Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

Kolkata Knight Riders will be hoping to hit the the Rajasthan Royals for six in their clash.
Updated 22 May 2018

Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

  • IPL down to four teams as cash-rich circus nears its climax.
  • Knight Riders coming into form at just the right time.

In our preview, we had tipped Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings for the playoffs, while mentioning that Rajasthan Royals would be the dark horses. But after a topsy-turvy season that saw Mumbai Indians, the holders knocked out, and the seventh-placed side finish within a win of the playoffs, it is time to run the rule again over the four teams that have made it to the final week.


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Given a choice, you would not go into the business end of a tournament on the back of three straight defeats. Hyderabad lost some intensity after sealing their playoff spot, even as Kane Williamson, captain extraordinaire, continued to bat like a dream. Their bowlers, so miserly earlier in the tournament, have taken some punishment in the past fortnight, and their hopes of repeating the triumph of 2016 will depend largely on some key players finding form. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has had a disappointing season, and there has been scant batting support for Williamson and Shikhar Dhawan. Rashid Khan and Siddharth Kaul, whose performances have earned an India call-up, have led the bowling, and while Shakib Al-Hasan has been disciplined, he needs to do far more with bat in hand.


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They could play only one game at their Chepauk fortress before opportunistic Cauvery-water-related protests forced them to shift their home base to Pune. Only one of their bowlers, Shardul Thakur, features in the top 20 wicket-takers list, and he has conceded nearly nine an over. But despite the hardships, Chennai have again made the playoffs, for the ninth time in nine seasons (they were banned for the 2016 and 2017 editions). MS Dhoni’s renaissance with the bat has garnered the headlines, but around him, Ambati Rayudu has made 586 runs and Shane Watson 438. Even a largely out-of-sorts Suresh Raina has managed 391. Dwayne Bravo’s death-overs bowling has gone from strength to concern, but the raw pace of Lungi Ngidi — nine wickets at an outstanding economy rate of 6.11 — has given Chennai a thrilling option that Dhoni will doubtless use wisely. It’s hard to see past them in a high-pressure game.


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The city that was ruled by the Left Front for nearly four decades has got through because of the strength of the collective. That is not to say individual brilliance has been absent. Sunil Narine, despite the murmurs over his action, leads the Most Valuable Player race with 327 runs (strike-rate of 189) and 16 wickets. Andre Russell has shown his prowess with both bat and ball, while Dinesh Karthik, who took over as captain this season, has shown Zen-master calm to guide the team home in chases. Six of the batsmen have scored more than 250 runs, and young Prasidh Krishna — discovered through the Karnataka Premier League — has given them a potent pace option. If they can coax a couple of big performances from Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla, the wrist spinners who have had underwhelming seasons, they are a good long shot to land a third title.


Recent form: WWWLW

The power-packed batting of Jos Buttler helped transform their season, but it also led to an unexpected Test call-up that has deprived the Royals of one of their trump cards. Ben Stokes, who had a poor season with the bat and an average one with the ball, has also gone, leaving the onus very much on the Indian contingent. Ajinkya Rahane’s batting has been mediocre, but he has led brilliantly, coaxing some terrific displays from fringe spinners like Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham. Jofra Archer’s pace and white-ball nous has allowed them to overcome the poor bowling form of Jaidev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni. But Sanju Samson, who has gone off the boil after a great start, and Rahul Tripathi will need to bat out of their skins to replicate the Buttler heroics that turned around a miserable 3-6 start. Despite being the form side, the suspicion persists that they’re a marquee player or two short.

London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

Updated 16 August 2018

London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

  • Super Cup final in UK capital can boost Saudi football's image around the world, claims SAFF official
  • SAFF defends number of foreign players allowed to play in Saudi Pro League claiming they help raise the standard.

LONDON: Saturday’s Super Cup final between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad in London will not just be a great experience for the players, but also a chance to showcase the best of Saudi Arabian football on an international stage ahead of what should be a season to remember.
That is according to Luai Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF)ahead of the cup clash at Loftus Road, the home of Queen’s Park Rangers. The match is the traditional season curtain-raiser that features the champions and the winners of the King’s Cup. And with holding fixtures overseas a growing trend in modern football, Al-Subaiey told Arab News the decision to play the match in London was a no-brainer.
“Club teams from one country playing in another country is commonplace,” Al-Subaiey said.
“Teams from the English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese leagues played in the US this summer. The Spanish Super Cup was played in Morocco last week.
“We do it because it is good for our players to gather more international experience, to learn what it’s like to play in large overseas stadia, and of course, there is a large Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern population living and working in London, (roughly) 300,000 people there.”
Al-Subaiey and Co. are confident that a great game in London this Saturday will be a springboard to a great season to come, especially with leading clubs in the country active in the international transfer market.
With eight overseas players allowed in Saudi Arabian teams in the upcoming Saudi Pro League season, there have been concerns that opportunities for local talent could be reduced. Al-Subaiey, however, believes that importing quality players can only be a good thing.
“Foreign players in the Saudi League will help improve the quality of football,” he said.
“But it also needs to be managed and balanced with the need to nourish domestic talent and provide our homegrown players with a pathway to the top.”
International stars such as Omar Abdulrahman have a part to play in the development of the Saudi Pro League and its ambition to be one of the leading leagues in the world. The United Arab Emirates playmaker joined Al-Hilal earlier in August in a season-long loan deal worth a reported $15 million — the second highest in football history.
As well as Abdulrahman, Al-Hilal have signed Peruvian international Andre Carrillo, who scored at the World Cup this summer, as well as former Barcelona defender Alberto Botia. Al-Nassr have bought Nigerian international Ahmed Musa from Leicester City and Nordin Amrabat from Watford.
“Has Wayne Rooney added something to DC United and the MLS? Has Omar Abdulrahman added to Al-Hilal? Of course, additions like these improve the quality of football,” Al-Subaiey said. “For the fans, these players bring excitement, and for the clubs and their league, these players bring a higher profile and greater attention — but there is something deeper too.”
For the official, what the best players bring is attitude and the utmost professionalism.
“Central to high performance sport is the right mindset. People like Rooney and Abdulrahman bring a great work ethic and possess great skills — but they also possess a professional mindset. And the young players who will work with them will see this, experience this — and learn from this.”
If all goes according to plan Saudi Arabia will qualify for the 2022 World Cup and perhaps even
progress to the second round for the first time since 1994. In Russia the Green Falcons started off with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the hosts in the opening game in Moscow. The team tightened up before losing narrowly to Uruguay, and then going on to beat Egypt 2-1 in the final game.
“We were absolutely delighted to be at the World Cup,” Al-Subaiey said.
“As you can tell with teams like Italy, Holland and the USA not qualifying and teams like Germany and Argentina not progressing (far in the tournament), the standard of play in international football is very high.
“Our particular group was quite challenging, and our initial game against host Russia, one of the biggest surprises of the World Group, was a difficult first match. Our final game, our win against Egypt, was a World Cup high point for our team. It was a match our young players and our national program can build on.”