk of Mitchell Johnson as “irrelevant” on Tuesday as England prepare to face Australia’s new-look pace attack in the first Ashes Test.
The former England skipper and opening stalwart was speaking after Australia spinner Nathan Lyon’s taunts that his team was in the mood to “end some careers” in the Brisbane Test.
Much has been said about the demoralizing effect Johnson, who is now retired from internationals, had on England at the Gabba four years ago, when he ripped through the tourists’ batting.
The firebrand left-armer set the tone for the 2013-2014 Ashes with his ferocious fast bowling to take nine wickets at the Gabba as the Australians inflicted a crushing 381-run defeat, triggering a 5-0 series rout.
But Cook urged his team-mates to maintain their focus on the first Test and not to take a rear-vision view of past events.
“Mitch bowled outstandingly in that series, one of the best periods of bowling I’ve ever faced backed up by Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle — (but) they’re no longer playing,” Cook told reporters on Tuesday.
“So in one sense it’s a bit irrelevant.
“It happened four years ago and it’s all what happens on Thursday rather than looking back.
“England have won four of the last five Ashes series, so you can look at what you want.”


Cook said while Australia’s current pace attack — Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins — was strong, it didn’t hold any great fears for the tourists.
“There’s nothing we haven’t seen before in cricket,” he said.
“They’re not suddenly bowling 150 miles an hour. (They’ve) not got magic balls which start way outside the stumps and swing miles and stuff.
“They’re very good bowlers with good records. As batters, that is the challenge we’ve got in the next seven weeks.”
Australia have a formidable record at Brisbane’s intimidating ‘Gabbatoir’ where they have not lost a Test match since 1988, and where England are winless in 31 years.
Cook said England had “pretty much accepted” that star all-rounder Ben Stokes would not play a role in the Ashes series, despite reports that he may soon join the tour.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is still waiting to discover if Stokes will be charged by prosecutors investigating a brawl outside a nightclub in September.
“Since we’ve arrived here, as a side, we’ve pretty much accepted Ben would not be here. It’s about dealing with that,” Cook said.
“If there is a bonus of him making the trip at some stage, that’d be great.
“But I can honestly say it hasn’t been spoken about in the change room.
“There’s no good for us to really talk about that. It’s obviously a sad situation... it’s a shame for him he’s missing a big series.”
Australian opener David Warner said Tuesday he wanted Stokes to be involved, but added: “I think it’s probably disappointing for the England team and the country. He’s let a lot of people down.”


Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran

Updated 14 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games opening clash against Iran

  • Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
  • Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.

JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia. 
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”  
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China. 
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.