Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi
Jan Blachowicz celebrates beating Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 in March. (UFC)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi

Polish power meets Brazilian grit as Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira face off at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi
  • UFC returns to Abu Dhabi with a title double-header in front of an expected capacity crowd at Etihad Arena on Yas Island 
  • Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya, while Teixeira is after a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on

LOS ANGELES: UFC is back in Abu Dhabi, and this time it’s with a double-header of title fights in front of a capacity crowd at Etihad Arena for the very first time.

The newly launched venue hosted UFC 257 in January, with Dustin Poirier win over Conor McGregor in the second part of their trilogy of fights topping the bill.

Only 2,000 people were in the audience that night. On Saturday night, 18,000 people are expected to see Jan Blachowicz of Poland defend his Light Heavyweight title defense against Glover Texiera of Brazil at UFC 267.

Blachowicz is coming off an upset victory over the formerly undefeated Israel Adesanya at UFC 259 in March, and the big-punching Pole had been in sensational form before that with knockouts in three of his previous four fights.

Adesanya, however, presented a unique striking challenge for the 38-year-old Blachowicz, who seemed hesitant to throw and was biting on Adesanya's faints. Although his striking prowess was not on full display that night, he exhibited an ability to adapt and find a path to victory.

Meanwhile, Teixeira is coming off a huge win over Thiago Santos having been hurt early on, which is becoming something of a habit for the Brazilian. Although the 41-year-old Texiera often gets hurt early and comes on later, Blachowiz is not someone you want to hit you clean. Texiera's grappling is amongst the best in the division, with his vicious ground and pound opening his opponents up for submissions.

Prior to that, the first of the night’s two title bouts pits Cory Sandhagen of the US against Petr Yan of Russia for the interim Bantamweight title, a fight that was put together at short notice after Aljamain Sterling was not medically cleared due to a neck injury sustained in his fight against the latter.

Both Yan and Sandhagen will be looking to make up for controversial losses in their last fights.

Yan was picking Sterling apart and looked to be breezing to a dominant decision victory until an illegal knee saw him disqualified in round four. He has looked phenomenal in his last three fights against Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo and Sterling, with none having an answer for his Muay Thai style.

While Yan has looked impressive, the argument can be made that Sandhagen has looked even better. Excluding a slip-up against Sterling  at UFC 250 last year, and a contentious split decision against TJ Dillashaw in July, Sandhagen has looked like a world-beater.

His spin kick in the TKO win over Marlon Moraes in Abu Dhabi last October was spectacular, only to be topped months later by his flying knee against Frankie Edgar.

The 29-year-old American lives and dies by his unorthodox and loose style of fighting. In his last fight against Dillashaw, Sandhagen showed susceptibility to opening his back up to his opponents when throwing his spinning attacks. Dillashaw was able to exploit this and control clinch positions for minutes on end.

Yan displayed a similar ability to gain control of the back against Sterling when he threw spinning strikes. Both fighters will face challenges they have not faced before, and the winner would, in the eyes of many, be the best Bantamweight in the world. Sandhagen is the one with most to lose, as a defeat against Yan would put him at 0-3 against the three highest-ranked Bantamweight fighters, while Yan would likely be placed into another number 1 contender fight due to the way he lost the belt.

In the biggest of the non-title fights, the Kiwi Dan Hooker, after his decision victory of the German Nasrat Haqparast at UFC 266 in September, is stepping in on one month's notice to face Islam Makhachev - the most avoided fighter in the promotion and the heir to Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In his last bout, Hooker exhibited wrestling and control on the ground, skills that will be tested to the limit against Makhachev in their Lightweight matchup. The 31-year-old’s knees are another tool that will be employed to prevent the eventual takedown.

Since his loss in his UFC debut, Makhachev has looked almost unbeatable, with his wrestling exuding strength, speed, and tenacity.

His grappling was put to test in his first main event against Thiago Moises, who presented a submission threat Makhachev hadn't faced up until that point. He passed the test with flying colors, dominating the Brazilians from start to finish to win with a fourth round submission.

This bout has major title implications for the winner, while the loser will likely have to take a high-risk, low-reward fight with Rafael Fiziev or Gregor Gillespie.

Alexander Volkov takes on Marcin Tybura in Heavyweight bout that was added late to the main card, and before that is one of the most anticipated fights of the night which sees the return of Khamzat Chimaev against the "Leech" Li Jingliang in the Welterweight division.

The Russian-born Swede is coming off a year’s layoff due to lingering effects of COVID-19 that ruled him out of multiple bouts with Leon Edwards.

Chimaev burst onto the scene last year, winning two fights within 10 days at Fight Island 1 in Abu Dhabi. In those bouts, the 27-year-old displayed powerful wrestling and smooth grappling that rendered his opponents powerless to his never-ending barrage of ground strikes and submission attempts.

In his most recent appearance in the Octagon, he flattened Gerald Meerschaert in only 10 seconds with a single right hand. Although Chimaev seemed open to fighting at both Welterweight and middleweight, declining main event bouts with Luke Rockhold show he is more interested in fighting at welterweight.

Up against him will be Jingliang, who knocked Santiago Ponzinibbio out in the first round last January. The Leech utilizes a unique striking style, employing an abundance of hooks from unorthodox angles, although  the 33-year-old from China showed a susceptibility to be controlled in his bout against Neil Magny in 2020.

This fight will come down to who controls where it takes place, with Chimaev being more comfortable on the ground while Jingliang preferring a striking affair. The winner of the bout is sure to see a steep challenge in their next fight, with fighters like Wonderboy, Belal Muhammad and Geoff Neal, without signed fights, waiting for their chance.

The main card opens with an intriguing matchup between ranked Light Heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev of Russia and Volkan Oezdemir of Switzerland.

The 22 -year-old Oezdemir’s defeat to Jiri Prochazka at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi has aged well, with  Czech fighter solidifying himself as the next man in line for a title shot.

Short bouts have become synonymous with Oezdemir fights, with the Swiss fighter's kill or be killed style leading to swift finishes. But in Ankaleav, he will up against man many believe to be the future champion of the division. Ankaleav has been perfect in his career outside of a last-second submission defeat to Paul Craig back in 2018.

Ankaleav possesses masterful striking and employs a variety of techniques. While his power and striking are impressive, Ankalaev has also displayed sound wrestling in his last victory against Nikita Krylov in February.

This bout has significant implications for the trajectory of both fighters' careers, as a win for Ankalaev puts him in the title picture, while a win for Oezdemir keeps him relevant at the peak of the division. A loss for either fighter increases their distance to the title substantially in the shark-infested waters of the light heavyweight division.


Saudi Arabia take giant step towards 2022 World Cup with tense win over Oman

Saudi Arabia take giant step towards 2022 World Cup with tense win over Oman
Updated 6 sec ago

Saudi Arabia take giant step towards 2022 World Cup with tense win over Oman

Saudi Arabia take giant step towards 2022 World Cup with tense win over Oman
  • The 1-0 win victory means Green Falcons top Group B on 19 points, with only 3 matches left

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia stayed on course for the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a hard-fought 1-0 win over a spirited Oman in Jeddah on Thursday, with Firas Al-Buraikan getting the all-important goal for the under-par hosts early in the second half.

With Group B rivals Japan defeating China 2-0 and Australia breezing past Vietnam with a 4-0 win earlier in the day, the pressure was on, but victory keeps the Green Falcons four points clear of the Samurai Blue, next Tuesday’s opponents, and five above Australia with just three games left to play. Qatar is getting closer and closer.

A win against Japan at Saitama Stadium will now take Saudi Arabia to Qatar 2022.

Those earlier results may have put pressure on Saudi Arabia, but the team’s first half performance was the worst 45 minutes in the whole third round of qualification. Oman, missing several players due to COVID-19, were well organized and looking to deny the group leaders any space, so chances were always going to be at a premium early in the game. What was less expected was that the visitors would look likelier to score.

Midway through the first half, the Reds had the best opportunity of the game so far. Rabia Al-Alawi, always a busy and dangerous presence in attack, cut inside Ali Al-Bulaihi on the edge of the area and produced a low diagonal shot from the right that rolled just centimeters wide of the left hand post, with Mohammed Al-Owais in goal unable to do anything but stand, watch and hope.

In the absence of injured Salman Al-Faraj in the middle, the Saudis were not only giving the ball away far too often, but looked short of urgency and intensity. Coach Renard, who cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines and was continually signaling to his players to wake up, had seen enough by the half-hour and withdrew the anonymous and ineffectual Sami Al-Najei from the middle to bring in Hattan Bahebri.

Yet Oman continued to ask the questions. Right-back Amjad Al-Harthi’s low shot was almost turned in by Al-Alawi.

In the final five minutes of the first half, Saudi Arabia finally got home fans on their feet, though there were still no clear chances created. Al-Buraikan challenged the Omani goalkeeper for a Yasser Al-Shahrani cross and the volume rose soon after as the hosts appealed for a penalty for what they felt was a kick on Sultan Al-Ghannam. The half ended with a long-range half-volley from Abdulelah Al-Maiki and a shot from Al-Shahrani.

The one positive going into the break was that the second half could only get better, and so it seemed when Saudi Arabia took the lead three minutes after the restart. Befitting the performance, it was not the prettiest of goals, but nobody cared.

Omani goalkeeper Faiyz Al-Rashidi could only palm a low Al-Ghannam shot into the path of Al-Buraikan, and the 21-year-old was not going to miss from such close range.

That did not mean that the game opened up, as Saudi Arabia still struggled to impose any control and Oman still asked questions. Just past the midway point of the half, Al-Alawi had a header from close range fall straight into the arms of Al-Owais and soon after the same striker was turning in the area and firing just over.

Hearts were in mouths right at the end. Arshad Al-Alawi’s long-range effort was tipped over by Al-Owais and from the resultant corner, the same player somehow headed over from close range with the goal at his mercy.

That was the last action of what was, in truth, an ugly win — a fourth 1-0 victory out of seven games so far, but that will not bother anyone but the few Omanis in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia have taken another huge step towards a successive World Cup appearance and, with that vital cushion of four points still in place, the Green Falcons’ focus turns to Japan and a huge game on Tuesday.


Jerry Inzerillo: Formula E perfect opportunity to showcase Diriyah

Jerry Inzerillo: Formula E perfect opportunity to showcase Diriyah
Updated 27 January 2022

Jerry Inzerillo: Formula E perfect opportunity to showcase Diriyah

Jerry Inzerillo: Formula E perfect opportunity to showcase Diriyah
  • The group CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority welcomes fans back to Saudi Arabia’s fourth E-Prix with new qualifying format and host of post-race concerts

How are you preparing for the opening race of Formula E, and how excited are you about welcoming fans back to Diriyah?

Formula E is one of the most important highlights in the Diriyah events calendar, and as such, we have been doing a huge amount to prepare. Our infrastructure has been strengthened, with improvements to our road and transportation network being of particular note, allowing those traveling to the event to have a smooth, fantastic time when the season starts.

It is also the perfect opportunity to showcase Diriyah’s position as a global gathering place, as visitors come from all corners of the world to experience this extraordinary spectacle.

Through this evolution and thanks to the sophisticated vision of His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, we have been fortunate to forge great sporting partnerships, such as we have with the likes of Formula E. Welcoming modern events to the Kingdom and to Diriyah is our greatest pleasure as it tests our preparedness as a culturally-connected global hub of not just sports, but also entertainment, culture, heritage and education.

The spectacle and electricity of the Formula E racecourse set against the historic backdrop of Diriyah is a fitting representation of our shared vision — to respectfully protect the essence of our past but make strides towards the future. We can’t wait to welcome the fans back in person again this year.

This season marks the fourth year in a row that the race is in Diriyah. What is new that fans and visitors can look forward to?

Last year during the pandemic we were lucky enough to run our first night race under LED lights. It looked brilliant on television and had an enormous positive response from the fans. This year will be the first time that fans will see the night race in person at the track. I just know it’s going to be the most sensational experience for them.

We are also delighted that a new qualifying format will be unveiled in Diriyah for the first time this year, as well as a spectacular concert line up especially for this year, including artists such as Craig David, Wyclef Jean, James Blunt, Two Door Cinema Club and The Script.

This is Diriyah’s fourth hosting occasion of the E-Prix in four years, and the now internationally renowned street racing track around our UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif will come alive under the floodlights as Saudi Arabia leads the way in adding even more thrill to what is one of the world’s fastest growing sports.

The inaugural Diriyah E-Prix in 2018 was the Kingdom’s first major international event; in 2019 it became the Middle East’s first double-header and in 2021, it was the first ever night race for the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

Huge thanks and praise must go to Prince Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sports, and His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, for their excellent leadership, as well as the whole Ministry of Sports team who are helping to deliver such a unique and exciting spectacle for the community.

What makes the Diriyah Gate project unique, and what are your plans for the next 10 years?

Our mission at Diriyah Gate Development Authority is to transform one of the most important historical sites in Saudi Arabia into a global hub for culture, heritage, and tourism. Diriyah Gate will be an 11 square kilometer development that protects and celebrates the exceptionally distinctive character of Diriyah. It is going to be a mixed-use space with culture firmly at its heart. There will be a tangible connection to the history in its execution, with everything built in the traditional Najdi style, but one that works hand-in-hand with innovation and the future.

There is an immense pride in Diriyah amongst Saudis, particularly with it being the birthplace of the Saudi state. When I bring people to Diriyah, whether they be global brands or regional players, they fall in love with it. The uniqueness of any project starts with the location, so what we’re trying to do is curate an experience that delivers an authentic connection with visitors to Diriyah as a place. One of the ways we’re doing that is by restoring our UNESCO World Heritage Site at At-Turaif, which will open later this year. There aren’t many new developments in the world that can boast that sort of centerpiece.

We are also looking forward to opening up our latest fine dining area at Bujairi Terrace in Q1 of this year. The district overlooks At-Turaif and is soon to be home to some major global food and beverage brands as well as local Saudi cuisine which together will provide a world class culinary offering.

When the Kingdom gears up to open its doors to international travelers, where does Diriyah Gate fit within the national tourism strategy?

As one of the most important tourism-oriented giga-projects, we are a critical component of the national tourism strategy’s success. Our project is enormous in scale, we will create 55,000 jobs and aim to attract 27 million visitors a year. As one of the first giga-projects slated to open, it really is the catalyst of Vision 2030, and is critical to the Vision’s success pledge to raise tourism’s contribution to the Kingdom’s GDP from 3 percent to 10 percent by the end of the decade.

With the amount of large-scale sporting events that have now taken place in Diriyah, can we look forward to any other major events being hosted in Diriyah in the near future?

Alongside the hosting of annual events brought to us by our partners at the Ministry of Sport, like “Sports for All,” we will also be putting together a program of our own DGDA sports and lifestyle events in line with what we have delivered before, like the Diriyah Equestrian Festival, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the 2019 “Clash on the Dunes” boxing match between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua.

In the near future we expect to host multiple annual events covering a wide variety of spectator sports, with world class sports facilities — including world class golf courses, equestrian and polo facilities for local and international events and competitions; private and community sports and fitness facilities; and in addition to that, DGDA is working on identifying further venues that promote a healthier and more active lifestyle across the project, with more to be announced in due course.

How does Formula E’s sustainability vision align with DGDA?

Formula E aspires to accelerate change towards an electric future, as well as raising awareness and inspiring change in sustainable practises, contributing to reducing global carbon emissions and urban air pollution. We at DGDA share this vision and are putting in place measures to ensure that the development complies with the highest sustainability and environmental standards.

We want to create a place where heritage and history are respected, protected, and are seamlessly interwoven with sustainability and environmental considerations to create a world class global cultural and lifestyle hub. This is an exciting challenge and is one we at DGDA can’t wait to deliver.

Our environmental and sustainability initiatives ensure environmental compliance, by embedding international best practices, innovative technologies, and sustainability certification targets in all our projects.

Drawing on the Kingdom’s rich past, the buildings in Diriyah will reflect the Najdi architecture of 300 years ago, newly adapted for 21st century living. Our handmade mud brick walls, locally sourced materials, palm groves and farms embody a contextualized approach to both social and environmental sustainability, resonating with the history of the site while responding to the local climatic conditions.

The use of locally sourced materials also contributes to the reduction of whole-life carbon associated with the development, reducing the transportation miles associated with material procurement and installation, while also promoting support for the local economy.

The prospect of lighting up the night sustainably was a challenge that drove great creativity and innovation between our teams, and it is inspiring to see sustainable, more energy efficient and renewable solutions being employed at this year’s Formula E event. This year’s spectacular double header will be held under the glow of low consumption LED technology lighting that uses up to 50 percent less energy to non-LED lighting. This is a vital aspect to Formula E, with its very inception being focused on reduced carbon emissions — and being the first sport to have net zero carbon since it launched eight years ago.


Hansen opens up lead over chasing pack on 1st day of Dubai Desert Classic at Majlis

Hansen opens up lead over chasing pack on 1st day of Dubai Desert Classic at Majlis
Updated 27 January 2022

Hansen opens up lead over chasing pack on 1st day of Dubai Desert Classic at Majlis

Hansen opens up lead over chasing pack on 1st day of Dubai Desert Classic at Majlis
  • The Dane carded a seven-under, bogey-free round with former champion Sergio Garcia in chasing pack after five-under 67
  • Defending champion Paul Casey, on -2, suffered a disappointing finish as bogeys on the 16th and 18th spoiled what had otherwise been a promising round

DUBAI: Denmark’s JB Hansen carded a sensational bogey-free seven-under to claim the overnight lead over a chasing pack that includes 2017 champion Sergio Garcia and Ryder Cup teammate Tommy Fleetwood, with World No.2 Collin Morikawa lurking just one shot further behind as a star-studded field battled it out on day one of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club.

Hansen, the winner of the AVIV Dubai Championship in November last year, got off to a near-perfect start in the afternoon with four straight birdies from holes two to five, immediately slicing into the -5 clubhouse lead of Garcia and compatriot Pablo Larrazabal from the morning round. Three further birdies in four holes from 10 to 13 put the Dane on his way to a blemish-free seven-under 65, one ahead of Justin Harding of South Africa, who was on the 18th before the hooter ended play with light fading.

Earlier, former champion Garcia once again showed just why he loves playing the Majlis course, with a bogey-free five-under par 67. He sits in the chasing pack alongside compatriot Larrazabal, Fleetwood, Thongchai Jaidee, Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, and Italy’s Andrea Pavan.

Garcia, who went on to win the Masters in the same year he claimed victory at the Majlis in 2017, said: “It was good. I think it got a bit more challenging the last couple of holes with that left to right wind, but you know I made a couple of nice par saves at the right time and kept it in play, hit a good amount of greens and when I didn’t, my chipping and putting was helping me.”

Morikawa had hit the heights early on with seven birdies through his first 11 holes. Teeing off on 10 alongside Rory McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger, the American looked certain to lead the way, but his charge was derailed by a run of three bogeys across his final four holes, seeing him slip back to join the group at -4. Two-time champion McIlroy had to settle for a one-under 71.

“A disappointing finish,” said Morikawa. “When you are thinking about so much, you have to remember to play golf. I’m happy, but not thrilled with -4. It’s good to see things that I have been working on all week show up on the course though.”

Defending champion Paul Casey suffered a disappointing finish as bogeys on the 16th and 18th spoiled what had otherwise been a promising round, pulling the Englishman back from -4 through 15 to -2. World No.5 Viktor Hovland meanwhile, playing in the same group as Casey, is well placed three off the lead after a four-under round that included an eagle on the par-five 10th.

Hovland said: “That was a kind of test of patience. I obviously got off to a nice start on the back nine and was able to hit some nice shots and roll in some putts. It was a good day, but I wish I could have taken advantage of some of the easier holes.”

Starting on the back nine, local youngster Josh Hill looked in great form early on with four birdies and just the one bogey on his front nine. He was on -4 through 12 before bogeys at six and nine took him back to two-under. “It was pretty good start,” said the 17-year-old. “I know the front line is a bit harder, so I was trying to keep it together. But I know I was trying to score at the same time. I had a bit of a rough finish, I know those last five are rough holes.”

Emirati golfer Ahmad Skaik, meanwhile, battled back from a tough start after three bogeys in his opening three holes. Working with new equipment for the first time, the left-hander settled into things and traded two more bogeys for birdies to card a three-over 75.


Japan take step closer to World Cup, S.Korea on cusp

Japan take step closer to World Cup, S.Korea on cusp
Updated 27 January 2022

Japan take step closer to World Cup, S.Korea on cusp

Japan take step closer to World Cup, S.Korea on cusp
  • Yuya Osako buried a first-half penalty to put four-time Asian champions Japan in control in Saitama
  • Group A is more clear cut, South Korea's 1-0 win at Lebanon meaning they are all but there

SAITAMA, Japan: Japan took a step closer to the World Cup with a 2-0 qualifying win over a toothless China while South Korea were on the brink of sealing their spot in Qatar on Thursday.
Yuya Osako buried a first-half penalty to put four-time Asian champions Japan in control in Saitama, north of Tokyo, before Junya Ito doubled their lead after the break.
Japan’s fourth win in a row kept them second in Group B behind leaders Saudi Arabia, who they host at the same stadium next Tuesday.
With Australia just a point behind Japan, three teams are battling it out for the two automatic spots from Group B as the qualifying campaign approaches its conclusion.
Group A is more clear cut, South Korea’s 1-0 win at Lebanon meaning they are all but there. If the United Arab Emirates drop points later Thursday, the Koreans — who were missing injured Spurs star Son Heung-min — will qualify. Iran are also on the cusp.
Japan manager Hajjime Moriyasu knows that next week’s clash with the Saudis could be pivotal to their chances.
“Looking ahead to the Saudi game, tonight’s match has helped strengthen our understanding as a team and that’s a big plus for us,” he said.
“But the Saudi game will have a different intensity and tension from tonight, and we have to be ready to play at a high level.”
Australia stayed in the hunt for an automatic berth with a comfortable 4-0 home win over Vietnam.
Jamie McLaren opened the scoring in the 30th minute in Melbourne before Tom Rogic notched a second in first-half injury time.
Craig Goodwin and Riley McGree added two more after the break to wrap up the win for the home side, whose manager Graham Arnold was absent after testing positive for Covid-19.
Japan were missing half their regular defense against China, with captain Maya Yoshida and Arsenal full-back Takehiro Tomiyasu both missing through injury.
But the home side took a 13th-minute lead after China defender Wang Shenchao slid in to block Ito’s cross but hit the ball with his arm.
Osako made no mistake from the spot and the hosts pressed home their advantage in the 61st minute when Ito rose to head home substitute Yuta Nakayama’s cross.
“We had a mix of overseas and domestic-based players so they were all at different levels of fitness,” said Moriyasu.
“Despite that they combined well and communicated well, and did a good job.”
China, who were playing their first game under new manager Li Xiaopeng, saw their slim hopes of reaching the World Cup all but ended.
“The players gave their all but the first goal came at a bad time for us and it threw us out of our rhythm,” said Li, whose side failed to have a shot on target.
“It had a really big impact.”


Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
Updated 27 January 2022

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
  • The PSL has strengthened its reputation as one of the most competitive global T20 tournaments despite player availability concerns
  • PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket

One of the most remarkable aspects of T20 cricket is how quickly it has spread. Since its inauguration in England and Wales in 2003, 15 professional T20 competitions have had their status recognized by the International Cricket Council. Around the cricketing world, there is a plethora of T20 tournaments for both men and women, even one for retired players in Oman at present.

Although South Africa and Pakistan introduced domestic T20 tournaments in 2003 and 2005, it is the Indian Premier League that epitomizes the rapid development of T20 cricket into a combination of high drama, commercial exploitation, spectator frenzy, inventive player skills, global reach and transformational impact.

Given the absence of consistent, up-to-date data, it is difficult to establish with any great accuracy the income and profit generated by the various T20 professional tournaments, but the IPL likely outstrips all others. After that, depending on the criteria used, Australia’s Big Bash, the England and Wales T20 Blast, the Caribbean Premier League and Pakistan’s Super League are usually considered to be the next strongest, if a mix of the availability and strength of domestic players, the availability and strength of overseas stars and the level of competition between the franchises is used.

One of the biggest issues for the tournament organizers and the players is how to fit the competitions into a very crowded cricket calendar. The final of the Big Bash is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 28, while the Pakistan Super League (PSL) started on Jan. 27. Some players are also involved in a T20 series between the West Indies and England that ends on Jan. 30. Fourteen players will join the PSL late.

Another issue is that some national cricket boards refuse to allow their contracted players to participate in these tournaments. India, for example, will not allow its contracted players to participate in tournaments in other countries, and Pakistani cricketers cannot play in the IPL.

It is impressive, then, that the PSL has managed to strengthen its reputation as one of the most competitive and challenging T20 tournaments. The 2022 edition will be the seventh since its inception in 2016, when, for security reasons, it was played in the UAE. Five teams, based in the five cities of Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad participated, with Islamabad United defeating Quetta Gladiators in the final.

In 2018, a sixth city and team — the Multan Sultans — joined. They are the current champions, having defeated Peshawar Zalmi in June 2021 in Abu Dhabi, where the tournament was relocated after it had to be postponed in March when six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a bio-secure bubble in Pakistan. The 2017-2020 tournaments were all held in Pakistan.

This year, Karachi hosts the first leg of the tournament until February when the action switches to Lahore, where the play-offs and final will be held, the latter on Feb. 27.

In the league stage, the six teams play in a round-robin format, with the top four qualifying for the playoff stages. The top two teams will advance to a qualifier, with the winners going through to the final. The third and fourth-ranked sides will move to a first eliminator, with the winners meeting the losers of the qualifier to determine the second finalists. A total of 34 matches are scheduled to be played.

The franchises selected their players in a draft held in Lahore on Dec. 12, 2021. Prior to that, each team was allowed to retain a maximum of eight players from the previous edition, making further additions from the draft up to a maximum of 18 players.

Players were divided into five categories — platinum, worth $130,000-170,000; diamond, $60,000-85,000; gold, $40,000-50,000; silver, $15,000-25,000; and emerging, $7,500.

Each team was able to pick three players from the first three categories, five from silver and two from emerging.

A later supplementary category was subject to a separate, virtual, draft on Jan. 8, for teams to select two additional players, along with a replacement draft to allow teams to partially replace players who would be unavailable for the first few matches due to international commitments, or to fully replace those who had to withdraw.

PSL7 opens with a mix of high hope and caution. The hope is based on a strong lineup of players and Pakistan’s success in white-ball cricket in 2021. The caution relates to ongoing worries about the omicron variant of COVID-19. If cases were to surge, the event may not be able to switch to the UAE, where the Emirates Cricket Board could hold its own T20 league in February/March. And it would be difficult to reschedule due to Pakistan’s packed international schedule.

If more than eight players in a squad of 20 test positive, a reserve pool of about 25 locals can be used as replacements. If the whole competition is affected then it will be postponed for seven days, after which the remaining matches will be played as double-headers. Three distinct bubbles will be in place with different protocols: The main bubble comprises all the teams, staff and officials. Franchise members will not be allowed to meet within the hotel premises. The two other bubbles, comprising production crew and ground staff, will be at a separate hotel. The bubbles will not be allowed to interact and players will be tested regularly during the tournament.

Such precautions are wise, as there is much to lose. PSL receives over $15m per year from the franchises. Habib Bank, as lead sponsor, pays upwards of $5m per year. Broadcasting and live-streaming rights have been renewed at significantly higher levels.

PSL’s brand value is estimated to have increased almost 20 times since 2016, when it made a profit of $2.6m. But it is about more than just money; PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket.

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