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.


Brave Egyptian footballers exit Tokyo 2020 after narrow loss to Brazil

Brave Egyptian footballers exit Tokyo 2020 after narrow loss to Brazil
Updated 31 July 2021

Brave Egyptian footballers exit Tokyo 2020 after narrow loss to Brazil

Brave Egyptian footballers exit Tokyo 2020 after narrow loss to Brazil
  • Led superbly by Ahmed Hegazi, Egypt performed with great spirit, but once again let down by a lack of scoring power

Egypt’s U-23 team has been eliminated from the men’s Olympic football tournament after narrowly losing 1-0 to reigning champions Brazil at Saitama Stadium.

The Pharaohs reached the quarterfinals after finishing second in Group C with a 0-0 draw against Spain, a 1-0 loss to Argentina and a fine  2-0 win over Australia. 

Brazil’s final group match was a 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia, which ensured they finished on top ahead of Ivory Coast.

Egypt showed little fear in the face of the Rio 2016 gold medalists, and put pressure on the Brazilian defence in the opening 15 minutes.

On 20 minutes, Egypt had a major scare when goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy, a standout performer at Tokyo, looked to have injured his thigh. However after some on-pitch treatment he was able to continue.

Seven minutes later, El-Shenawy was called into action when he saved a stinging left footed shot from Richarlison, the tournament’s top scorer with five goals.

But Egypt, led superbly by Ahmed Hegazi, continued to look dangerous on the break with 21-year-old Amar Hamdi in particular causing the Brazilian midfield problems with his penetrating runs.

The deadlock was broken in the 37th minute when a sharp Brazil counterattack saw Richarlison find Matheus Cunha, who scored with a precise shot past El-Shenawy.

As hard as Egypt tried to get back on terms in the second half, they rarely troubled Santos in the Brazil goal, while El-Shenawy kept his team in the game with several good saves.

At the final whistle, the dejected Egyptians and joyous Brazilians showed just how well the African team had performed. But in the end, with their attacking prowess, few could argue that the South Americans did not deserve to progress to the semifinal.

On Tuesday, Brazil will face the winner of the last quarterfinal between South Korea and Mexico.


Personal best followed by elimination for UAE’s Mohamed Al-Hammadi in Men’s 100m at Tokyo 2020

Personal best followed by elimination for UAE’s Mohamed Al-Hammadi in Men’s 100m at Tokyo 2020
Updated 31 July 2021

Personal best followed by elimination for UAE’s Mohamed Al-Hammadi in Men’s 100m at Tokyo 2020

Personal best followed by elimination for UAE’s Mohamed Al-Hammadi in Men’s 100m at Tokyo 2020
  • The 29-year-old Emirati sprinter finished third in Saturday morning’s preliminary heats but faced a tough field in the afternoon’s Round 1

Sprinter Mohamed Hassan Al-Noobi Al-Hammadi became the last member of the UAE’s five-athlete delegation to depart Tokyo 2020 when he failed to progress from Saturday afternoon’s Men’s 100m Round 1 — Heat 5 in the Olympic Stadium.

Earlier in the day, the 29-year-old Emirati had posted a personal best time of 10.59 seconds, finishing third in the Preliminary Round — Heat 2 behind Barakat Al-Harthi of Oman and Emanuel Archibald of Guyana.

Racing against a much tougher field in the second race of the day, Al-Hammadi managed a time of 10.64, 0.63 seconds behind the third of the qualifiers, Ferdinand Omurwa of Kenya.


Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare
Updated 31 July 2021

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare

Tennis ace Novak Djokovic ‘not sure’ about US Open fitness after Tokyo Olympics nightmare
  • Serb could become the first man to complete a calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic said he was “not sure” about his fitness for the US Open after pulling out of the Tokyo Olympics mixed doubles bronze medal match with a shoulder injury on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Serb could become the first man to complete a calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969 when the US Open gets under way on August 30.
The withdrawal in Tokyo came after the 20-time major champion lost his cool on his way to a surprise 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 defeat against Pablo Carreno Busta in the Olympics singles bronze-medal match.
He admitted that his exertions in Japan have taken their toll but he still hopes to be fit enough to challenge at Flushing Meadows.
“The consequences physically hopefully will not create a problem for me for the US Open, but that’s something that I’m not sure about right now,” said Djokovic.
“But I’m not regretting for giving it all because at the end of the day, when you play for your country, that’s necessary.”
The International Tennis Federation said Djokovic had withdrawn with a “left shoulder injury.”
“Ashleigh Barty and John Peers receive a walkover against Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic and win the bronze medal for Australia,” the ITF added.
Djokovic had been eyeing two gold medals when he played the singles and mixed doubles semifinals on Friday — but less than 24 hours after his hopes for gold were ended — he was preparing to leave the Ariake Tennis Park without a medal of any color.
He lost a gruelling match to Carreno Busta which lasted two hours and 47 minutes in suffocating heat, despite saving five match points.
The Serbian sporting icon’s best result at the Olympics remains his bronze medal in Beijing in 2008.
“I just didn’t deliver yesterday and today,” said Djokovic, whose singles loss to Alexander Zverev ended his Golden Grand Slam bid.
“The level of tennis dropped, also due to exhaustion, mentally and physically.”
His next opportunity to win an Olympic title will come in Paris in three years’ time, when he will be 37.
“I know that I will bounce back. I will try to keep going for Paris Olympic Games and fight for my country to win medals,” insisted Djokovic.
“I’m sorry that I disappointed a lot of sports fans in my country. But that’s sport, I gave it all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much. I left it out on the court.”
On Saturday, Djokovic brought back memories of his infamous default against Carreno Busta last year at the US Open, when he inadvertently struck a ball at a line judge.
This time he threw his racquet high into the empty stands as he saw a break point come and go in the opening game of the third set, and continued to cut an angry figure, destroying another racquet by smashing it against the net post.
He was given a warning by the umpire after that second incident, but not following the first.
“It was an emotional outburst and it happens,” said Djokovic. “You’re tense on the court, in the heat of the battle.
“It’s not the first time and it’s not the last time probably. It’s not nice, of course, but it’s part of, I guess, who I am.
“I don’t like doing these things, I’m sorry for sending this kind of message, but we’re all human beings and sometimes it’s hard to control.”


Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year

Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year
Updated 31 July 2021

Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year

Extreme E announces new plans to race in Sardinia this year
  • Decision comes after postponement of planned events in Brazil, Argentina due to COVID-19 situation in South America

LONDON: Extreme E, the electric off-road motor racing series, has revealed it has reached an agreement in principle with Sardinian officials to host the fourth event of its opening season, the Island X Prix, on Oct. 23-24.

The move to the Italian island follows the series’ decision to postpone its originally planned events in Brazil and Argentina due to ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) developments in South America.

“I am pleased to confirm that Extreme E is finalizing plans to hold an Island X Prix in Sardinia, Italy, and that we are delighted to have the support of Sardinian President Christian Solinas and the Automobile Club d’Italia as we plan our first European event,” Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, said.

“Extreme E was built around the ethos of racing electric vehicles in remote environments in an effort to raise awareness for climate change issues and showcase the performance and benefits of low-carbon vehicles,” he said. “However, this crisis is not a problem which only affects remote locations. It is becoming increasingly noticeable closer to home, across North America, and here across Europe, with rising temperatures, heatwaves and wildfires, which currently rage in Sardinia itself, being some of the latest devastating examples.

“Together with our supportive hosts and our Scientific Committee and partners, we will use the power of sport to educate on the causes of these climate issues which are taking place right here in front of us, as we aim to open eyes even wider to the need for all of us to take collective action, now, before it’s too late.” 

Solinas has confirmed that the Sardinian region will work alongside the organizers for the success of the event.

Scientists are warning of worsening extreme weather patterns if global temperatures continue to rise without solutions put in place to cut carbon emissions and that greenhouse gas levels are already too high “for a manageable future for humanity.”

Richard Washington, professor of climate science at the University of Oxford and founding member of Extreme E’s Scientific Committee, said: “Rising temperatures and wildfires are now a threat across every continent. In just the last couple of years, we have seen devastation in the Amazon, Australia, Siberia, Canada and the Mediterranean region. With thresholds already crossed by climate change, wildfires are more extensive, more intense, more damaging and last longer. New ways of forecasting wildfires and new ways of adapting to them are urgently needed.

“Ultimately, the driver of all this is climate change,” he added. “To reduce the devastation, we need to stem the driver of that change, and that means cutting carbon emissions. Continue to live as we do, and the carbon emissions by the end of the century will make the wildfires of recent years look modest. Extreme E is at the forefront of the drive towards a better future, a new way of doing things and a world which does not rely on deadly carbon emissions.” 

So far, the series has journeyed to the deserts of AlUla, Saudi Arabia, and the beaches of Senegal, West Africa, where it has educated on the issues of desertification, coastal erosion and plastic pollution, and is about to race in Greenland to shine a spotlight on the melting ice cap. The sport-for-purpose series highlights the impact of climate change and promotes the benefits of electric vehicles and low-carbon solutions in the fight to help reduce global emission levels.

Extreme E has attracted drivers from some of the biggest disciplines in motorsport. Formula One world champion Nico Rosberg’s Rosberg X Racing currently leads the championship standings, closely followed by seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton’s X44 team. Former Formula One competitor Jenson Button also leads his own JBXE entry. The world-class drivers in Extreme E include rally legends Carlos Sainz Snr. and Sébastien Loeb and FIA World Rallycross Champions Johan Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen and Mattias Ekström competing alongside leading female drivers, including Molly Taylor, Jamie Chadwick, Catie Munnings, Cristina Gutiérrez and more.

All teams include a male and female driver who complete a lap apiece of the Extreme E racecourse, with a driver switch taking place midway and with both drivers competing together for success.

Extreme E races — known as an X Prix — take place over two days, within an area no larger than 10 km squared.

As well as using sport to shine a global spotlight on climate issues in its five locations, Extreme E will work alongside local experts in each region to implement positive legacy initiatives dependent on local needs. Further details on the Island X Prix’s overall purpose and legacy plans will be confirmed in the coming weeks.


Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player

Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player
Updated 31 July 2021

Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player

Saudi Arabian judoka praised by Japan media to play against Israeli player
  • ‘This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences’
  • ‘Al-Qahtani was proud to be a role model for women in her home country’

TOKYO: Japanese media praised the decision by Saudi Arabian Judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani to play against Israeli Raz Hershko in the first round of the 78-kg class at the Tokyo Olympics Games on Friday.

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that the match “had drawn attention” after two athletes from Algeria and Sudan refused to play against their counterparts from Israel.

“Al-Qahtani was admitted by the International Olympic Committee as a wild card and became the second Saudi Arabian female judo athlete to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Olympics,” Asahi’s article stated.

Despite losing, the Japanese newspaper reported that the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee highlighted Al-Qahtani’s upcoming bout on Twitter 12 hours before the match, confirming her participation against her Israeli opponent.

“On that day, whether Al-Qahtani will stand on the tatami mat attracted attention in her home country and other Middle Eastern countries.”

Japanese media praised the decision by Saudi Arabian Judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani to play against Israeli Raz Hershko at the Tokyo Olympics Games on Friday. (Twitter: @saudiolympic)

The report added that the International Judo Federation commented in a post-match release, “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Meanwhile, Kyodo News Agency also reported on the Judo Olympic match, stating “Saudi woman fights with Israel: Impress Social Change.”

“Arab countries often abstain from playing against Israeli athletes…, but Al-Qahtani was proud to be a role model for women in her home country. Although she lost by one stroke in the back of her shoulders, she impressed the change in Saudi society.”

The Japanese news agency quoted Hershko saying, “The game has nothing to do with politics. It was a good match.”

Al-Qahtani’s inclusion and stance was also praised by the International Judo Federation. In a post-match release, it stated: “This match shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”