T20 World Cup: Are the tigers about to pounce again?

T20 World Cup: Are the tigers about to pounce again?
Fans watch the live telecast of the T20 cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan happening in Dubai on a television in their home in Peshawar on Oct. 24, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 November 2021

T20 World Cup: Are the tigers about to pounce again?

T20 World Cup: Are the tigers about to pounce again?
  • By Thursday, 21 of the 30 Super 12 stage matches had been completed
  • There have been upsets and very close finishes that almost brought upsets

The bookmakers had India as favorites going into the T20 World Cup, followed by England and Australia. By Thursday, 21 of the 30 Super 12 stage matches had been completed. In this stage, teams play each other once in two groups of six, with the top two in each group progressing to the semi-finals. There have been upsets and very close finishes that almost brought upsets.

At one point towards the end of the Afghanistan vs. Pakistan match, the former looked as if it might well pull off a shock, but Asif plundered 24 in the penultimate over to propel Pakistan to victory, one that led Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to laud the efforts of the Afghanistan team.

Two frantic finishes brought victory for South Africa and the West Indies. All looked lost for South Africa against Sri Lanka, following the loss of three wickets in three balls to one bowler. However, victory was achieved by hitting 16 runs from the final over, with one ball to spare. Bangladesh required 13 runs from the final over against the 2016 champions West Indies but could only manage nine. This result leaves the West Indies’ chances of reaching the semi-finals in the balance, while Bangladesh cannot progress.

South Africa’s thrilling victory was achieved on the back of internal strife. A directive from Cricket South Africa was issued on the morning of the match against the West Indies to say that the team must take the knee ahead of play. One player opted not to and did not play in the match, which South Africa won. The player has subsequently relented and has returned to the team.

Since being re-admitted to international cricket in 1992, when it participated in the 50-over World Cup, successive South African teams have suffered from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. In 1992, the team was denied a semi-final victory over England, courtesy of a controversial “rain-rule.” In 1999, the team tied its semi-final against Australia in dramatic fashion but were edged out because Australia had finished higher in the Super Sixes table. In 2003, as joint hosts, South Africa failed to progress in the Super Sixes as the match with Sri Lanka ended in a tie, determined by a re-fashioned rain-rule. In both 2007 and 2015, it suffered semi-final losses.

Despite having produced some of the world’s finest cricketers, South Africa is regarded as having under-performed at World Cups. In 2021, there are fewer expectations of the team but, under an impressive captain, the team is within sight of a semi-final place, which it would secure with victory over group leaders England in their final game.

When it comes to mercurial performances, Pakistan has produced its fair share. This was very much the case in 1992. After five matches out of eight, the team had only one win, plus a point from a fortunate wash-out against England. Ahead of a last-chance group match against Australia, the captain, Imran Khan, wearing a tiger shirt, allegedly inspired his team with the words “wounded tigers get angry, don’t get disappointed.” It won that match, and the next two, to win a place in the semi-finals. In the final, it defeated England in a tense contest.

Subsequently, there have been other tense matches between the two teams, tensions which have been heightened by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision not to tour Pakistan last month. This enraged the new Chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board, who was a member of the 1992 World Cup winning team, and he vowed that Pakistan would use it as a motivation to become the best team in the world. So far, the team has won its first four matches, including a comprehensive victory over India and has booked a semi-final place. Along with England, Pakistan have been the pace setters in this tournament and, should they meet in the final, old and new tensions will be at large.

India’s early performance has been well below par, losing to not only Pakistan but also New Zealand. After the attention the Indian team brought upon itself by deciding not to play the final Test against England in Manchester in September, coupled with the speedy retreat of players to prepare for the Indian Premier League, some observers will undoubtedly allow themselves a wry smile at its predicament. India must win its last two matches by big margins and hope that New Zealand, having beaten Scotland, falters in its matches against Afghanistan and Namibia, both of whom have displayed an ability to surprise.

Australia is another party that has brought negative attention to itself. As previously discussed in this column, this has been in the run-up to the Ashes series. The team has played very little international cricket, mostly of the T20 variety. This perceived lack of preparation has translated into three skittish performances to date, including a trouncing by England. A semi-final place is still possible in a three-way battle with South Africa and West Indies.

Since Sri Lanka’s heady days of winning the T20 World Cup in 2014 and previous runners-up positions, its team has been in constant churn. In this year’s tournament, there have been clear signs that a new generation of talent has emerged. If it had not been for displays of inexperience at critical moments, its team could have caused several upsets. Their future looks bright.

The stage is set for the concluding Super12 matches to determine which two teams will join Pakistan and, barring a sensational turnaround of fortune, England, as semi-finalists. Ultimately, net run rate may be the deciding factor. This is calculated by deducting the average runs per over scored against a team throughout the competition from the average runs per over scored by that team throughout the competition. In the last lap of Super12, the favourites, India, have much to do to catch up on run-rate, England have performed to expectation, while Pakistan have been on fire. Who can stop them?


Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
Updated 01 December 2021

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
  • The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, adviser to King Salman, was briefed on the latest preparations for the Saudi Formula One race, which will be hosted by Jeddah Corniche from Dec. 3 to 5.

Al-Faisal listened to an explanation by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal about the 27-turn, 6,175-meter-long circuit, the second-longest track in F1 history. 

Prince Khalid, who is the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, confirmed the completion of the preparations for hosting the F1 race.

The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race. Prince Khalid expressed his pride that the Kingdom is among the 23 countries hosting this great sporting event.

He also praised the Saudi leadership’s great support for sports, which made the Kingdom a major destination for global sporting events. He thanked Prince Khaled for his guidance and support to make this event a huge success.


Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
Updated 01 December 2021

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
  • Continent’s premier club competition set for autumn-spring schedule switch in 2023, increase in number of foreigners allowed in squads

RIYADH: Only days after Al-Hilal may have just made history by winning a record fourth Asian title, the AFC Champions League’s future is set to look very different as there are some significant changes already in place for the 2023 edition.

The Asian Football Confederation, which operates the competition that expanded from 32 to 40 teams this year, is set to officially approve a shift in the tournament’s calendar for the first time in almost two decades.

Instead of running from spring to autumn, the event will soon mirror its European equivalent by switching to an autumn start and a spring finish.

On Nov. 21, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, said: “I am pleased to note that the AFC competitions continue to grow. There will be changes to the rules on foreign players, as well as to our competitions calendar. These are all part of the strategy to improve our players, clubs, and national teams on the world stage.”

The calendar change, expected to be rolled out in 2023, will return the tournament to its original schedule that was mapped out 20 years ago.

“The AFC Champions League was launched in 2002 and the inaugural season kicked off in August 2002 with its scheduled completion by May 2003,” the AFC said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the outbreak of the respiratory illness SARS in Asia forced a postponement.

“Following this setback, the competition was relaunched in 2004 and the calendar was changed to February to December 2004, while the AFC Cup in 2004 took place from February to November 2004, leading to an adoption of the spring-autumn season,” the AFC said.

Ever since that initial change, there have been repeated requests for another look at the schedules and with a recent feasibility study being well-received, it all means that the changes will be agreed upon next year.

East Asian nations are especially happy with the change. Under the present format, the knockout stages come toward the end of the busy domestic seasons in China, South Korea, and Japan. Had Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai won their semi-final against Pohang Steelers in October, the defending Asian champions would have had to travel to Riyadh for the final during the climax of the K-League title race and at the end of a grueling year.

A spring final would mean fresher eastern squads who would be just two or three months into their seasons as opposed to eight or nine.

For clubs in West Asia, it may present more of a challenge as domestic campaigns reach their zenith around the same time.

Until the final, the tournament is split into two geographic zones, east and west. That means that for much of the schedule, teams in each zone are in similar positions but the timing of the final, especially if it returns to a two-legged affair, tends to favor teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and elsewhere as they are just two or three months into their domestic seasons and approaching peak condition.

There are reasons for a switch that should benefit all. The AFC is confident that aligning the Asian calendar with much of the rest of the world, especially Europe, will make a difference financially, “for AFC Champions League and AFC Cup matches in terms of TV audiences and media interest with respect to the calendar structures of UEFA club competitions and European leagues.”

There are other changes that Saudi Arabia have pushed through. As reported by Arab News in November, the proposal from Riyadh to increase the number of foreign players that are allowed to play in the tournament has been accepted, only the precise format remains to be discussed.

At present, each team in the continental competition can register just four foreign players in its squad under the 3 plus 1 rule which means three imports can come from anywhere in the world and one from a fellow Asian nation. With 11 leagues around the continent allowing more imports for their domestic competition — including the Saudi Professional League, which has a full quota of seven — the AFC rule has increasingly become a point of contention.

“The current 3 plus 1 foreign player rule under which a club can field a maximum of four international players at any given point in time during a match is set to make way for a more augmented combination,” the AFC said.

“The proposed new combinations — 4 plus 2, 5 plus 1, or 5 plus 2 — have received wide support from both the AFC competitions committee and the AFC technical committee, with the decision imminent in early 2022 for implementation from 2023 onwards.” The changes will be confirmed early next year.

For major countries in Asian football, a revamped AFC Champions League should benefit all and help lift the tournament to the next level.


Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
Updated 01 December 2021

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
  • A 1-1 draw against fellow relegation battlers Norwich had plenty of positives for Eddie Howe’s 10 men, but still fell short of the desperately needed win

NEWCASTLE: The unmentionable, what neither the fans nor the new owners dare think about, gets ever nearer for Newcastle United.

And, this time, it feels more self-inflicted than ever.

Eddie Howe’s black and white army — urged on continuously by a vociferous crowd from minute one to minute 90 (+6) at St. James’ Park — showed fight and commitment. Pain, passion, bodies on the line.

They had it all. They even scored, went into the lead — and had a VAR decision go in their favor.

Three points, though? That remains as elusive as ever.

And while they can explain away yet another two points dropped on home turf against a newly promoted struggler, mainly due to Ciaran Clark’s still inexplicable decision-making in his ninth-minute sending off, facts do not lie. This was yet another two points dropped. Yet another game ticked off without a win. Yet another opportunity gone begging.

Howe, in his assessment of the game-altering red, said: “It wasn’t the ideal start to the game, that’s for sure.

“I think that was a really difficult moment so early in the match to be down to 10 men,” he said. “In the cold light of day, I think Ciaran would have taken a different decision, but in that moment (it was) probably an impulse has just made him stop the striker.

“These things happen in the game. My immediate reaction was to not focus on that, it was to figure out very quickly what we had to do and try to find a solution to the problem,” Howe said. “Last thing I wanted to do was take Ryan Fraser off the pitch, but I felt I needed to do that for the team. Fede (Federico Fernandez) came on and I thought he was absolutely magnificent.

“Apologies to Ryan but Fede came in and made a big difference.”

Sadly, stepping into reality for a second here, Newcastle’s opportunities will soon run out. The “R” word has never been so glaringly in focus on Tyneside as it appears this year. Things didn’t get this bad in 2009, nor in 2016, the only two times the Magpies have been relegated from the English Premier League.

Never has a team, in Premier League history, risen from a 14-game winless start to the season to remain in the division a year later. United and Howe will have to write their own little piece of history this campaign if they are to break that record, which has stood for nearly 30 years.

Callum Wilson, United’s newly appointed captain, looked to have lifted the gloom on Tyneside — which now stretches to 15 games in all competitions — with his 61st-minute penalty, awarded after a handball was picked out by VAR. However, a Teemu Pukki volley, with about 12 minutes remaining, punctured what was building into a crescendo at SJP.

That goal, excellently taken by the flying Finn, was everything Irishman Clark deserved, but not one of the teammates he left out there, who to a man ran themselves into the ground for the cause.

Joelinton, Javier Manquillo and Jonjo Shelvey, so often criticized by fans, left their heart and soul out on the park. Fernandez, whose year has been massively impacted by a bout of COVID-19, was imperious.

“I thought the players responded magnificently. They gave everything, I can’t fault any of them for the effort and commitment they’ve given in the match,” said Howe.

“It was hugely disappointing we couldn’t get over the line and win the game, but I think we saw a really positive sign in terms of resilience and collective spirit, which we’re going to need for what lies ahead.”

Barrel loads of positives, yet only one more point on the board. Two less than was needed. Howe’s words, not mine.

The gap at the bottom of the table remains six points, but a late, late Leeds United win against Crystal Palace was another moment that felt like a nail in the coffin.

It now feels like a win against Burnley on Saturday or bust for Newcastle United’s season.

What remains in the afterlife for the Magpies is not set in stone. But their day of reckoning is upon them, it feels. And anything short of three points against the traditionally tough, physical, Sean Dyche-driven Clarets, who sit one place and two points better off than Newcastle ahead of their trip to Wolves on Wednesday night, would surely see a wave of realization sweep the banks of the Tyne, if it hasn’t already. Although a point would feel like an emotional stay of execution in many ways.

Relegation is the word no one wants to utter, but it is staring everyone square in the face.

The releasing of the Mike Ashley shackles, the arrival of the Public Investment Fund and Amanda Staveley with their belief, their understanding and their riches, the binning of the old regime’s neglectful, apologist Steve Bruce and the coming of a manager, Howe, with fresh ideas, impetus and vigor. It was all meant to see change. It was all meant to see a lift. None of it has. Improvement, yes. Three points, no.

And so United flounder. Their worst start in history and then some. Gone are the bounds of Mr. Sports Direct, but the remnants born of his derelict near-15 years in charge live on. This is PIF’s world we now live in, but it too is counting the cost of Ashley’s painful decade and a half. No amount of riches can seemingly save United now, not with January still a long month away.


Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
Updated 30 November 2021

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
  • Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million in August
  • "Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he'll get that," said Gerrard

LONDON: Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said on Tuesday Jack Grealish has earned the right to a warm reception when he returns to Villa Park for the first time as a Manchester City player this week.
Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million ($133 million) in August after making over 200 appearances for his boyhood club since making his debut aged 18.
The England international has been sidelined in recent weeks, but returned to training on Monday and could feature against his former club.
“Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he’ll get that,” said Gerrard, who has made a perfect start to his Premier League coaching career with two wins from two games.
“This is his club and it will be when his career is over, because he was here as a little boy and he has come through the academy.
“The club have benefited a lot from what Jack has given and we very much wish him well moving forward for the remainder of his career. Obviously not for 90 minutes tomorrow,” he added before Wednesday’s fixture.
Back-to-back wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace have propelled Villa seven points clear of the relegation zone.
However, Gerrard is well aware of the step up in class his side face when the champions come calling.
“The two wins have helped in terms of the feel-good factor around the place,” said the former Liverpool captain.
“But we’re aware that a real good side is coming into town and this will be a big acid test for us.”


Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
Updated 30 November 2021

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
  • 4-time Major winner last took part in tournament at Emirates Golf Club in 2018

DUBAI: Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy will return to Emirates Golf Club in January aiming to win his third Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic title.

The Northern Irishman will be looking to add to his impressive record in Dubai at what will be the second Rolex Series event of the 2022 DP World Tour season.

The 32-year-old will be back at the event for the first time since 2018 when he came close to adding to the titles he won in 2009 and 2015, finishing just one shot behind winner Li Haotong. McIlroy has an enviable record over the Majlis course with a further six top-10 finishes in 11 previous appearances.

And he has enjoyed many other memorable moments in Dubai throughout his illustrious career, winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and 2015 and topping the season-long DP World Rankings three times – in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

McIlroy adds further star power to a strong field at the 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 and newly crowned DP World Rankings winner Collin Morikawa, fellow Major winner and 2017 Dubai Desert Classic winner Sergio Garcia, and defending champion Paul Casey.

It will also be the first year that the Dubai Desert Classic has been elevated to Rolex Series status, becoming part of the DP World Tour’s premium series of events, and also the first time it has been sponsored by logistics technology provider Slync.io.

The 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be the second of back-to-back Rolex Series events in the region, following the season opener in Abu Dhabi in January, and it will form part of the traditional Desert Swing.

McIlroy said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to Emirates Golf Club for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in 2022.

“I have so many wonderful memories from playing in Dubai over the years, and particularly over the Majlis course, where I’ve been able to win twice. I look forward to coming back to Dubai and aiming to get my hands on that incredible trophy again.”

Chris Kirchner, chairman and chief executive officer of Slync.io, said: “As a fan of golf, it’s important that we bring a field that other fans will enjoy. Rory is one of my favorite players and I’m thrilled to have him as part of the inaugural title partnership for Slync.io.”

Simon Corkill, Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic executive tournament director, said: “The addition of Rory McIlroy to an already strong field emphasizes the pedigree of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

“As one of the most talented golfers in the world he brings plenty of energy and excitement to the tournament. We look forward to seeing Rory battle it out with Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and others in a truly world-class field at this year’s event.”

The tournament’s organizers have also confirmed that entry to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be free to all.

Corkill added: “With the UAE set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, we are delighted to announce that entry will be free for all golf fans over the four days of the tournament.

“This decision was made in recognition of this special moment in the UAE’s history, while also giving something back to sports fans following the challenges that have been faced in 2020 and 2021.

“What better way to celebrate than through a truly global sporting event on our doorstep which everyone can enjoy?”

Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2022, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic has been won by some of golf’s greatest names, including Major champions Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, McIlroy, Danny Willett, Garcia, and Bryson DeChambeau.

The winner’s circle over the past 32 years has also featured Ryder Cup stars Mark James, the inaugural champion in 1989, Eamonn Darcy, Colin Montgomerie, David Howell, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Stephen Gallacher.