Australia resolves tricky leadership problem as 71st Ashes series gets underway

Australia resolves tricky leadership problem as 71st Ashes series gets underway
Australia’s Travis Head celebrates his century during day two of the first Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia at the Gabba in Brisbane on Dec. 9, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Australia resolves tricky leadership problem as 71st Ashes series gets underway

Australia resolves tricky leadership problem as 71st Ashes series gets underway
  • For 1st time since 1961, bowler appointed as Australian captain while former disgraced captain officially re-integrated into leadership group as vice captain

After the burlesque of the Indian Premier League and T20 World Cup in the UAE, the game’s playing focus has switched eastwards. The 71st Ashes series between Australia and England started on Dec. 8 in Brisbane, where England has not won since 1986. And the English did not begin well.

Elsewhere, India has dominated New Zealand to win a two-match series, 1-0, although one of New Zealand’s bowlers, born in Mumbai, achieved the extraordinary feat of taking all wickets to fall in a single innings, only the third man in Test match history to do so.

Bangladesh has just hosted Pakistan in a two-match Test series, before Pakistan receives the West Indies for two white ball competitions. India will tour South Africa from Dec. 17.

Hence, there is no shortage of international cricket this month. Nor has there been any shortage of background noise. Apart from the continuing fallout from the Azeem Rafiq racism affair in England, there has been the unseemly situation that has led to changes in the leadership of the Australian team.

On March 24, 2018, at Cape Town, in the third Test match of a bitterly fought series between South Africa and Australia, the youngest player in Australia’s team was caught on television hiding yellow sandpaper in his trousers during play. This can be used to rough up the ball.

Apparently, it was during the lunch interval that the captain, vice captain, and player had hatched a plan. In a press conference at the end of the day’s play, the captain and player admitted to attempting to alter the condition of the ball.

At the time, the penalty for this offence was a fine of 50 percent to 100 percent of the match fee and/or ban for one Test or two one-day internationals. The captain was banned for one Test and the player fined, a punishment very much in line with that doled out to previous offenders. Ball-tampering has since been elevated to a level-three category, which carries a ban of up to six Tests or 12 ODIs.

Overnight, the Australian prime minister expressed his “shocking disappointment” to Cricket Australia and urged the authorities to take as stringent action as possible. Before play on the next day, both captain and vice captain were removed from post for the remainder of the Test, with the team’s wicketkeeper taking over as captain.

CA immediately launched an investigation, announcing on March 27 that the three players had been charged with bringing the game into disrepute, suspended, and sent home. Twenty-four hours later, the player was banned for nine months, along with the captain and vice captain, each for one year, as well as stripping them of their roles. In the case of the vice captain, he would not be considered for team leadership positions in the future, while the captain was given at least a 12-month cooling-off for leadership positions following re-entry to cricket. No one else in the team was held to account.

Although the team coach was found not guilty of any wrongdoing, he quit his post soon afterwards.

In addition, the other team members, especially the bowlers, indicated that they had no prior knowledge of the pre-meditated action. This surprised many commentators and former players, who felt that the bowlers would have noticed an attempt to change the condition of the ball. However, as the bowlers later pointed out, once the images surfaced on the TV coverage, the umpires inspected the ball, but did not change it as its condition had not been altered.

Tampering with the ball does not guarantee success but is not unusual. In this case, the public outrage and lack of dissenting voices reflected that the pre-mediated action was tantamount to cheating.

The position of captain of the cricket team is a privilege, not a right, and holds a lot of importance and, for him to be involved, amounted to a breach of trust. However, opinions varied widely as to whether the punishment fitted the crime. In addition, there was lingering suspicion that knowledge had been limited to just three individuals.

Following CA’s initial investigation, it commissioned reviews into cultural, organizational, and governance issues within Australian cricket. The results and recommendations were released in October 2018. At its heart, the review opined that, in becoming even more focused on a business model in which successful team performance drove corporate and financial outcomes, a culture had been created that, inadvertently, was at odds with the vague, but sacred, concept of the spirit of cricket.

Assumptions that cricket’s core values and law-enforcing mechanisms would prevail to prevent excesses had not been realized.

Since the review was conducted changes occurred at the top of CA. During these changes, the wicketkeeper, who stood in as captain in March 2018, continued successfully in post, looking set to be in charge for the Ashes. Astonishingly, three weeks ago, it was revealed that he sent inappropriate text messages to a female co-worker in late 2017.

This had been investigated by CA before he was appointed captain and he was found not to have breached CA’s code of conduct.

Who was responsible for resurrecting the incident is not clear, but the upshot is that the captain stood down and is taking a break from cricket. Remarkably, CA’s current chair has said that, faced with the same situation and information today, CA would not have made the same decision as was made in 2018.

In response to a series of seemingly unconnected events that would do justice to a Shakespearean plot, Australia has filled its leadership vacuum in an ironic way. It has appointed as captain one of the bowlers who played in the Cape Town Test and who claimed not have been aware of the ball-tampering plan.

This is the first time that a bowler has been appointed as Australian captain since 1961. More controversially, CA has officially re-integrated its former disgraced captain into its leadership group as vice captain. The early evidence from Brisbane suggests that Australia has benefitted, the new captain claiming five first-innings wickets.


Newcastle United beat Leeds for second win of Premier League season

Newcastle United's English midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Leeds United and Newcastle United at Elland Road. (AFP)
Newcastle United's English midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Leeds United and Newcastle United at Elland Road. (AFP)
Updated 10 sec ago

Newcastle United beat Leeds for second win of Premier League season

Newcastle United's English midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Leeds United and Newcastle United at Elland Road. (AFP)

LEEDS, England: Newcastle United secured their second win of the Premier League season on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Leeds United at Elland Road.

Jonjo Shelvey scored the only goal of the game with 15 minutes of the match left.

The result sees the Public Investment Fund-backed Magpies jump up to third from bottom in the table, one point behind relegation rivals Norwich City and a point from safety.

More to follow...


Medvedev wins over Aussie crowd in win over Dutch opponent

Medvedev wins over Aussie crowd in win over Dutch opponent
Updated 22 January 2022

Medvedev wins over Aussie crowd in win over Dutch opponent

Medvedev wins over Aussie crowd in win over Dutch opponent
  • Medvedev reached 4th round for the fourth straight year at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Botic van de Zandschulp
  • The 25-year-old Russian was a conspicuous fan favorite on Margaret Court Arena

MELBOURNE, Australia: As Daniil Medvedev sat courtside trying to re-hydrate during a changeover, an image of nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic flashed up in the stadium behind him.
It was in the third set Saturday, and it was like the absent No. 1 was looking over the shoulder of the player who is effectively the No. 1 seed at the year's first Grand Slam tournament.
Medvedev, who lost last year's Australian Open final to Djokovic but avenged that with a victory over the Serb for the U.S. Open title, reached the fourth round for the fourth straight year at Melbourne Park with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Botic van de Zandschulp.
The 25-year-old Russian was a conspicuous fan favorite on Margaret Court Arena, too, two days after being unsettled by the boos and jeers of a parochial crowd on Rod Laver Arena when he ended the run of mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios.
He was critical of a lack of respect in that match — mostly about the noise between first and second serves — and this time offered some relationship advice to the crowd.
“Every good relationship must have its ups and downs," he said in his on-court TV interview, explaining that he planned to be back on court quite often. "I hope it’s going to be more good times than bad times, otherwise it doesn’t work.”
Medvedev later clarified that he didn't have a problem with the Australian crowds and had been fully expecting to have them against him when he played Kyrgios — just not while he was in his service motion.
“The other night I was playing against an Australian player, very electric Australian player,” he said. “After the match, I think it was, yeah, straightaway pretty actually fun for everybody. That's how I felt.” Medvedev avoided a showdown with Djokovic after the world's top-ranked player was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to meet Australia's strict COVID-19 vaccination criteria.
He also avoided another match against an Australian in the fourth round when wildcard entry Chris O'Connell lost to Maxime Cressy 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-2.
Cressy's win means there's two 24-year-old Americans who'll be in the fourth round of a major for their first time.
No. 70-ranked Cressy is in his fourth Grand Slam tournament. No. 20-ranked Taylor Fritz finally made it in his 22nd attempt, with a 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut, and said it “means a ton.”
“I was almost close to like tearing up a bit,” Fritz said. “It seems stupid, because so many people have made the second week of Slams but it’s just, like, eluded me for so long.
“I never doubted it would happen, but I definitely was getting sick of playing, you know, Top 4 player for the opportunity every time."
Fritz next plays French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, who fended off Benoit Paire 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-4.
No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime progressed with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 24 Dan Evans, winning 14 of the last 16 games, and will next face 33-year-old Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion and a runner-up in Australia in 2018.
Cilic upset fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 just before midnight in the last singles match completed on Day 6.
On the women's side, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep is into Week 2 at Melbourne Park for the fifth consecutive year after a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Danka Kovinic.
She'll be joined by second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who advanced 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 over No. 31 Marketa Vondrousova.
A contender for the No. 1 ranking — Sabalenka can potentially overtake Ash Barty depending on results here — the 23-year-old from Belarus admits her serve is still a work in progress.
The match started ominously, when Sabalenka had two double-faults and was broken in the first game.
But unlike the previous round, when she had nine double-faults in her first two service games and 19 in the match, Sabalenka managed to almost halve that glaring statistic.
“I’m really happy right now," Sabalenka said, laughing, in her on-court TV interview. “Mostly I’m happy I made only 10 double-faults.”
She'll work on that ahead of her showdown against No. 115-ranked Kaia Kanepi, who has reached the quarterfinals six times at Grand Slam events — but only once since 2013 and never in Australia.
In other third-round matches, 27th-seeded Danielle Collins of the U.S. rallied from a set and a break down to beat 19-year-old Clara Tauson 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. She'll next meet No. 19 Elise Mertens, who advanced 6-2, 6-2 over Zhang Shuai.
No. 7 Iga Swaitek beat No. 25 Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-3. The 2020 French Open champion will next play Sorana Cirstea, who had a 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 win over 10th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who reached the French Open final last year and has been an Australian Open quarterfinalist in three of the last six years.
None of the other players remaining the women’s draw has won as many tour-level titles as Halep’s 23.
Halep’s next opponent will be Alize Cornet, who is playing in her 60th consecutive major and celebrated her 32nd birthday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over 2021 French Open semifinalist Tamara Zidansek.
Cornet followed up her upset of No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza by reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time since 2009.


Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action

Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action
Updated 22 January 2022

Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action

Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action
  • Leonardo Jardim under pressure as Asian and Saudi champions draw with Al-Batin, while Al-Shabab can’t afford any more dropped points

Every round of games is crucial now in the Saudi Professional League and here are five things Arab News learned from the latest action.

Attackers get the headlines but defence is driving Al-Nassr’s challenge

Al-Nassr’s 1-0 win over Al-Taawoun was their sixth victory in a row and moves the team into second above Al-Shabab. The arrival of Miguel Angel Rosso as new coach has taken the team to a new level, or at least got them playing at the level they should have been at already. What the Argentine has done also is made the eight-time champions hard to beat.

After the 4-0 win over Faisaly, this was a tougher test against another relegation battler. Al-Taawoun caused problems and it was difficult for Talisca and Pity Martinez to get their creative juices flowing. When you have a defence as increasingly solid as Al-Nassr’s, however, the forwards can afford to have the occasional off day. Ramiro Mori and Abdulelah Al-Amri are developing a fine partnership in the middle of the backline.

Al-Nassr have not conceded a goal in 393 minutes of league football and that is laying the foundations for this winning streak. Now Rosso’s team is the one that leaders Al-Ittihad will be most worried about.

Forget Hamdallah, Romarinho is making the difference

The game itself was not one that will live long in the memory but the last few minutes will as Al-Ittihad defeated Al-Faisaly 1-0. It was an eighth successive win that increased their lead at the top to six points with a game in hand.

This was heading for a 0-0 draw when a corner fell to Romarinho at the far post with two minutes of regulation time remaining. The Brazilian was unmarked and had time to control the ball but surely he was also thinking what scoring would mean in the title race. He kept his nerve to fire into the roof of the net for what he said is one of his most vital goals in the yellow and black.

“This goal has a special feeling and it came thanks to the support of the fans,” said Romarinho. “We expected a tough game and that is what happened. Al-Faisaly are a well-organised team.”

It was not just a crucial goal that could have a major say in where the title ends up this season but it was the eighth in eight games for Romarinho.

There has been much said and written about the big signing of Abderrazak Hamdallah at the start of this month -and rightly so as the Moroccan marksman is a goal machine – but it is the Brazilian who has been banging them in.

Time is ticking for Jardim at Al-Hilal

It was just two months ago that Leonardo Jardim was lifting the AFC Champions League trophy in Riyadh after leading Al-Hilal to a record fourth continental title, but that felt a long time ago on Friday following a 1-1 draw at relegation strugglers Al-Batin.

Al-Hilal’s league form suffered following that Asian win, with just two points coming from the following four games and that has put Jardim under pressure. Nine points from the next three games suggested that a corner had been turned, even if the points came against struggling teams.

But with Al-Ittihad winning six in a row, Al-Hilal’s trio of wins did not dent the deficit and now they find themselves 10 points behind the leaders. It is going to take something special for the defending champions to catch up. At the moment, the champs don’t seem to have it and are less than the sum of their talented parts,

Next comes the FIFA Club World Cup. There are not going to be any coaching changes before then but Jardim can’t afford too many more missteps.

Relegation teams are tough nuts to crack

You have to feel a little sorry for Al-Faisaly. The King’s Cup winners have picked up just two points from the last seven games and it is no surprise that they are in danger of the drop, one place off the bottom.

Yet Al-Faisaly are a decent team and deserved a point from their trip to Jeddah to take on the leaders. In the last four games they have met Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal. That is a punishing schedule. It is not a surprise that they collected just a point though deserved a little more.

Those at the top know that there are no easy games and no easy points. Al-Taawoun gave Al-Nassr a real test and were left feeling that they should have come away from that clash with a point and Al-Batin did get a point against Saudi Arabian and Asian champions Al-Hilal.

Al-Shabab can’t afford to keep dropping points

On the first day of 2022 Al-Shabab were just a point off the top but Thursday’s 1-1 draw at home to Al-Fateh was the third in succession for last season’s runners-up. Those six dropped points are a problem when Al-Ittihad, the team in first place, keep winning.

There were complaints about the refereeing again but, while it is easy for the title-chasers to blame the officials, there was a simpler explanation for the result.

Al-Shabab had the chances to put the game to bed before Al-Fateh’s late, lovely, curling equaliser. They missed the suspended Ever Banega, however. The Argentine’s craft and guile makes a difference, creates space and upsets defences. At least Odion Ighalo returned to the scoresheet. If the Nigerian, who broke the deadlock with a shot from outside the area, can provide a cutting edge then Al-Shabab have a chance, but after dropping six points it is now a slim one.


Saudi Arabia’s second Spartan Race tests competitors in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s second Spartan Race tests competitors in Riyadh
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi Arabia’s second Spartan Race tests competitors in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s second Spartan Race tests competitors in Riyadh
  • Challenge lasted eight hours and was run across 10 kilometers with 25 obstacles

The second Spartan Race, a fitness challenge organized by the Saudi Sports for All Federation, took place on Friday at Dirab Park in Riyadh.

The race lasted eight hours, starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. across 10 km and 25 different obstacles, ranging from mud, water, fire and barbed wire.

 

 

Competitors from all backgrounds took part, heeding SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal’s call “to test their limits.”

“I did very much enjoy it, this is my sixth time participating in a Spartan Race, and my first race in Saudi,” said Rayan Al-Ghanim, head of South Area Petrophysics at Saudi Aramco. “I have to say that the organization was excellent and my overall experience keeps getting better each time.”

“Most memorable obstacle was the rope climb, I didn’t manage to do it the last time around but I was successful in this one; the key trick was to use my feet as well in the climb, trying to wrap the rope in tight around it,” he said. “Can’t wait for the next Spartan.”

There was also a Spartan Sprint race on a 5 km track, with 20 obstacles, the first for women and men, the second only for women, in addition to three races for children.

Inspired by the warrior culture of ancient Sparta and featuring dozens of obstacles designed to test strength, stamina, endurance and perseverance, Spartan Races have become popular across the world since launching in 2010, with more than 2,500 annual events hosted across 42 countries to date.

Saudi Arabia’s first Spartan Race took place in the mountains of Al-Soudah during the Asir Season in 2019, drawing more than 1,500 competitors and spectators.


Eddie Howe lauds Marcelo Bielsa as Newcastle seek second win of season at Leeds

Eddie Howe lauds Marcelo Bielsa as Newcastle seek second win of season at Leeds
Updated 22 January 2022

Eddie Howe lauds Marcelo Bielsa as Newcastle seek second win of season at Leeds

Eddie Howe lauds Marcelo Bielsa as Newcastle seek second win of season at Leeds
  • Magpies will head to Saudi Arabia after the match for a warm-weather training camp and are set to take on Al-Ittihad in Jeddah on Friday

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has described opposite number Marcelo Bielsa as one of the “best managers in world football.”

The Magpies head to Leeds United’s Elland Road looking to secure only their second win of the Premier League season — and Howe says that his side will not experience another challenge like that of facing Bielsa & Co. in their quest to secure safety.

“He is one of the best managers in world football,” Howe said of the Argentine. “He has an idea, and it is not the norm. And I think anyone who has those strong beliefs and does things differently has my full respect. He has been successful and taken his ideas to a lot of clubs.”

“As a student of the game I have seen a lot of his work. I like his ideas. A lot of respect for him.”

The Whites are often criticized for their cavalier approach, with goals at both ends the norm for Bielsa’s men.

Howe doesn’t quite see it that way, though.

“I don’t think they are completely gung-ho. I think there is a lot to admire about Leeds’ out of possession work. It is really intriguing,” he said.

“They play with a really high intensity and we have to match that. With the ball they have their set patterns, which are very effective.

“This is a very unique game, there is no other game in the Premier League like Leeds’ — and we have to be ready for it.”

All the talk in the build-up to the game has been in relation to transfers, with frustration building that early-window progress has not been followed up with yet more positive business.

United signed Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood in the opening fortnight of the window but have done nothing for the past nine days.

And while Howe is frustrated himself, he still thinks it is more about getting the right players in, not just any players, even with the Magpies’ plight so desperate.

“Positivity, leadership, a winning mentality. You have to try to bring those characters into the group. Because I think if you don’t, the dynamics of the group can change for the negative,” said Howe on transfers.

“New players don’t guarantee improvement. They have to be the right players. And the two we’ve brought so far have done that. “They’ve brought a positive energy.”

And what about those currently in the squad?

“I encourage them not to look at it,” he said of the constant transfer talk. “But if they do see it, they should not take it as a slight. We are wanting to bring players in to improve for the benefit of everyone.”

“The most important people at this football club are the players we do have.”

Meanwhile, the Magpies are set to take on Al-Ittihad on Friday as part of their warm-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia.

The game is reportedly set to take place at the Prince Abdullah Faisal stadium, Jeddah.