Day-night cricket fails to provide respite for England’s beleaguered captain in Australia

Day-night cricket fails to provide respite for England’s beleaguered captain in Australia
There are signs that the pressure is beginning to tell on England’s captain Joe Root. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2021

Day-night cricket fails to provide respite for England’s beleaguered captain in Australia

Day-night cricket fails to provide respite for England’s beleaguered captain in Australia
  • Public rebuke of bowlers by Joe Root was unusual, unlikely to sit well with players

Last week, I left a question hanging as to why anyone would want to captain a cricket team? This was in the context of the complexity and demands of the job, irrespective of the standard of cricket being played.

At international level, the spotlight is permanently focused on the captain by the media and followers of the game.

After the recent conclusion of the second Test match between Australia and England, it was not difficult to know which of the two captains would be able to answer the question positively.

As discussed in earlier columns, the captain of Australia in this match was a previous captain who had been banned from the role for his involvement in a ball-tampering transgression in 2018. His reintegration into the leadership team, as vice captain, had been achieved for the first match of this Ashes series, when his successor as captain in 2018 stood down following his own self-inflicted transgression.

Then, the new captain for the first match tested positive for COVID-19, after dining out. Consequently, he had to isolate and stand down from the second match, paving the way for the vice captain and former captain to assume full leadership, three years and nine months after being removed.

It would be hard not to imagine his feeling of elation when a comprehensive victory over England was sealed in the final session of the final and fifth day of the match, despite some belated defiance from England’s lower order. The rewards of captaincy would have been clear.

In the England camp, there were very opposite feelings. Its captain Joe Root was the brunt of more criticism and, in turn, he redirected some blame onto his bowlers for “not bowling the right lengths” in the conditions. Public rebuke of this nature is unusual and is unlikely to sit well with the bowlers. It also hints at tensions within the camp. These appear to be being addressed by a round of frank discussions.

A former Australian captain said: “If you can’t influence your bowlers on what length to bowl, what are you doing on the field?” Australian cricketers, past and present, are never slow to play up the weaknesses and travails of their English counterparts. There is a surfeit of current material. The decision of England’s captain to bat first in difficult conditions in the first Test, coupled with selection that was considered to be flawed by many observers, set the tone for the series. It will take a significant upturn in performance for England to achieve parity with Australia.

Criticism of England’s bowlers by Root and a statement from the coach standing by the original team selections, hint at a siege mentality. It may also reflect deep disappointment with the way that the match conditions at Adelaide did not work in favor of England. The match was a day-night one played with a pink ball.

The first day-night match was played between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide in late November 2015. Since then, a further 15 have been played, with Australia hosting and winning eight. The Australian authorities are keen on the format because long, warm nights by the coast are suited for attracting spectators to an evening of cricket.

At the outset, there was an issue with what type of ball was most suitable. The white ball, used in limited-over cricket of 20 and 50 overs duration, would deteriorate too much before a new one was due after 80 overs, whilst it would be difficult to pick it out against white clothing. The visibility of the traditional red ball was not good enough under lights. The search for a ball color, which would provide acceptable levels of visibility and durability, involved experiments with orange and yellow before pink was decided upon.

Even so, there were reservations, especially from Indian players and authorities. These focused on the visibility of the ball under lights against bowlers of extreme pace, the extra layer of lacquer which may enable the ball to swing in the air more than a red ball and, in certain locations, evening dew might make the gripping of the ball more difficult, especially for spinners.

There have been aberrations in performance in several of the matches. India, for example, were bowled out for 36 by Australia. Noticeably, none of the men’s day-night Tests have ended in a draw and the conditions are more of a challenge to batters.

Thus, there were high hopes for England in Adelaide. Australia’s captain and quickest bowler was missing, courtesy of COVID-19, another quick bowler was missing through injury, two of the quick bowlers who were playing were nursing side strains and another, with only two Tests to his name, was returning after three years of shoulder rehabilitation. On the English side, both experienced seam bowlers, omitted for the first Test, were picked for conditions deemed to be favorable to them.

In the event, Australia’s batting lineup proved more than up to the task. This was not the case for England’s fragile lineup. Root is one of the finest of his generation but even he cannot paper over all of the cracks. There are signs that the pressure is beginning to tell on him. The third Test begins at Melbourne on Dec. 26 and, unless England’s batsmen can improve, the prospect of a 5-0 series defeat that seemed improbable three weeks ago looms large.

Until 2000, only one Ashes series, in 1920-21, had ended 5-0. This was to Australia on home soil. In the last 21 years in Australia, the home team has won two series 5-0 and one 4-0, with England’s only series triumph in 2010-11. This time, Australia has turned itself around from having a captaincy crisis, a dearth of Test-match cricket, and doubts over the form of its core batting, to being in almost total control of the series. The crisis has been transferred to England. Its captain may be asking, why me?

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge
Updated 27 January 2022

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge

Aston Villa add Arsenal’s Chambers to January splurge
  • The 27-year-old joins Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, Robin Olsen and Kerr Smith at Villa Park
  • Chambers made 122 appearances for Arsenal after joining from Southampton in 2014

LONDON: Aston Villa signed versatile defender Calum Chambers from Arsenal on Thursday to take their tally of new recruits this month to five.
The 27-year-old, who can play in both central defense and at right-back, joins Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, Robin Olsen and Kerr Smith at Villa Park as manager Steven Gerrard reshapes his squad.
Chambers has signed a three-and-a-half year contract after an undisclosed fee was agreed between the clubs.
He made 122 appearances for Arsenal after joining from Southampton in 2014, also spending time on loan at Middlesbrough and Fulham.
However, he has struggled for game time this season following the arrivals of Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu, making just five appearances, only two of which came in the Premier League.
“It’s a very exciting place to be and everyone can see that from the outside. Things are happening here and it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” said Chambers.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to join a great club. It was the right thing for me to do.”
Villa have moved up to 11th in the Premier League table since the arrival of Gerrard, who has won five of his 11 games in charge.

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 23 min 37 sec ago

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix

Meet the drivers who will battle for glory at the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix
  • 22 drivers from 11 teams will fight for the win at the launch of Formula E season 8 in Riyadh

RIYADH: The all-electric championship is back. The Diriyah E-Prix returns in the historic desert surroundings of the UNESCO World Heritage site for its season-opening double-header on Jan. 28-29.

Twenty-two of the best drivers in the world will race for eleven teams and only one trophy in season eight of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

Here are the heroes behind the helmets:

Mercedes EQ

Reigning team world champions Mercedes-EQ return for their final season in Formula E with another stellar lineup, bringing back season seven champion Nyck de Vries and Belgian star Stoffel Vandoorne.

The flying Dutchman De Vries qualified on pole for the first race of last season’s opening Diriyah E-Prix, leading every lap thereafter en route to his first-ever victory in the series.

His second victory came soon after, in Valencia. De Vries ended the campaign with two wins, four podiums and 99 points, becoming the first official FIA Formula E World Champion, following the series’ long-awaited FIA sanctioning. Vandoorne heads into his fourth season on the circuit, having finished ninth in last season’s championship with victory in the Berlin finale, three poles and three podiums to his name.

Jaguar TCS Racing

Jaguar race into season eight off the back of their best year yet, and led by a duo of strong, proven race winners: Kiwi Mitch Evans, and Britain’s Sam Bird. With two wins and 10 podiums last season, Evans returns as a serious challenger in 2022. A race winner in every season of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship to date, Bird bagged first place in both Diriyah and New York last year.

Avalanche Andretti Formula E

It’s a new look for the Andretti team in 2021, as Avalanche replaces BMWi as title partner. On the driving side, Jake Dennis returns alongside the rookie US driver Oliver Askew.

Dennis had a spectacular start to his Formula E career last year, becoming the most successful rookie in championship history, in terms of podium visits, with victories in Valencia and London.

Dragon / Penske Autosport

Dragon showed real signs of improvement last season, and have now added the Italian Antonio Giovinazzi from Formula 1’s Alfa Romeo. He joins forces with teammate Sergio Sette Camara, who had his best drive in Diriyah last year — finishing fourth in the opening race.

TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team

The German team return to battle in season eight with Andre Lotterer once again alongside Pascal Wehrlein. Both Wehrlein and Lotterer — the latter a three-time Le Mans winner and five-year Formula E veteran — scored consistently through a strong second half of the season last year.

Mahindra Racing

A stunning victory in London on home soil for driver Alex Lynn was the highlight, but he departed at the end of the season. Fellow Brit Oliver Rowland replaces him, racing alongside another British driver, Alexander Sims, for 2021-22.

Sims has a race win and podiums to his name in Formula E, and Rowland joins the team having made the move from Nissan e.dams.

Nissan e.dams

Nissan e.dams are heading into season eight with one of the most promising talents on the grid, Maximilian Guenther, who proved himself with a win in New York last year. He joins one of the most experienced drivers on the grid in 2015-16 champion, Sebastian Buemi, a multiple winner at Le Mans and in sportscar racing.

Envision Racing

Envision kick off season eight with a striking new green design for their cars, while retaining their driver pairing of Nick Cassidy and Robin Frijns.

After returning to Formula E in 2018-19, Frijns is now embarking on his fourth season with Envision, while Japanese Super Formula and Super GT champion Cassidy joined the Envision team last year and recorded two podium finishes in Mexico and New York.

NIO 333 Racing

NIO 333 retain veteran Oliver Turvey, who joined them just before the 2014-15 season finale in London, and add rookie Dan Ticktum for season eight.

Ticktum was a successful Formula 2 racer, winning his home event at Silverstone in his rookie season, and securing three further podiums.

ROKiT Venturi Racing

After three podium finishes, including two wins, last year, the 2016-17 champion Lucas di Grassi, who spent seven years with Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, has joined Venturi. Edoardo Mortara finished second in the standings last year — his fourth campaign with Venturi, narrowly missing out to Nyck De Vries in dramatic fashion in the finale in Berlin.


DS TECHEETAH had their streak of back-to-back teams and drivers’ championships halted last season when they finished third by just a single point.

Jean-Eric Vergne and Antonio Felix da Costa return and could arguably be regarded as the strongest pairing on the grid. Both are past title winners — Vergne twice — with seven seasons of Formula E experience to their names.

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

After their victory over Oman, a win against Japan at Saitama Stadium will now take Saudi Arabia to Qatar 2022. (Reuters)
After their victory over Oman, a win against Japan at Saitama Stadium will now take Saudi Arabia to Qatar 2022. (Reuters)
Updated 27 January 2022

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

After their victory over Oman, a win against Japan at Saitama Stadium will now take Saudi Arabia to Qatar 2022. (Reuters)
  • The 1-0 win victory means Green Falcons top Group B on 19 points, with only 3 matches left

JEDDAH: 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 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.