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 conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad

Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad
Updated 39 sec ago

Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad

Newcastle conclude Jeddah training camp with victory over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad
  • The Magpies ran out 2-1 victors in a shortened, 70-minute friendly that both teams finished with only 10 men after a double red card
  • United manager Eddie Howe said: ‘It was a good work out. The standard of the game was good. The standard of the opposition was good, too’



JEDDAH: Ten-man Newcastle United ran out 2-1 winners over Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad on Friday in a friendly match in Jeddah that was marred by two red cards.

The Magpies’ Ciaran Clark and Al-Ittihad’s Abderazak Hamdallah were given their marching orders in the second-half for an altercation in which the home player appeared to kick out at the Ireland international, who retaliated.

There were no lingering hard feelings, however, and the pair were pictured swapping shirts and pleasantries after the game at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium, which marked the conclusion of United’s six-day training camp in the Kingdom.

Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser netted for the Magpies, one in each half, bookending an equalizer just before the break by Hamdallah.

“It was a good work out,” said Newcastle manager Eddie Howe. “The standard of the game was good. The standard of the opposition was good, too.

“It was a good test for us and I think when you play a game like this, that’s what you want. We were set certain challenges when the game went to 10 players each and we’re pleased we came through.”

In a game that the sides had agreed to shorten to 70 minutes, United took the lead after only nine minutes when a weaving, jinking run from Frenchman Saint-Maximin ended with the forward smashing home from inside the area.

The goal was canceled out on 33 minutes when Morocco international Hamdallah beat the offside trap before finishing expertly to put the ball past reserve keeper Karl Darlow, who was filling in for regular No.1 Martin Dubravka.

After the double red, Ryan Fraser finished a slick team move to clinch it for the Magpies with 13 minutes to go.

“Two very special goals,” said Howe. “Allan’s was typical Allan: Very special, trademark individual brilliance. Ryan’s goal was great to see, a good team goal and good finish."

Howe was less impressed by the handling of the red cards incident.

“I was surprised it was a red in a game like this,” he said. “The referee could have probably dealt with it differently — but by the book, it probably was the right decision.”

The Magpies fly home to England on Saturday. Their next Premier League game is on Tuesday, Feb. 8, when they will take on managerless Everton at St. James’ Park.


Eddie Howe’s Newcastle edging closer to signing Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes

Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 28 January 2022

Eddie Howe’s Newcastle edging closer to signing Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes

Lyon's Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes is close to signing for Newcastle United, according to reports. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Despite frustrations in efforts to get deals over the line, several other transfers, including Man United’s Jesse Lingard, could be completed in the coming days
  • Brighton’s Dan Burn is of interest and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah has also emerged as a potential target

JEDDAH: Eddie Howe has confirmed that Newcastle United are edging closer to signing a target believed to be Brazil international Bruno Guimaraes — and added that the transfer-hungry Magpies are not finished with the transfer window yet.
Speaking from the club’s Saudi base, the head coach did not mention the 24-year-old midfielder by name, but assured fans that United are on the verge of their third capture of winter trading.
It is widely expected Guimaraes will sign a long-term contract with English club this weekend, after Newcastle agreed a fee, said to be in the region of $44million, with French Ligue 1 side Lyon on Wednesday.
Howe saw his players beat Saudi Pro League leaders Al-Ittihad 2-1 in Jeddah on Friday evening. Goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser in either half won it for the Magpies, who were reduced to 10-men when Ciaran Clark saw red for an altercation with home goalscorer Abderrazak Hamdallah.
Before the match, Howe confirmed that good news about transfers is just around the corner.
“I can say nothing about individual players but we are hopeful we are close to completing a transfer for a player,” he said. “We will try and give you that update when we have it. Fingers crossed, we are close to getting one over the line.”
That player is understood to be Guimaraes. When asked if that is the case, Howe responded: “You can guess; there will be no confirmation from me. It would be foolish of me to do so. We are hopeful. We are closer to getting one more in to add to the two quality additions we have brought in so far.
“From my perspective, I don’t think that will be the end of our interest in bringing new players in. If that turns into reality, who knows? Things can change very late in this window, as everybody knows. It can be quite unpredictable, with things happening in the last few days that you maybe didn’t expect.”
In terms of other specific Newcastle targets during the remainder of the transfer window, which closes on Monday night, a center forward remains high on the agenda, as does a central defender.
Brighton’s Dan Burn is of interest, and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah has also emerged as a potential target. Arab News understands Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard is also pushing hard for a deal to be brokered with the Magpies that would allow him to see out the final months of his Old Trafford contract on Tyneside.
“We are open. We are working hard to improve the squad and give this squad the best possible chance of staying in the league,” said Howe. “That was our aim at the beginning of the window and it remains the same now.”
United have had their share of frustrations during this transfer window, with moves for Sven Botman and Diego Carlos aborted late on due to the unwillingness of Lille and Sevilla, respectively, to sell.
Howe admits things have often proved not to be straightforward but did not lay any blame at the doorstep of the Magpies’ transfer committee.
“We are in a lot better place if we can get this deal done,” he said. “The frustration I felt was only at the window, not anyone connected with the club. I see what everyone is doing behind the scenes, what everybody wants.
“This window has been difficult, regardless of our situation. It has been tough to actually get clear decisions — not from our side, from others — on what we can and can’t do and what they want to do. The work has been immense and we hope it bears fruit at the end of the window.”


Nyck de Vries starts season 8 of Formula E with victory under the lights in Diriyah

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
Updated 29 January 2022

Nyck de Vries starts season 8 of Formula E with victory under the lights in Diriyah

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries (C) has won the Formula E Season 8-opening Diriyah E-Prix for the second year running. (SPA)
  • The Dutchman defeated Mercedes team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to take advantage of his pole position

DIRIYAH: Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries won the Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix for a second year running ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to capitalize on his pole position under the floodlights in Riyadh.

De Vries, who missed almost all of the opening practice sessions because of a crash, managed to pull off a recovery that led to an impressive victory on Friday, ensuring a strong start to season eight for both him and Mercedes as they defend their championship titles.

“The result might be the same (as last year’s opener) but the way we achieved it was very different,” said de Vries. “I’m glad we were able to capitalize on our qualifying position; the way we managed to win this race and start the season strong, we worked really well as a team.”

An attack mode error by Vandoorne allowed de Vries to race to victory in Diriyah, as he failed to activate it correctly after leading the race from pole. After dropping behind his teammate, the Belgian driver was unable to close the gap, then took his second activation at the same time as de Vries on the following lap, effectively giving away the win to his counterpart.

“I messed up on my second activation; there’s only myself to blame for that,” said the runner-up. “I basically handed the position to Nyck. I’m a little bit disappointed with the way I handled the attack mode, and not handling the loop correctly, but it’s still a positive start to the season.”

Jake Dennis secured third place for Avalanche Andretti, after passing Andre Lotterer.

“Everything that I imagined happened, happened,” said Dennis. “We pulled away from the pack; it was generally a clean race.”

Lotterer dropped back several places, eventually finishing 13th, after Dennis passed him on turn 18 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the race. Five additional minutes were added due to the deployment of the safety car, meaning energy usage became critical.

In his first race with Venturi, Lucas di Grassi moved past Sam Bird on the straight to take fifth place. Rookies Dan Ticktum and former Alfa Romeo Formula One driver Antonio Giovinazzi had difficult debuts, with the former finishing 18th and the latter the last to take the checkered flag.

The safety car was deployed after Mahindra Racing’s Oliver Rowland made contact with Envision Racing driver Robin Frijns on turn 17, a collision that sent Rowland’s car into the wall. It earned Frijns a drive-through penalty, while Rowland was awarded a three-place grid drop from tomorrow’s second race in Diriyah.

Season 6 Diriyah ePrix winner Antonio da Felix Costa was forced to pit and retire after the first lap.


South Africa’s Justin Harding leads after day two of Dubai Desert Classic

Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
Updated 28 January 2022

South Africa’s Justin Harding leads after day two of Dubai Desert Classic

Justin Harding leads Dubai Desert Classic field by two shots at the end of second round. (Getty Images Europe)
  • Tyrell Hatton is two shots back as chasing pack eyes fresh charges

DUBAI: Overnight joint-leader Justin Harding claimed the outright lead on the second day of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic after a host of potential challengers failed to capitalize at Emirates Golf Club on Friday.

Starting the day seven under par following a grandstand opening round of 65 on Thursday, Harding carded a steady four-under-par round of 68, including a magnificent eagle on the par-four 15th hole, to reach the clubhouse with a two-shot cushion at 11 under par.

“I’ve played this golf course well over the years. I had a good final round a couple years back and was in contention last year and played badly on the Sunday. My game seems to be close. If I can control the putter and make some putts, (I’m) always going to be there or thereabouts, which is nice,” said Harding.

Leading the chase is Tyrell Hatton, who is aiming for a fifth career victory in Rolex Series events this week. The Englishman bogeyed the par-four first hole for the second day running before recovering with seven birdies en route to a six-under-par round of 66.

With Harding bidding to become only the third South African to lift the famous Dallah Trophy, compatriot Erik Van Rooyen, the world number 63, fired a 67 to finish Friday three strokes behind his fellow countryman. Van Rooyen threatened to finish even closer to Harding before a sole bogey on the iconic par-four eighth hole spoiled the 31-year-old’s otherwise blemish-free card.

“It’s what we play for — to be in contention, especially in these Rolex Series events. I can’t wait for Sunday,” said Van Rooyen, who sits at eight under par alongside Fabrizio Zanotti. The Paraguayan carded a two-under-par round of 70 following an impressive 66 on Thursday.

After his three-under-par opening round of 69, Richard Bland was on course to set the early morning pace before a late collapse saw the Englishman card a double-bogey and bogey on the final two holes. Posting a second round of 68, Bland — who become the oldest-ever first-time winner of a DP World Tour event when he clinched the British Masters at The Belfry in 2021 — is in a five-strong chasing pack at seven-under alongside two-time Dubai Desert Classic victor Rory McIlroy, world number five Viktor Hovland, Poland’s Adrian Meronk, and Denmark’s Joachim B. Hanson, who began the day as joint leader.

Following a two-under-par opening round, defending champion Paul Casey is poised to challenge at minus six after a second-round score of 68.

“I made some mistakes and I wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Casey said. “I tweaked my neck and I’m not physically right, but I’m not unhappy. I’m actually quite happy that I did a good job of managing and getting round.”

Casey’s compatriot Lee Westwood, twice a runner-up on the Majlis Course, posted a second consecutive round of 69 to join Casey and fellow countrymen Sam Horsfield, Richard Armitage and Tommy Fleetwood on six under par.

Other high-profile players who will complete this year’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic after making the halfway cut include world number 2 Collin Morikawa at three under par, and a raft of former Majlis Course conquerors, notably 2017 champion Sergio Garcia at three under par; 2018 champion Li Haotong at one under par; and 2012 winner Rafa Cabrera-Bello at one over par.

In a boost to home hopes, UAE-based amateur Josh Hill, 17, will see out all four rounds of his maiden Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic appearance after a two-over-par round of 74 left the young Englishman sitting at level par through 36 holes.

“It was a bit of a struggle to be honest. I didn’t play that well, so I’m proud of the way I dug in and kept positive,” said Hill. “Even though it was disappointing, there are lots of positives. I dug deep which I’m pretty happy with.”

Elsewhere, fans of all ages are making the most of free entry to the event, experiencing a wide range of food and entertainment offerings in a buzzing Tournament Town, which is open until 11 p.m. daily though to Sunday.

The Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will continue its commitment to breast cancer awareness on Pink Saturday, with players, caddies, officials and fans encouraged to wear something pink for the cause.

Held in partnership with Al Jalila Foundation, Pink Saturday will see Tournament Town run a ‘Best Dressed’ competition and on-the-spot prizes for spectators. In addition, visitors are encouraged to post images of a special flower display to their social media channels to further raise awareness.


Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton
Updated 28 January 2022

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton

Rooney says he turned down approach from former club Everton
  • Rooney said he was approached via his agent and thought long and hard before declining the opportunity at the Premier League club
  • “I believe I will be a Premier League manager," the former England and Manchester United striker said

DERBY, England: Wayne Rooney turned down the chance to interview for the manager’s position at former club Everton, saying Friday he wasn’t ready to leave his current job at second-tier Derby.
Rooney, who started his playing career at Everton and had a second spell at Goodison Park before retiring, said he was approached via his agent and thought long and hard before declining the opportunity at the Premier League club.
“I believe I will be a Premier League manager,” the former England and Manchester United striker said. “I believe I’m ready for that, 100 percent. And if that is with Everton one day in the future, that would be absolutely great.
“But I’ve got a job here that I’m doing at Derby County which is an important job to me.”
Everton are looking for a replacement for Rafa Benitez, who was fired this month as the team slides toward the relegation zone. Everton are in 16th place and just four points above the bottom three.
Rooney has been Derby’s manager since November 2020 — previously he’d been the team’s player-coach — and has received plaudits for the job he has done at the club amid its financial crisis.
Derby entered administration — a form of bankruptcy protection — in September and have been docked a total of 21 points this season because of their financial problems. They are in next-to-last place in the Championship, eight points from safety.
Rooney said last week he was “flattered” by the speculation linking him with the Everton job.
Frank Lampard, Rooney’s former England teammate, is among the favorites to fill the vacancy.