After Australia victory, South Africa need to prove they can win without Kagiso Rabada
After Australia victory, South Africa need to prove they can win without Kagiso Rabada
RABADA IS IRREPLACEABLE
You did not need to be a mind reader to understand Faf du Plessis’ conflicted emotions after the six-wicket victory. Rabada was the player his team could least afford to lose, and his impassioned defense, comparing the Rabada-Steve Smith shoulder-brushing incident with David Warner’s stairwell rage in Durban, struck a chord. “For me, if you look at those incidents, one is brushing of the shirt, the other is a lot more aggressive. My question was: Why are both these incidents labelled the same (level 2, with three demerit points)? For me, they are not.”
In the history of Test cricket, only George Lohmann, who played the last of his 18 Tests in 1896, has a better strike-rate than Rabada among those with more than 100 wickets. Those he has left behind include Dale Steyn, widely regarded as South Africa’s greatest bowler, and Malcolm Marshall, who most of his peers consider the best there ever was. You can understand du Plessis’ funk.
SMITH DOES NOT LIKE LEFTIES
By his exceptional standards, Smith has had a quiet series, with just one half-century and 130 runs in two Tests. Three of the dismissals came against orthodox left-arm spin, with Keshav Maharaj dismissing him once in each Test. Among the bowlers to have dismissed Smith more than once in Tests, are three lefties. He averages 22.33 against Maharaj, 39 against India’s Ravindra Jadeja and 43.4 against Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath. Those are hardly dire numbers, but when put up against a career average of 62.49, they do suggest a small chink in formidable armor.
BANCROFT NEEDS STAYING POWER
Cameron Bancroft has scores of five, 53, 38 and 24 in the two Tests. Seven matches into his career, he averages a modest 27.18, and you can glimpse a worrying pattern. Eight times in 12 innings, he has faced at least 40 balls and batted for more than an hour. The quality opening batsmen, once they have seen off the new-ball threat, cash in. With just two half-centuries to his name, Bancroft has not been able to do that. Some, like the luckless Matt Renshaw, have been dropped for less.
MORKEL WILL GET HIS SWANSONG
Having announced his decision to retire at the end of this series, Morne Morkel started it needing six wickets to get to 300. He struggled for rhythm and figures of three for 121 in Durban, prompting the selectors to bring in the exciting Lungi Ngidi for the second Test. Ngidi was a superb foil for Rabada, taking five for 75 and breaking partnerships at vital moments. Had Rabada not succumbed to white-line fever, Morkel may have stayed on the sidelines. Now, it seems certain that both he and Ngidi will play in Cape Town.
DE VILLIERS JOINS THE CONVERSATION
In testing conditions where only four other batsmen went past 50, AB de Villiers smashed 154 runs off 172 balls. His unbeaten 126 in the first innings — most of those runs made in the company of the tail, and against vicious reverse swing — was the difference between parity and a match-transforming lead. Like Virat Kohli, he now has six centuries against Australia, a South African record and a gentle reminder of the folly of excluding him from any conversation about the world’s best batsman. At 34, he is significantly older than Smith, Kohli, Root and Williamson, but he is every bit as good.
Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly
- Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
- Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.
LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim.
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez.
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News.
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.”
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged.
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.”
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch.
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.”
Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League.
Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration.
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said.
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer.
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed.
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends.
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.”
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football?
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000.
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels.
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.”
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.”
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season.
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.”
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”
N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago.
This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches.
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.”
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah.
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.”
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said.
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches.
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”