Concerns rising over the upholding of cricket standards in the age of short format competitions

Michael Holding’s ability to surprise with a cricket ball has been matched by the piquancy of his comments and views from the commentary box. (Reuters/File Photo)
Michael Holding’s ability to surprise with a cricket ball has been matched by the piquancy of his comments and views from the commentary box. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Concerns rising over the upholding of cricket standards in the age of short format competitions

Michael Holding’s ability to surprise with a cricket ball has been matched by the piquancy of his comments and views from the commentary box. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Michael Holding’s questioning of the ability of the game’s off-field custodians to preserve the integrity of the game requires careful monitoring

LONDON: If, following his retirement from the commentary box, someone as respected as Michael Holding was moved to say that he will not miss cricket, then the reasons demand scrutiny. After a stellar career as a fearsome fast bowler for the West Indies between 1975-1987, he began television commentary in 1990 and latterly spent some 20 years with Sky.

During his playing days he was known as “whispering death,” so named because the umpires could not hear him running into bowl, so light were his steps and smooth his action. I remember well taking a group of cricketing colleagues from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to a Test match at Nottingham between England and the West Indies in 1980. We sat on the top tier of a stand opposite the pavilion, the end from which Holding was bowling. It was the first time that most of them had attended a Test match. They watched in awe as Holding loped in toward us, gathering momentum as he approached his point of delivery. The ball pitched and bounced and seemed to keep on climbing, giving the impression that its resting place would be one of our heads. A collective “Oooooh!” was let out by those around us at this prospect.     

Holding’s ability to surprise with a cricket ball has been matched by the piquancy of his comments and views from the commentary box. He has criticized T20 as not being good for the game arguing that “it will be bad unless those in charge manage it properly and I do not think they can because they are blinded by money.” 

During the 2019 World Cup, he openly criticized the decisions of several umpires, only to be informed that he should not cast “negative judgment.”

Holding’s riposte was to say that, as a former cricketer, he was of the view that “cricket should be held to a higher standard.” He questioned if it was an objective to “protect the umpires even when they do a bad job,” adding that “commentators are being more and more compromised by controlling organizations to the point of censorship.”   

Most recently, he was highly critical of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s cancellation of short tours for both men’s and women’s teams to Pakistan because of concerns about the players’ “mental and physical well-being,” terming the decision as “Western arrogance.” In June 2021, his book “Why We Kneel, How We Rise” was published, in which his own testimony of racial abuse, along with those of other famous athletes, are dissected. 

Apart from these concerns, Holding is of the opinion that the game is a very much changed one from that which existed when he started out on his journey. In particular, he judges that those responsible for managing the game are not doing it properly, choosing instead to manage the money that the game can bring in.

His views have received some pushback. There are those who feel that the way the game has moved on must be welcomed. Others have been quick to point out that, in 1977, Holding joined the breakaway World Series Cricket organized by the Australian broadcaster Kerry Packer. This ran in commercial competition to established international cricket, implying that Holding was not shy to move against the status quo for financial betterment. In 1979-80, during an ill-tempered New Zealand-West Indies series, he kicked the stumps over after having an appeal rejected, causing some to identify an anti-authoritarian streak in him. 

There is also a sense that his views about T20 cricket do not recognize the possibilities that the Indian Premier League has opened up for young people to choose cricket as a career or that T20 cricket has provided the opportunities for the game to develop in countries where it previously had no foothold. Whether he or others of his generation like it or not, the shorter game in the form of T20 and its variants is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

It is Holding’s rally cry concerning the governance of the game that deserves the most attention. No one can doubt that money has taken hold of the game and seems to be influencing those who make decisions about its future. In Pakistan, still smarting from the cancellation of visits by New Zealand and England, Ramiz Raja, chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board, has expressed deep concerns. Since the PCB is 50 percent funded by the International Cricket Council, which in turn is heavily funded by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, he feels it is at the mercy of India for its survival. Remarkably, Raja has revealed that an investor is ready to give him a blank check if Pakistan beats India in a World Cup group match on Oct. 24.   

Meanwhile, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s governance actions have left it open to criticism. Hard on the heels of the decision to cancel the tours to Pakistan, for which only a press release was provided by way of explanation, its chairman stepped down on Oct. 7 after serving only 13 months of a five-year contract, citing pandemic-induced pressures. After prevarication over the decision to give the green light to the Ashes tour, an announcement was made on Oct. 9 that it would go ahead “subject to several critical conditions.” These are thought to relate to further negotiations taking place with Cricket Australia. Surprisingly, there has been no public word of or from the CEO of the England and Wales Cricket Board since his involvement with the cancellation of the England-India Test match at Manchester on Sept. 10.   

Holding’s questioning of the ability or preparedness of the game’s off-field custodians to preserve the soul, standards and integrity of the game requires careful monitoring. The current emphasis on bolstering profit/loss accounts in India, Australia and England, partly induced by the pandemic, does not augur well for the game unless the benefits are spread more widely. Only when the pandemic’s impacts fade away will the appetite for this become apparent.    


Zhang Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds

Zhang  Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds
Updated 22 October 2021

Zhang Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds

Zhang  Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds
  • Zhang became the first Chinese men’s all-around world champion since Xiao Ruoteng in 2017

KITAKYUSHU, Japan: Zhang Boheng of China edged out Olympic champion Daiki Hashimoto on Friday to win the gold medal in the men’s all-around at the Gymnastics World Championships.

Zhang, who did not qualify for China’s team for this summer’s Olympics, held a slim lead over local favorite Hashimoto heading into the final apparatus, the horizontal bar — an event Hashimoto won at the Tokyo Games.

Zhang scored 14.800 points while Hashimoto received 15.133 but it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit and the 21-year-old Zhang finished with 87.981 overall points to 87.964 for Hashimoto.

“This is my first time to take part in the world championships and the first time to win the all-around title for my country,” Zhang said. “I was nervous waiting for the scores to appear because it was so close, such a high-level competition.”

Zhang became the first Chinese men’s all-around world champion since Xiao Ruoteng in 2017.

Illia Kovtun of Ukraine was third with 84.899 points, followed by Yul Moldauer of the US with 84.365.

Hashimoto was aiming to become Japan’s fifth men’s world champion and its first since Kohei Uchimura won the last of his six straight titles in 2015.

Hashimoto’s performance on the horizontal bar was solid but he stepped to his left on the landing which likely cost him the gold medal.

“(Zhang) was great tonight,” Hashimoto said. “There is no question he is world No. 1. I knew I had to put in a perfect performance on the horizontal bar and that was difficult to do.”

Zhang had the top score on the floor exercise, the vault and the parallel bars, while finishing second-best on the rings and horizontal bar, the only apparatus where Hashimoto led the field. Both Hashimoto and Zhang suffered falls on the pommel horse.

At 19, Hashimoto became the youngest man ever to win the Olympic all-around title, at the Tokyo Games.

Defending champion Nikita Nagornyy of Russia did not travel to Japan for the worlds.

The world championships wrap up with individual event finals on Saturday and Sunday. There is no team competition in the world championships immediately after an Olympic Games.

Hashimoto will compete in the floor exercise, pommel horse, parallel bars, and horizontal bar this weekend. Zhang will compete in the finals on still rings and parallel bars.


Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch
Updated 22 October 2021

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch
  • The latest in a series of incidents involving fans in and around Ligue 1 games this season started during the player warm up ahead of the scheduled 9pm kick off
  • Fans unfurled banners, let off a barrage of rockets and smoke bombs and invaded the pitch, damaging the goals.

SAINT-ETIENNE, France: The kick off in the Ligue 1 match between Saint Etienne and visiting Angers was delayed for an hour by protests from home fans angry at their team’s dire form.
The latest in a series of incidents involving fans in and around Ligue 1 games this season started during the player warm up ahead of the scheduled 9pm (1900 GMT) kick off.
Fans unfurled banners, let off a barrage of rockets and smoke bombs and invaded the pitch, damaging the goals.
Fans unfurled banners attacking coach Claude Puel, club leadership and the players.
“We’ve had enough talk, you’re making us crack” said one visible through the smoke.
“Puel resign,” “management resign” and “we want a team worthy of its fans” chanted the fans.
The players left the field and kick off was put back as municipal workers repaired the nets at the city-owned Geoffroy-Guichard stadium.
Saint-Etienne are last in Ligue 1, winless after 11 matches.
On Thursday, fans hung a banner on the gates of the training center which said: “Puel, you have 24 hours to resign.”
The latest incidents come just two days after the league disciplinary committee imposed a two-match suspended closure of the stadium’s south stand after incidents during the derby against Lyon on October 3.
A season of angry fans in France opened with a match between Nice and Marseille abandoned on August 22.
That was followed by a string of incidents in September.
The northern derby between Lens and Lille was overshadowed by a pitch invasion that delayed the start of the second half.
The next weekend, supporters invaded the pitch at the game between Angers and Marseille, while stones were thrown at a bus taking Bordeaux fans to their match in Montpellier, with 16 suffering minor injuries.
Nice were deducted a point. Lens were ordered to play home matches behind closed doors.


Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue
Updated 22 October 2021

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 22 October 2021

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.”