Three Pakistan cricketers have virus before ‘risky’ England tour

Three Pakistan cricketers selected for the tour of England have tested positive for the coronavirus - including leg-spinner Shadab Khan. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 22 June 2020

Three Pakistan cricketers have virus before ‘risky’ England tour

  • The players showed no symptoms until they were tested on Sunday at Rawalpindi

ISLAMABAD: Three Pakistan cricketers selected for the tour of England have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Uncapped middle-order batsman Haider Ali, fast bowler Haris Rauf, and leg-spinner Shadab Khan will go into self-isolation, the Pakistan Cricket Board said on Monday.
The players showed no symptoms until they were tested on Sunday at Rawalpindi. Allrounder Imad Wasim and fast bowler Usman Shinwari tested negative and will travel on Wednesday to Lahore, where Pakistan will assemble before traveling to the Britain on Sunday.
More COVID-19 tests were conducted at Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar on Monday, and the PCB said those results will come on Tuesday.
Pakistan named an extended squad of 29 players for three Test matches and three Twenty20s in England from August.
A PCB medical official said the tour was a “big risk” but necessary to help the country get through the crisis.
“During the pandemic it’s (the tour) a big risk,” said PCB director of medical and sports sciences Dr. Sohail Saleem on Monday.
“We haven’t experienced (playing during a pandemic), but for both teams it will be a first. The pandemic means risk, but consider them (players) as ... providing people entertainment.”
Saleem said he was encouraged by soccer resuming in Europe, where the Bundesliga in Germany and the Premier League in England have restarted in empty stadiums.
“There’s no crowd in football and there will be no spectators at cricket stadiums, too,” he said.
“The anxiety level of people sitting at home is rising, but cricket can be seen as lowering these.”
All 29 players will be tested twice for COVID-19 before they board the flight to London. Once the team lands in the UK, Saleem said the players will go through another testing session before they start training in quarantine.
“After every 5-7 days we will be carrying out testing of the players in the UK,” Saleem said.
“Three days before the start of the first test another round of testing of all the players will be done and if a player tests positive, he will be quarantined. We have set the protocol with the England and Wales Cricket Board.”
Pakistan cricketers haven’t played any competitive games since March 17 when the Pakistan Super League was suspended due to the pandemic. According to Saleem, the players have been mostly confined to their homes.
“Players could have been mentally affected, but it’s affecting even the common man,” Saleem said.
He said he spoke to coach Misbah-ul-Haq when the PCB had to postpone the training camp in Lahore due to a rise of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan and the team will depart earlier than initially planned.
“We had a meeting with the head coach about how much time he needed (to get the players ready) and he said at least five-six weeks were required. It was not possible in Pakistan, but the ECB provided us the maximum time to train in a bio-secured environment.”
Saleem also said Pakistan players have to follow the UK government’s protocols in England and will not be allowed to meet their relatives and friends in the UK.

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Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

Updated 03 August 2020

Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

  • Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining
  • There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play

DUBAI: There may have been no football in Saudi Arabia for five months but the mind games are in full flow as ahead of the crucial top of the table clash in the Saudi Pro League on Wednesday, Al Hilal boss Razvan Lucescu has told Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria that the pressure is all on him.

In the first game since March when the season was suspended due to coronavirus, Al Nassr in second, six points behind the leaders with eight games to play, can’t afford any slip-ups in the Riyadh Derby if they are to successfully defend the title they won last season.

“We are six points ahead and the opponent is under more pressure as they know they have to reduce the difference,” Lucescu told reporters at the pre-match press conference to the eagerly-awaited Riyadh Derby that will take place with no fans in the King Fahd International Stadium.

That points gap means that the smart money is still on Al Hilal to take league title number 16. Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining.

Not only that but Al Hilal have looked to be in better shape than their challengers in recent warm-up games with a 2-2 draw with second tier side Al-Shoalah following a 4-0 win over Al Riyadh.

“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time,”  Lucescu, who took Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League title in 2019, added. “The league suspension has been long and it has not been easy but we have focused on the mental side of things and aim to return strongly.”

The Romanian has been boosted by the return to fitness of Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo who has recovered from last week’s knock. With the league’s leading goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis signing a contract extension in July, Lucescu is in a positive frame of mind.

“We know the way they play and we know that it will be a tough game …but everyone is affected by the long pause and we all start at the same level. We are just going to take it step by step and stay focused.”

There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play. The former Porto star will be needed as fellow defenders Omar Hawsawi and Abdullah Madu could miss out through injury.

While Hilal may have the points gap, in terms of the personal battles between the two coaches, Vitoria has the upper hand. The Portuguese boss has yet to lose in three meetings with his Romanian rival in big games in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia.

In a final play-off to reach the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Vitoria led Benfica to a 5-2 aggregate victory over PAOK, coached by Lucescu. After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon, the Portuguese powerhouse won 4-1 in Greece.

Earlier this season, Al Nassr inflicted Al Hilal’s only loss in the league this season so far with a 2-1 win at Hilal’s King Saud International Stadium in October with Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah getting both goals.

A similar result at Al Nassr’s home on Wednesday would breathe new life into the title race. Vitoria has stressed that recent friendly games were a chance to try out tactics and give players a run-out. Losses against Al Raed and Al Fateh however have given the Portuguese boss much to think about.

At the other end of the table.  Al Ittihad are just three places of the bottom of this 16-team league and in danger of the drop. The two-time AFC Champions League winners face a game on Tuesday at mid-table Abha where victory would provide the Jeddah giants with some much-needed breathing space.

The race for third and a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League is also a fierce one. Al Wehda are currently in the driving seat and host Al Shabab while Al Ahli in fourth and just two points behind host the struggling Al Hazem. Al Faisaly, Al-Taawon and Al Raed also have an outside chance of booking a place in next year’s continental competition.

All eyes will, however, be on the top of the table clash as Hilal can take a huge step towards the title. “I am happy with how the players have returned from the suspension and I am confident in  their abilities,”said Lucescu. “All we care about is winning the next match and that will help us win the league.”