First cricket World Test Championship puts new spin on game’s established formats

First cricket World Test Championship puts new spin on game’s established formats
India celebrates victory on day five of the fourth Test at the Gabba in Brisbane, Australia, Jan. 19, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 July 2021

First cricket World Test Championship puts new spin on game’s established formats

First cricket World Test Championship puts new spin on game’s established formats
  • In the second of his regular columns for Arab News, Jon Pike explains cricket’s different formats and how each can have its own world’s best

Cricket can be impenetrable for those who are new to it and seeking to understand its rules and conventions.

The scoring system, the idiosyncratic names given to positions in the field, strange signals made by umpires, the use of a literacy known only to cricket, outbreaks of applause for no apparent reason, and matches ending with no outright winner after days of play, all combine to create an arcane environment.

This is exacerbated by a variety of formats under which the game is played. Until the early 1970s, international cricket consisted of (generally) five-day Test matches, a term used to describe the contests in the very first visit by an England team to Australia in 1862-63.

After 1971, when Australia and England played a limited, 40 overs match because the Test at Melbourne had been washed out, one-day cricket gained momentum, with the first Cricket World Cup contested by eight teams in England in June 1975, based on a format of 60 overs per side in each match.

The popularity of the format, reduced to 50 overs in 1987, has been enduring, with the dramatic final between England and New Zealand at Lord’s in July 2019 set to last long in the memory. At the end of the 100 overs, the scores were tied, and the outcome was decided when England scored the most runs in one extra over of six balls per side.

Such gripping finales are rare, and cricket’s administrators have been concerned for decades about the game’s lack of attraction to younger people, fearing the universal appeal of football to them. This has been very much the case in the UK.

In 2003, the governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board, introduced a new format called Twenty20 (T20), in which each side was limited to 20 overs, having developed a format which was first trialed in New Zealand in the 1990s.

T20 cricket has attracted new audiences, no more so than in India, where the spectacular Indian Premier League (IPL) that began in 2007 has captured global attention and made rich men of many of the world’s leading cricketers.

The introduction in England in July of a new, even shorter competition called the Hundred will add further complexity to the game’s playing architecture, especially as each over will comprise of the delivery of 10 balls rather than the customary six.

It is the policy of cricket’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), to have one pinnacle tournament for each of the three formats over a four-year period. World Cup tournaments have been in place for 50-over cricket since 1975 and for T20 since 2007, but not for Test match cricket.

It is usually clear which is the dominant team of the time in Test match cricket – for example, the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by Australia until the late 2000s. Currently, it is arguable that it is India, a debate that is about to be tested between June 18 and 23 in Southampton, England, when India and New Zealand compete to be crowned champions in the first ever World Test Championship (WTC) final.

The two countries have earned the right to joust for the honor through a rankings system. These were introduced, through private endeavor, for Test cricket in 1987, with one-day international rankings being added in 1998. In 2005, the rankings were acquired by the ICC, who added them for women’s international cricket in 2008 and for T20 cricket in 2011.

The nature of Test cricket, in that it is played at differing times of the year in quite varying conditions, makes it difficult to compare performance on a common basis.

The ratings are based on matches played by 10 teams within a four-year cycle. The inputs into the calculations include points that reflect each team’s performance, the relative strengths of the two teams playing in each series of Tests and matches that have been played most recently.

Ultimately, the ranking is based on an average of the matches played and the points earned.

Annual updates are made every May, with the oldest of the results in the four-year cycle being replaced every calendar year. This system gave rise to a situation whereby the identities of the two finalists were not determined until early March, when it became clear that India had defeated England in a four-match series in India.

As a result, the final ratings in the four-year cycle saw India, with 121 points, just pip New Zealand on 120, followed by England with 109, and Australia with 108. The short lead by which India topped the rankings suggests that the match will be close run, especially in English conditions, with which New Zealand are more familiar, even more so as they have comprehensively outplayed England in a two-match series which ended on June 13 in Birmingham.

The build up to the WTC has not been receiving much coverage or attention, at least not in England, a factor not helped by the fact that it will be competing for space with the delayed Euro 2020 football tournament.

It remains to be seen if this inaugural event, designed to establish an outright champion Test playing team, will capture long-term interest.

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White
Updated 30 July 2021

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White
  • Ben White, 23, a member of England's Euro 2020 squad, has now completed a medical
  • "Ben was a top target for us and it's great that we've completed his signing," said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

LONDON: Arsenal have signed England defender Ben White from Premier League rivals Brighton, the London club announced on Friday.
The 23-year-old, a member of England’s Euro 2020 squad, has now completed a medical.
Although no fee, nor the exact length of a “long-term” deal has been disclosed, British media reports suggest White has moved to the capital for a fee of £50 million ($70 million).
“Ben was a top target for us and it’s great that we’ve completed his signing,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told the club’s website.
“Ben has been educated with two very good clubs, Brighton and Leeds, in recent seasons. He has benefitted well from two very good coaching set-ups and has shown with both Brighton and on loan with Leeds what a strong talent he is.”
White played 36 games for Brighton last season.
“We are incredibly proud of him and what he has achieved and much credit must go to our academy, who have played such an important role in developing Ben from a younger age,” said Brighton manager Graham Potter.

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast
Updated 30 July 2021

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast
  • 10 players from Jubaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry club were heading to Kismayo city stadium when the blast hit
  • Four football players were killed and five others wounded in the explosion

MOGADISHU: Four local footballers in Somalia were killed when a powerful explosion ripped through their bus on Friday in what the country’s president branded a “barbaric terror attack.”
Ten players from the Jubaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry club were heading off for a game at the Kismayo city stadium in southern Somalia when the blast hit.
“The players were riding in a bus when the explosion went off, presumably inside the vehicle. There are investigations going on but we presume the device was planted onto the bus,” said police officer Mohamed Sadiq.
He said four football players were killed and five others wounded in the explosion, believed to have been caused by a bomb.
In a statement on Twitter, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed condemned the “barbaric terror attack that claimed the lives of innocent Somali sports people.”
Witness Ibrahim Ahmed said the blast was “huge” and set off a fire which gutted the bus.
“People rushed to remove the dead bodies and wounded players,” he said.
“I saw the burning bus and three dead bodies of the players — this was horrible because football players are not politicians,” added another witness, Said Adan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in Kismayo, capital of the southern state of Jubaland which borders Kenya.
Jubaland was the first state to start voting this week in long-delayed national elections in Somalia that the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabab jihadist group has threatened to disrupt.
The extremists have been fighting to overthrow the federal government since 2007 and frequently attack government, security and civilian targets.

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games
Updated 30 July 2021

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games
  • Prime Minister declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba and Osaka effective Monday until Aug. 31
  • Upsurge in Tokyo cases despite over 2 weeks of emergency measures is raising doubts that they can effectively slow infections

TOKYO: Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency to four more areas in addition to Tokyo on Friday following record spikes in infections as the capital hosts the Olympics.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective Monday until Aug. 31. Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics which start Aug. 24.
The upsurge in cases in Tokyo despite more than two weeks of emergency measures is raising doubts that they can effectively slow infections.
Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be placed under less-stringent emergency restrictions.
Tokyo has reported a record increase in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday, before logging another 3,300 on Friday. The cases have doubled since last week, although officials say the surge is unrelated to the Olympics.
“Infections are expanding in the Tokyo and western metropolitan areas at an enormous speed that we have never experienced before,” Suga said as he declared the expansion of the state of emergency. If the spike continues at the current pace with the spread of the more contagious delta variant, Japan’s medical system could collapse, he said.
Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry. This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Officials said 2,995 are hospitalized in Tokyo, about half the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full. More than 10,000 others are isolating at home or in designated hotels, with nearly 5,600 waiting at home while health centers decide where they will be treated. Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those requiring oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.
Nationwide, Japan reported 10,687 cases Thursday, exceeding 10,000 for the first time. It has recorded 15,166 fatalities from COVID-19, including 2,288 in Tokyo, since the pandemic began.
The emergency measures focus on shortened hours and an alcohol ban at eateries and karaoke bars, but have become less effective because people are only requested to remain and work at home. Many have been defying the measures as they become tired of restrictions.
Suga said his key strategy will be largely unchanged — to target dining. He said subsides will be paid faster to business owners who cooperate, and local authorities will patrol “to increase the effectiveness of the measures.” Many bars and restaurants complain they are being unfairly targeted.
He said at a later news conference that the government has approved the use of an antibody cocktail treatment for patients with mild symptoms to prevent them from worsening. But as thousands of people wait for hospital beds, the treatment may be too late for many, experts say.
Suga, who has faced criticism for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite widespread health concerns, said the recent upsurge is not linked to the Games. He pledged to accelerate inoculations of younger people who are increasingly becoming infected.
But holding the Olympics “sends a conflicting message when people are being asked to limit their activities,” Tetsuya Shiokawa, an opposition Japanese Communist Party lawmaker, said in parliament Friday.
Earlier Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike noted that people in their 30s or younger account for many recent cases and urged them to “share the sense of crisis” and follow basic measures such as mask wearing and avoiding having parties.
As of Thursday, 27 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 71.5 percent.

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts
Updated 30 July 2021

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts
  • The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday and a defeated American swimmer launched doping accusations against a Russian rival.
As the athletics events began in a stadium deprived of spectators by anti-coronavirus measures, Jamaican sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made an impressive entrance.
Djokovic's bid for a calendar Golden Grand Slam -- all four Grand Slam tournaments plus the Olympics -- was dramatically ended by Alexander Zverev.
The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a final against Russian Karen Khachanov.
In a bitter row at the pool, American swimmer Ryan Murphy accused Evgeny Rylov of doping after he was beaten by the Russian in the 200m backstroke.
Murphy said he had been "swimming in a race that's probably not clean".
Rylov said he was "surprised" by Murphy's "strange" suggestion.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) hit back on Twitter, saying "the broken record is once again playing the song about Russia doping and someone is diligently pressing the button on the English-language propaganda".
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said Rylov had been tested three times this year and that he was "prepared and clean".
Russia are banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping, meaning their athletes cannot use the Russian flag and anthem.
But more than 330 Russian athletes have been allowed to compete under the ROC moniker, and they had won 10 golds by Friday evening to lie fourth in the medals table.
As competition began in the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, Fraser-Pryce successfully launched her bid to become the first woman to win an individual Olympic athletics event three times.
The Jamaican, 100 metres champion in 2008 and 2012, shut down with 20 metres remaining and strode over the line for a comfortable first-round victory in 10.84sec.
One of her rivals, the Ivory Coast's Marie-Josee Ta Lou, blasted to an African record-equalling 10.78sec and reigning champion Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica recorded 10.82sec on what appears to be a fast track.
"If you notice the heats, there's some really quick running. It's good for female sprinting. It's long overdue," Fraser-Pryce said.
The semi-finals and final of that event take place on Saturday evening.
World record-holder Karsten Warholm of Norway strolled to victory in his heat of the 400m hurdles heat, an event that could be one of the highlights.
"It was nice to get out on the track again," said Warholm. "I've been here for two weeks already, I'm starting to get bored so it was very nice to get around."
Qatar's Abderrahman Samba eased through but said he felt the absence of spectators: "It was really, really difficult. I really missed the crowd."
In the pool, South Africa's Tatjana Schoenmaker was overjoyed after becoming the first South African woman to win an Olympic swimming gold for 25 years as she obliterated the eight-year-old world record in the 200m breaststroke, timing 2min 18.95sec.
Australia's Emma McKeon claimed her fourth medal in Tokyo as she blazed to the women's 100m freestyle title in a new Olympic record of 51.96sec.
Hong Kong's Siobhan Haughey -- one of the surprises of the swimming events -- earned another silver medal to add to that from the 200m freestyle.
French judo superstar Teddy Riner came up short in his bid to win a historic third consecutive heavyweight title, losing to Russia's world number one Tamerlan Bashaev in the quarter-final. Riner had to settle for bronze.
The shadow of coronavirus hung over the start of the athletics with the Australian team saying three of its members would remain isolated from the rest of the squad "as a precautionary measure" after a scare.
The three are classed as close contacts of US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has been ruled out of the Games after testing positive for Covid-19.
Ian Chesterman, the chef de mission of the Australian Olympic Committee, told a press conference: "They all tested negative which is good. They also confirmed the daily test results which have also been negative and confirmed their test results before they left Australia."
Coronavirus cases are surging in Japan a week into the Games.
On Friday, Tokyo 2020 organisers reported 27 new cases related to the event -- the highest daily figure yet -- although they insist there is nothing to suggest a link between the Games and rising infections in Japan.

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020
Updated 30 July 2021

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020
  • 27-year-old carried Saudi Arabia’s flag alongside sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh at Olympics opening ceremony

RIYADH: Saudi rower Husein Alireza’s Tokyo 2020 journey at the Sea Forest Waterway has come to an end after an injury plagued Olympics.

He bowed out of the competition coming 24th in a field of 32 after finishing sixth in the men’s single sculls final D on Friday.

It was the fifth race in just over a week at the Olympics for Alireza, who has been competing with a lung injury that significantly affected his performances in the heat and humidity of the Japanese capital.

His first race took place on July 23, the same day he became one of the Kingdom’s two flagbearers at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony, alongside 100 meters sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh.

Alireza had suffered a punctured lung during an Olympic qualification regatta on May 5, which left him unable to train until June 22, just one month before the start of the tournament. The 27-year-old had been advised to give the Olympics a miss with the injury initially expected to heal in no less than three months without any physical exertions.

The handicap clearly affected his form, with his technical team devising a strategy that would see Alireza navigate the best path toward improving his ranking, with medal hopes not seen as realistic in any way.

He started rowing while studying for a master’s degree at Cambridge University in 2017, and it soon became clear he had the talent to go far in the sport. After graduation, he won two Saudi Indoor Rowing Championship golds as well as posting a first-place finish at the US Indoor Rowing Championships.

Alireza had a successful 2019 with wins at the Molesey Regatta in London and the Head of the River Fours, a bronze at the Asian Indoor Rowing Championships in Thailand, and participation at the Asian Rowing Championship in South Korea.

Earlier this year he won gold at the Asian Continental Qualifiers for the 2021 World Indoor Rowing Championships.