International cricket’s cluttered calendar facing disruptions beyond game’s control

International cricket’s cluttered calendar facing disruptions beyond game’s control
Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi will host the Mumbai Indians during the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 12 October 2021

International cricket’s cluttered calendar facing disruptions beyond game’s control

International cricket’s cluttered calendar facing disruptions beyond game’s control
  • On Sept. 19, the Indian Premier League will resume in Dubai, having been suspended in India on May 2 with 29 of its 60 matches completed
  • Recent political, social, economic issues will have serious consequences for men’s, women’s competitions in coming months

As the 2021 cricket season in the UK enters its final month of activity, with a crammed program of events to be completed, my thoughts begin to turn to a different epicenter for the game.

On Sept. 19, the Indian Premier League will resume in Dubai, having been suspended in India on May 2 with 29 of its 60 matches completed. The final is scheduled for Oct. 15, also in Dubai, with 17 matches being played in the UAE cities of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.

Following swiftly on, the men’s T20 World Cup opens on Oct. 17 in Oman, where the hosts will play Papua New Guinea, and Bangladesh will face Scotland. Sixteen teams will participate, with eight competing in two groups of four, the top two in each group qualifying to join the other eight in a super 12 stage starting on Oct. 23.

The teams will compete in two groups of six, leading to semi-finals between the top two finishers in each group and a final in Dubai on Nov. 14. Apart from Oman and Dubai, matches will be hosted in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

These are the two standout forthcoming events in international cricket, which continues to be buffeted by political, social, and economic events beyond its control.

The most tragic of these is the situation that has unfolded in Afghanistan, currently a full member of the International Cricket Council. In order to maintain its position, the country must operate both a men’s and women’s national team. But severe doubts exist as to whether a women’s team will be allowed to continue to play.

Next month, the Afghan men’s team was due to play in the T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman. In preparation, it was planned for the squad to play a three-match one-day international series against Pakistan in Sri Lanka, starting on Sept. 3. However, the plan was scuppered by a lack of flights and a 10-day coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown imposed in Sri Lanka on Aug. 20. The respective cricket boards agreed to switch the series to Pakistan but on Aug. 24 decided that the challenges were too great to overcome, and the series was rescheduled to take place next year. The team’s preparation for the T20 World Cup has been tinged with further uncertainty. Apart from the direct impact on the Afghanistan teams, the political transition has other cricketing consequences.

On completion of a two-match Test series against the West Indies, Pakistan is hosting a five-match T20 series and a three-match one-day series, starting on Sept. 17, against a New Zealand squad, minus some well-known players. Permission has been given for COVID-19-vaccinated spectators to attend within a maximum 25 percent capacity. The series will be the first time that New Zealand has toured Pakistan for 19 years, when a bomb blast during a Test in Karachi brought an end to the visit.

The England men’s and women’s teams are due to tour Pakistan in mid-October, each for white ball cricket. The last England men’s tour was in 2005. The Pakistan Cricket Board’s chair is confident that there will be no problem in hosting the matches. England were also due to tour Bangladesh in late September/October, but this has been postponed. Conveniently, it allows players of both sides to re-join the IPL.

There is much flexibility in the responses of the cricketing authorities to an unpredictable external environment. This has also been apparent in the women’s game. The qualifying pathways for the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup take place between late August and late September in five groups, one team qualifying from each group for progression to the next stage en route to South Africa in February 2023.

In Europe, five teams – Turkey having withdrawn because travel permits could not be authorized in time – competed between Aug. 26 and 30 in Spain rather than Scotland, as originally intended, with Scotland qualifying. Four teams will compete between Sept. 11 and 18 in the US for the Americas place, as planned, as will eight in Samoa between Sept. 3 and 8 for the East Asia and Pacific place. Eight teams in the Asia group, hosted by Malaysia, will compete between Nov. 22 and 28, switched to allow back-to-back men’s and women’s competitions. In the Africa group, hosted by Botswana, 11 teams will now compete between Sept. 3 and 11, rescheduled from October.

It is notable that, out of the 37 teams seeking qualification, eight – Bhutan, Botswana, Cameroon, France, Malawi, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Turkey – are competing in an ICC women’s event for the first time, reflecting the growth in women’s cricket in emerging markets. Argentina and Brazil return to an ICC women’s competition for the first time since 2012.

Having been fortunate to be present at the opening of Rwanda’s international stadium in October 2018, I keep an eye on the progress of cricket in the country. In a recently completed, closely fought, five-match series with Ghana, the latter triumphed by three matches to two. International cricket is alive in many parts of the world, but is it well?

Although live cricket is screened, it needs audience participation, sponsorship, and revenue streams. This has been seriously denuded for the last year, with England and Wales being the first beneficiaries of permissions for capacity crowds.

Fortunately, the IPL and T20 men’s World Cup will take place but without the crowds that would have been in place in India. The game has a tough struggle in the face of economic, political, and social challenges.    


Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue
Updated 58 min 7 sec ago

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue
  • The launch of Al Thumama stadium comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup
  • Qatar has so far officially inaugurated 5 of the 8 stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East

DOHA: Qatar inaugurated on Friday its fifth stadium for the 2022 World Cup, welcoming thousands of spectators who have either recently recovered from coronavirus or have been vaccinated.
The launch of the Al Thumama stadium, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of the capital Doha, comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup.
The 40,000-seat ground, which will host groups matches during Qatar 2022 up to the quarter-finals, hosted the domestic Emir Cup final between local clubs Al Rayyan and Al Sadd as its inaugural match.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony.
It was designed by Qatari architect Ibrahim M. Jaidah to resemble the ‘gahfiya’ cap, traditionally worn by men in the region.
Energy-rich Qatar has so far officially inaugurated five of the eight stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
In addition to Al Thumama, Qatar has so far inaugurated new-build Ahmad Bin Ali, Al-Janoub and Education City stadiums alongside the refurbished Khalifa ground in the heart of Doha’s Aspire Zone.
Ras Abu Aboud, Al Bayt, Lusail, which will host the final match in December 2022, remain to be opened.
Following the World Cup, Al Thumama’s capacity will be reduced to 20,000, with a sports clinic and a boutique hotel set to open on site.
Fans were able to apply for tickets to Friday’s event if they either tested positive for virus antibodies, or have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Qatar, which says it vaccinated more than three quarters of its 2.75 million population, has recorded more than 238,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.


Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search
Updated 18 min 13 sec ago

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search
  • Graeme Jones confirmed Friday he has been asked to take charge of the next two Premier League games
  • Jones feels Newcastle supporters have plenty to look forward to under the club’s ambitious new owners

NEWCASTLE: Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi have assured Newcastle United interim manager Graeme Jones he has a long-term future at the football club.

The Magpies have been working their way through a list of managerial candidates, following the “mutual consent” departure of Steve Bruce on Wednesday.

And on Friday, assistant Jones, promoted to the top job for the next two games, spoke of his pride at being handed the reins on a temporary basis at his boyhood club.

Ahead of the trip to Crystal Palace, former England coach Jones revealed his midweek meeting with PCP Capital Partners’ Staveley and Ghodoussi, who collectively own 10 percent of the football club, brought more than the news of his temporary promotion.

Jones said: “I spoke to the owners on Wednesday morning, and obviously they asked me to take the team on an interim basis for the next two games, Crystal Palace (tomorrow) and Chelsea at home (on Saturday, Oct. 30).

“As I’ve said previously, I’m fully focused on preparing the team as best I can, and being competitive in games.”

Jones, whose only managerial experience came during an ill-fated spell at Championship outfit Luton Town in 2019/20, continued: “I’ve had assurances, I have spoken to Mehrdad and I’ve spoken to Amanda — and I’ve been given assurances on my long-term future.

“My short-term thought process is about what I can do, this weekend and next Saturday. I think it is important for everyone going forward, I can give my genuine best in any role I’m given, starting tomorrow at Crystal Palace.”

Jones, at this stage at least, has made it clear he does not want to take the job on a permanent basis. It is unlikely he’d be offered those terms anyway, instead he would be integrated into a new coach’s model.

“I am very happy,” he said of his role at United. “I was very happy working as an assistant here. I am here just to give my best. Everything I have got for this football club, and I mean that.

“Of course, the level of responsibility has gone up.The gaffer (Bruce) has always trusted myself, Aggers and Clem to do things in the week, but now you have to pick the team. That’s what’s changed. I’ve obviously had to give that a little bit of thought.”

Newcastle United sit 19th in the Premier League table heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.

A win over Patrick Vieira’s Eagles would see United potentially climb out of the top-flight relegation zone.

The Magpies are yet to win any of their opening eight games of the Premier League season.


Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack
Updated 22 October 2021

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack
  • Five men were arrested after the incident that left the 63-year-old City fan hospitalized
  • The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday

BRUGGE, Belgium: Manchester City’s supporter who was attacked on his way home from the team’s Champions League match against Club Brugge in Belgium has been upgraded to “stable” condition though he remains in a coma, prosecutors said.
Five men were arrested after the incident that left 63-year-old City fan Guido De Pauw, who is Belgian, hospitalized after being attacked in a parking lot at a service station late Tuesday after City’s 5-1 win.
One suspect was charged with theft with violence and theft with aggravated violence, another with intentional beatings and incapacitating injuries, and all five with culpable negligence, the East Flanders prosecutor’s office said in a statement released Friday.
The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday. Three have been released under strict conditions, including a ban on attending soccer matches, and two remained detained, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Wednesday De Pauw had “life-threatening injuries.” In their latest update, they said he was “still in a coma but his condition is now stable.”
City has said the club is working with police in Belgium and Manchester to establish more information about the incident.
City manager Pep Guardiola appeared at a news conference on Friday wearing a T-shirt that had the message, ‘We’re with you, Guido.”
“In the last hours he is getting better and of course he has all of the support from the club on what they need for the investigation,” Guardiola said.
“A big hug for him and all his family. We wish that soon he will come back to Etihad Stadium.”


French football ace Pogba reveals his Muslim hero as Muhammad Ali

Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed his Muslim hero is Muhammad Ali. (Reuters/File Photos)
Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed his Muslim hero is Muhammad Ali. (Reuters/File Photos)
Updated 22 October 2021

French football ace Pogba reveals his Muslim hero as Muhammad Ali

Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed his Muslim hero is Muhammad Ali. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • Manchester United player converted to Islam during his sporting career
  • ‘Qur’an has guided me on how to be, why we are here in life’: Pogba

LONDON: Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed the reason why he holds the late boxer Muhammad Ali up as one of his heroes — and it was not because of his legendary record in the ring.

The French national team star was responding to a question from Sky Sports asking who his hero was as a child.

The 28-year-old midfielder said: “Muhammad Ali. He was someone that I think kind of saved lives. A hero is somebody that saves lives, that helps people, and I think that is what he did.”

Ali, similar to Pogba, converted to Islam during his sporting career.

“He is a converted man, and I am converted also, so it was very interesting for me to learn about his story.

“I think (Islam) has given me an identity. Sometimes you question your life about everything: Why has this happened to me, why is this, why is that?

“I think Islam has given me this guide, the Qur’an has given me a guide, of how to be and why you are here in life. It opened my eyes more about life, about everything, about important things, more than football and more than sport, not to take things so seriously, that everything is written for you, so your destiny is your destiny, you cannot change that, and you should just enjoy it,” he added.

Pogba said he hoped he could be more like Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay when he became a Muslim.

“He saved a lot of people, but not by taking somebody out of the fire, but just by giving a good message, helping the world, saying the truth when it was difficult to say, at a time when it was difficult for black people. He spoke for the black community and helped us to have freedom today.”

The footballer’s mother was a practicing Muslim, but he revealed in 2019 that he was not raised as a Muslim. He later reconnected with the faith after speaking and praying with his Muslim friends.

Islam had made him a “better person,” he added.


Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings
Updated 22 October 2021

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings
  • Karim Benzema’s lawyers said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case
  • Prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros for the French international

VERSAILLES: Lawyers for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on Friday dismissed charges against him over an attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
They said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case.
A verdict in the trial will be announced on November 24.
On the last day of hearings, being held in Versailles outside Paris, Benzema’s lawyers claimed the prosecution had failed to provide evidence to convict the star of complicity in an attempt to blackmail.
“One can ask what really interests French people in this case? Sex? Money? Football? Not the judicial element in any case,” lawyer Antoine Vey told the court, adding that the prosecution’s case had been built around Valbuena’s “feelings.”
Addressing the judge, he added: “It’s never too late to do some law. You are the final safeguard.”
Benzema’s other lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, criticized a “media-judicial circus.”
The prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros ($87,000) for the 33-year-old France international, who has not appeared during the three days of hearings which began on Wednesday.
Benzema, who is expected to play this weekend against Barcelona in the Classico, is one of five people on trial over the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video that was stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial Wednesday, Valbuena said the affair — which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team — had left him feeling “frightened” and fearful for his career.
Benzema claims he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training center in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to “manage” the issue of the video.
Prosecutors claim Benzema was working with the other accused, including a childhood friend from his hometown Lyon.
In a wiretapped conversation, he told the friend who is accused of acting as a middlemen for the suspected blackmailers that “he’s not taking us seriously.”
The prosecution claims this shows Benzema was complicit, but his lawyer said Friday the exchange showed the footballer was “not an example of total contrition” during the conversation.
“We never said he was being kind... but it is not a criminal offense,” Vey told the court.
In an interview with investigators in 2015, Benzema denied involvement, asking why he would get involved.
“I have enough money. I don’t need it,” he said.