How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar
The tournament is the biggest revenue generator in cricket’s history and has propelled India to a pre-eminent position in the game’s geo-politics. (Twitter: @IPL)
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Updated 12 October 2021

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar
  • The turbulence in cricket, as shown by cancelled test between England and India, shows no sign of abating, as players and structures buckle under the pressure of playing through the pandemic

Resumption of the Indian Premier League (IPL) took place last Sunday in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, having been suspended on May 4 in India.

Almost half of its scheduled matches had been completed when Covid-19 tests on a number of players and support staff proved positive. This, coupled with rising cases amongst the general population, led the authorities to bow to the inevitable.

Now in its 14th year, the tournament is the biggest revenue generator in cricket’s history and has propelled India to a pre-eminent position in the game’s geo-politics. It is against this backdrop that the cancelled Test match between England and India at Manchester on Sept. 2 needs to be assessed.

It is clear that the repercussions are manifold, but that the outcomes from this stunning occurrence are much less clear. The result of the match and the series is not yet known. No official reason for the cancellation has been agreed. Reports suggest that Covid-impacted cancellation is not covered by insurance for this match.

Lancashire County Cricket Club, the host of the match, has suffered financially and psychologically, not for any fault of its own and is unable to carry the losses without support. According to various reports, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is set to lose upwards of £20m, much of it in broadcasting revenues. Spectators will receive ticket refunds, but their travel and related costs will be lost.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall back in May, once the IPL was suspended. At that time, it was clear that another window was sought into which it could be rescheduled. The opportunities were limited.

The Indian team would be in England between June 3 and September 7. It is rumoured that one option being explored by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in mid-May was to ask the ECB to consider starting the five-match series one week earlier in the last week of June. This would provide a larger buffer between the end of final Test at Manchester and the start of the IPL, when bubble to bubble transfer was envisaged. There is no record of a formal approach having been made, although rumours abound that the ECB was not keen.

Apart from its tragic effect and consequences, Covid-19 has introduced uncertainty into all of our lives, not just those of professional cricketers. It was with some apprehension that many of us in England entered the new era created by the relaxation of social controls on July 19. Capacity crowds flocked to the Test matches and, as the Indian coach said, when he and other members of his party were criticised for attending the launch of his book in London, “England was open”. Subsequently, he tested Covid-positive, being followed in this respect by other members of the backroom team.

Crucially, it was a positive test for the assistant physio on the day before the Manchester Test was due to start that acted as a trigger point. Despite all of them testing negative, the Indian players appeared to be spooked. A number of them were travelling with young families and were fearful that the virus might spread amongst them. Training was cancelled the day before the match, an ominous sign. The ECB’s CEO admitted to through-the-night discussions with his Indian counterparts, but it seemed that the Indian players were adamant.

Once it was announced that the match was not going to take place, it was termed a forfeiture on news lines, but this was quickly retracted, being replaced by cancellation. The tone of public statement by the ECB was that this was regrettable, had nothing to do with the imminency of the IPL and could be explained by mental health issues that had built up to bursting point after almost four months of touring.

Recognition of mental health issues has increased in cricket, particularly during the bio-bubble existence under which the game has operated in an increasingly packed global schedule. Nevertheless, surprise was expressed in some quarters as there was no obvious sign of such problems when the India team joyously celebrated its victory at the Oval four days earlier.

By general consensus, India played the better cricket and deserved to be 2-1 up in the series, but who could predict how the final Test would play out? The ECB is keen for the match to be rescheduled, the BCCI not so keen, at least not as one that completes the series.

Discussions are on-going in attempts to find a solution that would fit into India’s schedule when they tour England in early July 2022 to play two white-ball cricket series.

Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to please everyone. Some find it a bit rich that India had a 20-strong squad in England, enough to field a team in Manchester. By all accounts, the players chose not to play, preferring to keep themselves free and fit to fly to the UAE for the quarantine period prior to the recommencement of the IPL.

England has good reason to feel aggrieved, yet its own record is not unblemished, having cancelled its tour of South Africa in late 2020. The ECB does not seem to want to fall out with the BCCI. Indeed, both boards have been at pains to say what good relations they enjoy.

If they cannot agree a solution, the International Cricket Council will be in the unenviable position of having to rule on the outcome of the series.

The turbulence in cricket shows no sign of abating, as its players and structures buckle under the pressure of playing through the pandemic.

Last Monday, citing mental and physical well-being issues, the ECB cancelled England’s four-day tour in mid-October to Pakistan, leaving the latter enraged. By coincidence, this allows English players who were on the tour and in the IPL to participate in its play-off stage. The IPL’s influence seems to be all conquering.


International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties

International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties
Updated 20 October 2021

International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties

International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties
  • Fifth-degree black belt Dr. Satomi Ishikawa teaches skills in Riyadh, Yanbu and Jeddah

RIYADH: The Saudi Aikido Committee has hosted Dr. Satomi Ishikawa, a member of the International Aikido Federation, to conduct a series of training classes for Saudi females athletes in Riyadh, Yanbu and Jeddah.

Dr Ishikawa, who holds a fifth-degree black belt, is a certified instructor at Aikido Centrum Amsterdam and a board member of the Dutch Aikido Federation.

During her visit, Dr. Ishikawa, accompanied by Chairman of the Saudi Aikido Committee Basem Zare’, conducted an introductory course for women at the Self-Defense Hall in Malaz, Riyadh, where she addressed the importance of the sport for athletes of all backgrounds and ages and showcased the basic skills of the martial art.

Zare’ and Dr. Ishikawa also visited Prince Sultan University, where they discussed further cooperation between the Saudi Aikido Committee and the university by introducing the martial art into the curricula. They also visited the Japanese embassy in the Kingdom and held a meeting with the head of the Cultural Department.


Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season
Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season
  • 29-year-old Douglas Motorsport driver gains priceless experience, confidence from first season at level

DUBAI: Saudi racing star Reema Juffali has taken plenty of positives from her debut season at the British F3 Championship describing it as a key learning curve in her motorsport career.

In the final round of the championship at Donington Park in the UK, the Jeddah-born driver battled hard and although unable to finish the first race due to a collision, she managed 15th and 18th places respectively in the final two races for her team Douglas Motorsport.

Having come up against some of the sport’s top drivers during the season, which included her best-ever finish of fourth position, Juffali felt she had made significant progress since the first round of this year’s British F3 Championship.

She said: “My driving has improved so much in 2021. My confidence has grown, and I can now adapt faster to changing situations while also understanding what I need to do in the car for optimal on-track performance and the importance of making the right calls whilst competing.

“I’ve gained so much experience this year and of course, the team at Douglas Motorsport has been really supportive, giving me the right help and advice that I needed to take those crucial steps forward in my driving career.”

Juffali competed in seven of the eight rounds of the British F3 Championship, racking up 21 races in total, including six at the iconic Silverstone track.

Although she narrowly missed the podium, Juffali noted that the high level of the competition provided a great learning curve which will help her to become an even better driver in the future.

“During this season, I had my ups and downs and had good races which I can look back on. There were times when I could completely focus on my race and what I needed to do rather than looking behind me.

“Also, learning from my mistakes was crucial. Some were simply unlucky but there were a few where I felt I had made the wrong choice, so I have learned from the good and the bad.

“The tracks were very demanding, and these challenges enabled me to make better decisions. When you have a bad day, which I had plenty of, I now know how to pick myself up and turn it around,” she added.

Juffali, who will fly back to Saudi Arabia in mid-November, admitted that although it would be hard to say goodbye to her team at Douglas Motorsport, that has been a key part in her development this season, she had already started planning for next season.

“It was an emotional end to the season. I spent more time with my team this year than with my friends and family and I really appreciate all the hard work they put in; we made a great team. It was a difficult goodbye, but motorsport is a small world and I’m sure I’ll be bumping into them again.

“For me, the work doesn’t stop as I’m already planning what’s next and what we need to do so there isn’t much rest between seasons. I’m really excited about the future and I’m looking forward to announcing my next challenge soon,” she said.


Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final
Updated 20 October 2021

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final
  • A dramatic 2-1 win over 10-man Al-Nassr leaves reigning Saudi champions 90 minutes away from a record fourth title

Saudi Arabia’s most decorated club are once again marching toward history.

Al-Hilal defeated Al-Nassr 2-1 on Tuesday in the biggest Riyadh derby in years to book a place in the final of the 2021 AFC Champions League. 

Moussa Marega drew first blood in the first half of this titanic semi, and when Ali Lajami was sent off on the stroke of half-time to reduce Al-Nassr to 10 men, the game looked done and dusted. Early in the second half, however, Talisca equalized, but a goal from Salem Al-Dawsari settled the contest.

It was quite a night for both victors and losers. Below are five things we learned.

1. Rash red card was costly

The game was drifting toward half-time. Al-Nassr had looked nervous for much of the first half with Al-Hilal the first to settle, but as the break approached, the Yellows were on top even if they were 1-0 down. There was enough to encourage the team for the second half.

Then Lajami lunged at Marega, going in dangerously high on the Malian’s ankle with his studs up. It was not only a bad challenge —  Marega did not reappear for the second half — it was a completely unnecessary one in a non-dangerous area of the pitch. 

As the disconsolate 25-year-old finally trudged off, the blue-shirted fans in the stands celebrated as if another goal had been scored.

It didn’t quite turn out to be the easy second half they had predicted, but in the end, Al-Hilal’s fans were celebrating again while those on the other side of the stadium were left wondering what they could have achieved with 11 men.

2. Al-Hilal’s winning mentality shines through

This was a tense game that could have gone either way. Al-Hilal overcame their nerves first and when Bafetimbi Gomis and Marega combined nicely on the counter for the opening goal, it looked ominous for Al-Nassr, especially when they were reduced to 10 before the break.

In the early stages of the second half, however, Al-Hilal were struggling as Al-Nassr equalized and then looked likelier to score the second. Yet Al-Hilal have that winning mentality, were a little more streetwise than their opponents and kept their cool better. Slowly, they regrouped and started to keep the ball better too. 

The experience and composure of Salman Al-Faraj and Al-Dawsari, consistently excellent, slowly started to push Al-Nassr back, and they were rewarded with what turned out to be the winning goal.

When you play against Al-Hilal in the big games, you are playing against their history as well as their stars. 

3. Al-Nassr can be proud

There has been much written about Abderrazak Hamdallah in recent weeks, and when the Moroccan shot straight at the goalkeeper early in the second half from a good position, it seemed as if a golden chance for Al-Nassr had gone. 

From the resultant corner, Talisca scored. The Brazilian always looked the most dangerous of all the men in yellow and has shown his class going forward on numerous occasions this season. He had a couple of fierce shots in the first half and is always a handful for defenders. 

Whatever coach Pedro Emanuel said at half-time, it worked as Al-Nassr had come out and attacked as if they were the team with a man advantage. They were rewarded with a goal and, a man short, they could have been forgiven for settling for the draw and taking the game to penalties. They did not and were always looking to score. They should have done so with virtually the last kick of the game as Abdullah Madu shot just wide.

There isn’t much consolation in losing a second successive semi-final, but Al-Nassr have confirmed their status as a power in Asian football. 

4. It was a great advert for Saudi football

The game itself was engaging from start to very finish when Al-Nassr came within centimeters of getting an equalizer and forcing extra time. There were plenty of talking points, chances and pieces of individual skill.

In the stands of Mrsool Park, this was a spectacular night. With half of the stadium yellow and the other half blue, it took this writer back to past FA Cup finals at Wembley Stadium. Fans of both clubs may have preferred a bigger venue simply because more of them could have squeezed in, but the intimacy of this ground added something special to the atmosphere.

Supporters on both sides got behind their teams, singing and chanting. The noise was non-stop. There were plenty of big games in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday but in terms of atmosphere, intensity and the desperation of the fans to win — and equally not to lose to their rivals — Riyadh was the place to be, and it was a great advert for Saudi football.

5. Al-Hilal are in touching distance of history

Al-Hilal thrive on the big stage and are accustomed to winning. The biggest of stages will be Riyadh next month as the three-time Asian champions have a chance to do what no other club has ever done: achieve number four. 

Playing on home soil in a one-legged final is a huge advantage, and Al-Hilal are going to be favorites against whichever South Korean team, Ulsan Horang-i or Pohang Steelers, make the long trip west. Ulsan are defending champions, Pohang have three titles of their own and Korean teams can never be underestimated in Asia, but with Al-Hilal in such form and with their fans behind them, there will never be a better time to make history.


Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover

Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover
Updated 20 October 2021

Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover

Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover
  • Newcastle had been sold to a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund
  • Steve Bruce, a lifelong Newcastle fan, was an unpopular choice for some sections of supporters

Steve Bruce has left his position as Newcastle United manager by mutual consent, the Premier League team said in a statement on Wednesday, two weeks after they were taken over by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium.

Bruce had appeared to be on borrowed time after the Premier League announced earlier this month that Newcastle had been sold to a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The 60-year-old had said following the change of ownership that he would understand if he was replaced but he was allowed to take charge of the 1,000th match in his managerial career when Newcastle hosted Tottenham Hotspur in the league, losing 3-2 last Sunday.

The signs were ominous, however, with Newcastle’s new director Amanda Staveley saying “change does not always happen overnight.”

“I’m grateful to everyone connected with Newcastle United for the opportunity to manage this unique football club,” Bruce said in a club statement.

“I would like to thank my coaching team, the players and the support staff in particular for all their hard work. There have been highs and lows, but they have given everything even in difficult moments and should be proud of their efforts.

“This is a club with incredible support, and I hope the new owners can take it forward to where we all want it to be. I wish everyone the very best of luck for the rest of this season and beyond.”

Newcastle said Bruce’s assistant Graeme Jones will lead the team on an interim basis, starting with Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace, and will be supported by the coaching team of Steve Agnew, Stephen Clemence, Ben Dawson and Simon Smith.

Sky Sports reported that former AS Roma manager Paulo Fonseca, who was on the radar of Tottenham Hotspur earlier this year, was among a number of contenders for the job.

Newcastle’s defeat by Spurs, attended by Staveley and others on the board, spoiled the takeover celebrations at St. James’ Park, with fans also calling for Bruce to be sacked as Newcastle slipped to their fifth league loss of the campaign.

The 60-year-old Bruce, who was appointed Newcastle manager in July 2019, was already on thin ice after a dismal start to the campaign that leaves the club languishing second-from-bottom in the league without a win after eight games.

Bruce, a lifelong Newcastle fan, was an unpopular choice for some sections of supporters following his appointment after Spaniard Rafa Benitez left the club and had said last week that he was pained by some of the criticism and abuse he had received.

He guided Newcastle to 13th and 12th-placed finishes in the league and helped them reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup.


Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister

Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister
Updated 20 October 2021

Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister

Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister
  • World number one says he is unsure if he will defend his Australian Open crown

CANBERRA: Novak Djokovic will not be able to enter Australia to defend his Australian Open title unless he is fully vaccinated for COVID-19, the country’s immigration minister said on Wednesday, putting the Serb’s Grand Slam record bid in doubt.
World number one Djokovic, who is level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam titles, has declined to reveal his vaccination status, and said he is unsure if he will defend his Australian Open crown.
Clarifying Australia’s visa requirements, Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke said foreign players would need to have had two vaccination shots to play the Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in January.
“You’ll need to be double vaccinated to visit Australia. That’s a universal application, not just to tennis players. I mean that every visitor to Australia will need to be double vaccinated,” Hawke told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
“I don’t have a message to Novak. I have a message to everybody that wishes to visit Australia. He’ll need to be double vaccinated.”
Apart from Serbian Djokovic, who has won nine of his Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and the last three in succession at Melbourne Park, the rule could exclude scores of players from the tournament.
More than a third of professional players remain unvaccinated, according to recent media reports.
Both the men’s ATP and women’s WTA tours have urged players to get vaccinated but some have voiced reservations.
Russian men’s US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and German world number four Alex Zverev have expressed skepticism, although their vaccination status remains unknown.
Greek world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas said in August he would only get vaccinated if it became mandatory, though later said he planned to have shots by the end of the year.
Tennis Australia, which organizes the Grand Slam, said it was working with authorities on conditions for players, fans and tournament staff.
“Our understanding is that the details around international visitors entering the country are yet to be decided and we hope to have more information soon,” the governing body said.
Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt said the country’s rules were about protecting Australians.
“They apply to everyone without fear or favor. It doesn’t matter whether you are number one in the world or you are anything else,” he told a media conference on Wednesday.
Australia has shut its international borders to non-citizens and non-permanent residents for 18 months, though there have been some high-profile exceptions.
International travel is expected to begin for Australian citizens within weeks, but non-citizens are expected to be shut out until early-2022.
Authorities in Victoria state, which hosts the Australian Open, said they would not make special deals with unvaccinated athletes to allow them to compete even if they secured visas.
Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, has been locked down since August due to an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant but will begin to open up on Friday, when 70 percent of the adult population in Victoria is expected to be fully vaccinated.