England eye World Cup glory as New Zealand plot shock

FILE PHOTO: England's Chris Woakes celebrates the dismissal of New Zealand's Henry Nicholls by LBW at ICC Cricket World Cup - England v New Zealand in Emirates Riverside, Chester-Le-Street, Britain on July 3, 2019 (Reuters)
Updated 14 July 2019

England eye World Cup glory as New Zealand plot shock

  • England seek their first title in the 44-year history of World Cup
  • New Zealand cannot be underestimated after seeing off India in the semifinals

London: Eoin Morgan’s England face New Zealand at Lord’s on Sunday desperate to win the World Cup for the first time after four years of hard graft.
When England exited the 2015 tournament after an embarrassing defeat by Bangladesh, few tipped them as potential champions four years later.
As captain Morgan put it: “If you had offered us the position to play in a final the day after we were knocked out of the 2015 World Cup, I would have laughed at you.”
One person not laughing was Andrew Strauss, the former England director of cricket.
Drafted into the newly created role, Strauss set about an overhaul that saw the former England captain appoint Australia’s Trevor Bayliss as coach, and place greater emphasis on white-ball cricket.
The value of that work showed when England, now top of the one-day international rankings, thrashed reigning champions Australia by eight wickets in the semifinal at Edgbaston with the kind of performance that justified their billing as pre-tournament favorites.
Pacemen Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes destroyed the top order, leg-spinner Adil Rashid chipped in and the dynamic duo of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow launched the run chase with another blistering century partnership.
Australian World Cup-winning captain Steve Waugh said England could go down as one of the greatest teams in one-day international history if they win on Sunday.

But the challenge for the host nation, as they seek a first title in the 44-year history of the World Cup, is to embrace Sunday’s occasion at Lord’s without it inhibiting their “fearless” brand of cricket.
“It’s the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication, a lot of planning and it presents a huge opportunity to go on and try and win a World Cup,” said Morgan.
Back-to-back group-stage defeats by Sri Lanka and Australia effectively saw England playing knockout cricket before the semifinals but they got their campaign back on track with impressive victories against India and New Zealand.
“I think it has helped us because it’s lent itself to actually being more positive and aggressive and a bit smarter about how we play. It’s sort of been the last-chance saloon,” explained Morgan.
New Zealand, who have also never won the World Cup, helped shock England into a change of approach by humiliating them in Wellington four years ago and cannot be underestimated after seeing off Virat Kohli’s India in the semifinals.
The 2015 losing finalists boast a well-balanced attack led by left-arm quick Trent Boult but their batting has been hugely reliant on captain Kane Williamson, who has scored 548 runs in the tournament at an outstanding average of 91.33, and Ross Taylor.
Williamson said his side were happy to embrace their underdog status, acknowledging that England deserved to be favorites.
“But whatever dog we are, it’s just important that we focus on the cricket that we want to play,” he said. “And we have seen over the years that anybody can beat anybody — regardless of breed of dog.”
While some members of the home side were not even born when England made the last of three losing appearances in a World Cup final in 1992, the Black Caps have the experience of their heavy defeat by co-hosts Australia in the climax of the 2015 edition in Melbourne to call on.
But there is a sense that England will never have a better chance.
“I haven’t allowed myself to think about lifting the trophy,” said Morgan.
“Cricket and sport in particular is very fickle. If you ever get ahead, it always seems to bite you in the backside. For us to win it, I think around the country it would be awesome, great for the game.”


Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

Updated 24 min 39 sec ago

Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

  • Michael Mmoh of USA and Ammar Al-Haqbani of Saudi Arabia to play
  • Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars

RIYADH: Two of the most exciting Saudi-born tennis stars will go head-to-head when in a showpiece exhibition match as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco.

Michael Mmoh (USA) and Ammar Al-Haqbani (KSA) – both 21 – will compete in front of an eager home crowd ahead of the final match of the $3 million tournament that has attracted eight of the world’s best players and the eyes of world tennis.

The special exhibition match will take place at 2pm Saturday, December 14th at the Diriyah Arena ahead of the final’s day of the Kingdom’s inaugural international tennis event.  

Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars, including three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, big-hitting US champion John Isner, and 2019’s most exciting breakthrough player, Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

American Michael Mmoh said: “I can’t wait to be coming back to Saudi Arabia and play in front of the local fans. It’s going to be a very special experience for me. 

“Having some of the best players in the world coming to the Kingdom can really inspire new fans to pick up a racquet and get on a court for the first time and play this great game.”

Ammar echoed that view, saying: “The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will have a significant impact on tennis in Saudi, especially for local tennis lovers and young talents who want to be professionals.

“Watching closely as these big names compete at the Diriyah Arena will be a huge inspiration for them to work more and build their professional path  in order to compete on the global stage in the future.”

Named after basketball icon Michael Jordan, Michael Mmoh was born in Riyadh; his father Tony – who peaked at world number 105 – Nigerian, who was a former Saudi-Arabian Davis Cup captain, and his mother from Ireland but an Australian citizen. When leaving the Kingdom aged 13, Michael’s first big move within the tennis world was, when he enrolled in the prestigious IMG Academy student-athlete school in Bradenton (Florida).

That decision and the hard work that followed paid off, with Michael climbing his way to world number two in the junior rankings. By 2018, he had broken into the Top 100 men’s players worldwide. Injury hampered his 2019, but it’s a year he hopes to end with a bang at Ad Diriyah as he closes back in on the Top 100 and seeks to add to his sixth ATP Challenger Tour titles in 2020.

His opponent Ammar Haqbani has followed just as interesting a path. One of three tennis-playing children of US-based Saudi diplomat Faleh Haqbani, Ammar started his tennis career aged five years old. He participated in his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition three years later, later scaling the heights to become the seventh best player on the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section standings, and 135th globally in the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ranking.

Ammar is a leader in the Saudi national team in the Davis Cup since 2015 and has been a dominant figure in GCC regional tournaments for seven years. He was also the first Saudi Arabian player to win a gold medal in an international tennis competition.

Held on the outskirts of Riyadh, the three-day Diriyah Cup tournament will welcome eight leading ATP players: Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland), John Isner (USA), Daniil Medvedev (Russia), David Goffin (Belgium), the Frenchmen Gaël Monfils and Lucas Pouille (France), Fabio Fognini (Italy), and Jan-Lennard Struff from Germany.

The Cup is one of several sporting spectacles taking place as part of the Kingdom’s 2019 Diriyah Season festival, which has already featured the Clash of the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Its 15,000-seater venue is set upon the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ad Diriyah, where the ancient mud-wall city will offer a breath-taking backdrop for three-days of hard-court tennis.