Rashid Khan emerges as new hero for Sunrisers Hyderabad — it’s just a shame the ground was less than a third full

Rajasthan Royals' Jos Buttler is bowled by Rashid Khan during the IPL match in Hyderabad. (AP)
Updated 10 April 2018
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Rashid Khan emerges as new hero for Sunrisers Hyderabad — it’s just a shame the ground was less than a third full

  • Afghanistan star takes two fine catches and bowls Jos Buttler
  • But cost of tickets and location of stadium result in poor attendance
The Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium isn’t the easiest venue to get to. The traffic can be a nightmare and the staircases and passages in the stadium’s innards resemble the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Along with Mohali, where Kings XI Punjab have made the playoffs in just two of ten seasons, this is an Indian Premier League (IPL) ground that struggles to put backsides on seats, inexpensive or posh.
By the league’s standards, the tickets are moderately priced, with the cheapest at 500 rupees, and the costliest a little less than 4,000. But when only 18,886 turn up at a venue that can accommodate 60,000, you know there’s a problem. More than a decade ago, Indian cricket made a conscious decision to abandon dilapidated old stadiums in the heart of cities for more modern ones on their outskirts. The problem in cities like Hyderabad and Nagpur is that they are so far out it may as well be in another city. When even a rickshaw back into town costs you upwards of 300 rupees, the average punter just isn’t going to fork out.
For Hyderabad, the problem is twofold. Thanks to the Sandpaper-gate fiasco, they have also lost the captain who led them to the title in 2016, while smashing 848 runs along the way. David Warner would both bang the drum and lead from the front, and his replacement, Kane Williamson, left no one in any doubt as to his worth.
“I don’t think anyone can replace Davey,” he said after leading Hyderabad to a facile nine-wicket win against Rajasthan. The fans, however, are slightly more conflicted. “He was a great captain,” said Manmohan Singh, an executive director with a Swiss investment bank based in the city. “The team is undoubtedly weaker without him.
“At the same time, it’s probably a good thing he’s out. When there are integrity issues around, it’s never easy for people to believe in the team or the leader.”
In contrast to the sheer bedlam outside the grounds in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai — where crowds in excess of 10,000 watched practice games — the atmosphere in Hyderabad was fairly subdued. The hawkers selling cut-price jerseys and flags were far fewer in number, and the stadium DJ often had to exhort the crowd to pump up the volume.
Jaipur is 1,500km away from Hyderabad, and it was understandable that there was little by way of royal blue on the terraces. Back in the early years of the league, when Shane Warne was sprinkling some stardust around, Rajasthan were the neutrals’ team. These days, they inspire no such loyalty.
And it was not as though Hyderabad needed the proverbial 12th man to see off a Rajasthan side that were so poor on the night. Warner may not have been there as Pied Piper, but the thousands dotted across the stands had a new hero to acclaim.
A year ago, in his first IPL season, Rashid Khan was still an associate player. Now, Afghanistan are two months away from their first Test in Bangalore, and Rashid has led them to the 2019 World Cup as well. He elicited some of the biggest cheers of the night for sensational running catches that dismissed Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson, and the googly that made a mess of Jos Buttler’s stumps. His arched-back celebration, with shades of Shahid Afridi, got the most animated response from the Orange army.
In a match that featured Ben Stokes, the most expensive auction recruit, Williamson, Buttler and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, it was the teenager from cricket’s Cinderella side that was the standout performer. And an adoring crowd weren’t shy of letting him know it.


Liverpool's Andrew Robertson ready for Roma Champions League test

Updated 23 April 2018
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Liverpool's Andrew Robertson ready for Roma Champions League test

  • Young Scottish star was very impressive during Liverpool's 5-1 aggregate destruction of Man City in last-eight clash.
  • Robertson refuses to take Roma lightly after their shock victory over Barcelona in the last round.

LIVERPOOL: With a desire stoked in the stands of Parkhead, Andrew Robertson is now fired up to fulfil a childhood dream.
While following the fortunes of Celtic, the defender’s first Champions League final memory was when Zinedine Zidane volleyed Real Madrid to success in 2002 as the contest was staged in Robertson’s home city of Glasgow. He was just eight years old.
While Robertson was deemed too small to play for his boyhood idols, released at 15 with a future uncertain, he has grown to prove his worth on Europe’s biggest club stage with Liverpool.
Now, with a semifinal encounter against AS Roma after beating Premier League champions Manchester City in the last eight, he wants to emulate those Reds heroes who lifted the trophy five times before.
“I was a big Celtic fan growing up and my heroes were Henrik Larsson and Co,” Robertson told Arab News ahead of tonight’s first-leg clash 
at Anfield.
“But these heroes who have won the European Cup and Champions League for Liverpool, you have to look up to them — and we want to emulate them and hopefully get a winner’s medal too.
“The club’s won it five times and the history of the club has always been this, the Champions League, where the fans create a special atmosphere and the club challenges for the trophy. It would be unbelievable to be a part of that history.
“This is the highlight for me so far and an incredible feeling, but it just makes you hungry for more. I don’t want it to end.
“As a kid, you sit back and watch how great it would be to play in this competition, let alone in the final.
“I always used to go to Celtic and we didn’t progress very far in the Champions League, but the occasions at Parkhead were always unbelievable.
“The fans at Celtic are incredible, world renowned, but Anfield was unbelievable against Man City and we have another chance for them to create that same atmosphere and hopefully we can put in another great performance.”
Having beaten Pep Guardiola’s City so convincingly, 5-1 over two gripping games, Liverpool will start favorites against Roma.
That is despite the Italians upsetting Barcelona in the previous round with an epic 3-0 win in the second leg after a 4-1 loss at the Nou Camp.
But Robertson will take nothing for granted against a Roma side who last reached the final in 1984 where they were beaten by Liverpool in a penalty shootout at their Stadio Olimpico home.
“Barca are an unbelievable team,” added the Scotland left-back, 24. “But let’s not kid ourselves. For Roma to score three goals against Barcelona, that’s special.
“They’ve been unbelievable this season too in the Champions League and deserve to be in the semifinals. It will definitely not be an easy game.
“But once you get to the semis, the fear of who you are playing has gone because you know how good the teams are.
“It’s like you look forward to the possibility of playing in the final, that’s what drives you forward. We will have fire in our bellies because we are so close to getting there.”
Jurgen Klopp’s men will no doubt be looking to Mohamed Salah to conjure more magic against the club he left in the summer for £36.9 million ($51.5 million).
But Robertson insisted Liverpool are no one-man team and the Egyptian, crowned PFA Player of the Year on Sunday night after scoring 41 goals in an unforgettable campaign, epitomizes a team united and ambitious in their quest for glory.
“He’s just unbelievable,” said Robertson of the frontman.
“In the first half (of the second leg) against Man City we struggled to get him in the game and he wasn’t quite at it. But the second half he was different class and pops up with a goal to help us win it. That’s what he does.
“His goals have been incredible and long may that continue. He’s a great guy, so humble, and for someone who has done so much this season he’s so down to Earth.
“That’s credit to our squad because we don’t let anyone get ahead of themselves.
“Mo is no different, he’s a lovely person and stands for what we are as a team.”

 

HEART OF GOLD

Five years ago Andrew Robertson was playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football with Queen’s Park and earning extra money by selling concert tickets in the corporate offices at Hampden Park.
Last summer he suffered relegation from the Premier League with Hull City before Liverpool signed him for £10 million ($13.9 million).
In a career fraught with setbacks and hardships, he has been grateful, supporting foodbanks that help those in need.
“It’s all about giving something back to the less fortunate,” said Robertson.
“I’m in a fortunate position where I do a job I love and get paid well and it’s nice to give something back, especially in my hometown. I’ll always do that.
“It’s been a great journey for me in my career, and I’ve enjoyed every minute. But I don’t forget where I came from. Maybe it is rare, but a lot more people are doing it now and I hope even more will.”