India big winners as cricket keeps show on road during COVID-19 disruptions

India big winners as cricket keeps show on road during COVID-19 disruptions
An increasing proportion of at least 70 percent of Board of Control for Cricket in India revenues derive from the Indian Premier League. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

India big winners as cricket keeps show on road during COVID-19 disruptions

India big winners as cricket keeps show on road during COVID-19 disruptions
  • As other countries suffered financially because of virus pandemic, Board of Control for Cricket in India prospered mainly due to success of IPL

It is fast approaching two years since the coronavirus pandemic invaded and interrupted our lives. The impacts on professional cricket, with its dependency on long game times and international tournaments, have been obvious — tournaments cancelled, disrupted, or switched to different locations, positive testing of players, reduced attendances, restricted travel, cuts in revenues for organizers, bio-bubbles for players, and attendant mental health issues.

Has cricket dealt well with these impacts?

After the initial shock and lockdowns, administrators responded to the COVID-19 challenges — and the varying policies adopted by national governments — with what seems to have been a strategy that “the show must go on.”

There will be those who argue that they had little alternative. Failure to play the game at professional levels would lead to a loss of broadcasting revenues that would threaten the game’s existence at those levels.

This was certainly the strategy followed by the England and Wales Cricket Board. An early casualty of the pandemic was the ECB’s new tournament, The Hundred, due to launch in 2020 but delayed until 2021, and set to continue this year.

The ECB’s accounts for the year ending Jan. 31, 2021, reported a loss of $22.6 million (£16.7 million), compared with a profit of $9.1 million in the previous year. Overall income fell by 10 percent, but administrative costs rose by 16 percent. These were influenced by the setting up of bio-secure bubbles which allowed international cricket to proceed in summer 2020, with visits from the West Indies, Pakistan, Ireland, and Australia.

The willingness of these teams to participate came with some expectation of reciprocal behavior. This was particularly the case with Pakistan, whose authorities were enraged with the ECB’s late decision to withdraw both men’s and women’s teams from short visits scheduled for October last year.

Australia’s hardball approach to insisting that the current Ashes series must go ahead may have had less to do with feelings of reciprocity than with the desperate desire to ensure that broadcasting and spectator income streams, estimated to be in the region of $143 million (200 million Australian dollars), were realized. Whilst Australia may be grateful to England, the stance taken toward Pakistan may have lingering medium-term negative effects.

It is ironic that, while other countries have suffered financially because of the pandemic, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has experienced an enhancement to its already plentiful finances. An increasing proportion of at least 70 percent of BCCI revenues derive from the Indian Premier League. The addition of two more franchises in 2022 will exacerbate the trend.

In both 2020 and 2021, all, or part of, the IPL was transferred, somewhat reluctantly, by the BCCI to the UAE. This had the effect of reducing both costs and revenues. Smaller crowds generated less income, which fell by 21 percent in the year to March 31, 2021. However, only three venues, in close proximity, were involved, compared with at least eight in India. Expenditure fell by 63 percent, leading to a hefty increase in surplus of funds and a 10 percent rise in net worth. In addition, viewership figures increased by one quarter in 2020, as that was the only way that India-based fans could watch the matches.

No doubt, fans and the BCCI will hope that switching the IPL to the UAE will not be a long-term feature. The venues and administrative bodies in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah benefitted not only from the IPL but, along with Oman, they hosted the T20 World Cup between mid-October and mid-November last year when it became clear that the original host nation, India, was badly affected by COVID-19.

It will never be known if the switch had an adverse effect on the performance of the Indian team, shorn of its fanatical support, thus paving the way for an alternative tournament winner. What is also not known at this stage, is whether the switch to the UAE has led to an upturn in support and interest in cricket in the region.

If so, it would match with the International Cricket Council’s recently released Strategy for Global Growth, which has central aims of protect, grow, and strengthen.

Unfortunately, in a number of emerging countries, tournaments have been cancelled at short notice and ICC one-day international World Cup qualifying events for both men’s and women’s cricket have been disrupted.

One example of the adverse effects of this applies to the Thailand women’s national team. It had earned the right to participate in the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe between Nov. 21 and Dec. 5, 2021. Nine teams competed for three places to join five already qualified to play in the finals in New Zealand in March 2022. Thailand was topping its group when the tournament was abandoned because of the outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Rescheduling was not possible, and the ICC announced that the three teams to progress would be Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the West Indies, based on a rankings system which excluded Thailand because it had not been granted ODI status. It also meant that Thailand missed the opportunity to join the ICC Women’s Championship, which would have guaranteed them nine series and extra funding.

The decision does beg the question as to how Thailand and others can achieve a status that befits playing performance. Doubt has been cast over the integrity of the ICC’s desire to expand female participation.

Issues of mental health in cricket have received little attention until recent years but have accelerated as the effects of bio-bubbles on players and staff have become apparent and openly discussed. The longer-term effects are unknown, although they are likely to have influenced the decision of some players to retire earlier than expected.

Nevertheless, the show has been kept on the road and the big-ticket events have all been able to generate their returns on investment. Indian dominance and short-format cricket continue their inexorable marches. It is the sideshows of emerging cricket and their aspirations that have suffered the brunt of cancellation and abandonment the most, as Thailand, the US, and Ireland can attest in recent weeks.


Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format
Updated 50 sec ago

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format
  • The eighth season of the all-electric championship begins this weekend with a double-header of night races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday

DIRIYAH: Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis said he looks forward to the possibility of facing his long-time friend, Mahindra driver Oliver Rowland, in a head-to-head battle under Formula E’s new “dueling qualifier” format.

Dennis said he and Rowland have been friends for 15 years and recalled his fond memories of the pair coming up in the sport together, as he told Arab News he would love to take him on in the championship’s new knockout qualifying format.

“I’d like to go against Oliver Rowland,” he said. “He’s a fellow Brit and a good friend of mine and we never went head-to-head in qualifying. I’d pick Ollie — it would be quite cool to see that.”

The championship’s eighth season gets underway this weekend with a double-header of night races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday. This year the all-electric series has introduced a new qualifying format that uses a knockout system to determine who takes pole position.

In the first round of qualification the drivers are split into two groups of 11, and each driver can make multiple attempts at a fast lap within a 10-minute session. The four fastest in each group progress to head-to-head duels in a knockout format featuring quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final, the winner of which secures pole-position. The other grid positions will be based on the results of the head-to-head duels or lap times depending on what stage of qualifying the drivers managed to reach.

“The competition was tough last year; I think Formula E is just becoming more challenging in terms of difficulty and I think it’s just going to be even tighter this year,” Dennis said.

Last year, he proved himself to be a title-contender during a stunning rookie season in which he took third place in the ABB FIA Formula E 2020-21 Driver’s Championship, after a DNF (did not finish) in the season finale Berlin left Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries to claim victory in the overall championship.

“I think people’s expectations of me are definitely different this year,” said Dennis. “People see me as a proper title contender going into the new season. There’s always that added pressure but I’m looking forward to it.”

Considered the most successful rookie the championship has yet seen, Dennis now has his sights set on becoming the first British driver to win it. His confidence is evident, after his successes last season when he clinched his first win in Valencia then another in London. No rookie, other than drivers in Formula E’s first season, has won more races than the 26-year-old managed, and nobody led more laps than he did last season. This season he aims to achieve even more.

“I’m coming in this year with a lot more experience,” he said. “I think I’m a faster driver than what I was last year and that’s what it ultimately comes down to. It’s been a really busy winter for us and we ended up pretty competitive in Valencia (during pre-season testing).

Avalanche, known for being an eco-friendly blockchain company, took over from BMW last October to sponsor Andretti in what both parties hope will be a long partnership committed to sustainability.

Dennis said minor difficulties presented themselves in the beginning, as dealing with new team members can be challenging, but he feels the team are now prepared for the season ahead.

“Working with Andretti feels like a big family environment and I’ve got a new teammate this year as well, Oliver (Askew), and we’re going to do the best job we can for the team.”


‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne

‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne
Updated 29 min 54 sec ago

‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne

‘A fairer chance to fight at the front:’ Stoffel Vandoorne
  • The Diriyah E-Prix gets underway on Friday with fans returning to the UNESCO World Heritage site for the first time since the pandemic

DIRIYAH: Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne seeks to redeem himself in Diriyah this weekend after the title eluded him last season, and the opportunity may take for the Mercedes-EQ driver in what he called a “fairer chance to fight at the front” under the championship’s new qualifying format.

The Diriyah E-Prix gets underway on Friday with fans returning to the UNESCO World Heritage site for the first time since the pandemic. The double-header race weekend kicks off the eighth season of the all-electric racing championship, with reigning team world champions Mercedes-EQ stepping into their final season in Formula E.

Vandoorne, who is embarking on his fourth campaign with Mercedes-EQ, is heading into this weekend having finished ninth in last season’s championship with a victory in the Berlin finale, three poles and three podiums to his name. 

“Last year was a very close season between a lot of the competitors, I remember getting into the final race with 17 drivers still able to win the championship,” Vandoorne told Arab News. “Maybe I didn’t have luck on my side, but with the changes to qualifying we’ll have fairer chance to fight at the front.” 

For this season, the championship introduced a new qualifying method that uses a knockout format to determine who will take pole position for the race.

The format changes feature a first round of two 11-driver groups, each driver able to make multiple attempts at fastest laps within their allocated time in a 10-minute session. The top four fastest-lap drivers in each group will progress into head-to-head duels on a knockout basis in quarter-finals and semifinals. Pole-position will be decided in a final head-to-head duel.

“I think this will equalize the field a little bit more and qualifying now won’t be decided purely on track evolution,” he said. “It’s still going to be hard but I think the way the system is right now should be a lot fairer and I think we’ll generally see more of the same faces at the front, rather than having some sort of mixed-up grid — or when if you found yourself in group one last year, you basically had no chance to be in the top 15.

“I think it will change in a good way, but it’s so competitive that we’ll still see some some crazy weekends or some unexpected things that will happen,” Vandoorne said.

Vandoorne’s teammate, 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 victory in the series, ending 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.

“Obviously you know me and Nick have some good competition and we always want to be better than the other every time we get to get out on track,” the Belgian driver said. “So far it’s been a very healthy relationship, we get on really well and we do it in a constructive way. It’s been a good collaboration. And, you know, for sure, once we get out on track, we always want to want outdo one another and that’s no different this year.”

The Diriyah E-Prix Season 7 opener hosted the first all-electric night race as part of the 2020-21 calendar. The spectacular double-header in the dark used renewable lights with the latest low-consumption LED technology, which reduced energy consumption by up to 50 percent compared to non-LED technologies, which all fits into the racing ethos of sustainability the championship embodies.


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 28 January 2022

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

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.