All-conquering IPL returns to capture attention of cricket world

All-conquering IPL returns to capture attention of cricket world
Now entering its 15th edition, the IPL is bigger than ever before, having increased its franchises from eight to 10 and sharpened its ability to generate money. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2022

All-conquering IPL returns to capture attention of cricket world

All-conquering IPL returns to capture attention of cricket world
  • 15th edition of IPL bigger than ever with franchises increased from 8 to 10, money-making ability sharpened

The bonanza that is the Indian Premier League is back in town or, rather, Mumbai and Pune. As highlighted last week, there is an unprecedented amount of professional international cricket taking place at present. Attention is likely to be deflected away from it once the first IPL match opens on March 26.

Now entering its 15th edition, the IPL is bigger than ever before, having increased its franchises from eight to 10 and sharpened its ability to generate money.

Under the format chosen for the 2022 tournament, 74 matches will be played, with the final scheduled for May 29. The 10 teams have been divided into two groups of five. In the group stage, each team will play 14 matches. That will be achieved by playing each team within the same group twice, four teams in the other group once, and a paired team in the other group twice.

The rather convoluted format is similar to one used in 2011, when the group placings were made through seedings rather than random selection. Nevertheless, the process has managed to pair five-time winners, Mumbai Indians, in Group A with four-time winners, Chennai Super Kings, in Group B. The two new teams, Lucknow Super Giants and Gujarat Titans have also been paired. Last year, 60 matches were played and, had the previous double round-robin format been retained, 90 matches would have been generated.

Even the IPL organizers seemed to have baulked at that number. As an outside observer, with no loyalty to any of the teams, I have found it difficult to keep interest in the tournament between its early stages and the finals. There are too many games in a short space of time, all being played in the same frenetic manner. It must be different for cricket-loving Indians who have team loyalty, although the opportunity for them to watch the matches in person is limited.

Both the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the franchisees wanted the 2022 tournament to be held in India, as opposed to 2020 and part of 2021, when it was switched to the UAE. As a compromise, they made the deliberate decision to restrict the venues to Mumbai and Pune, eliminating air travel between the 10 host cities and enabling road transport on the Mumbai-Pune axis.

However, it does mean that supporters in other cities will have limited or no opportunity to watch their teams perform live. Furthermore, with COVID-19 control in mind, Maharashtra state is permitting only a quarter of spectator capacity to be used in the four venues in Mumbai and Pune. It is the BCCI’s hope that it will be possible for crowd capacity to be raised as the tournament progresses. Under current permissions, the maximum number of spectators allowed at the venues will be between 7,000 and 11,000.

In another measure designed to reduce the tournament’s COVID-19 risk, protocol breaches by players and team officials will attract serious sanctions. These range from one-match suspensions to seven-day quarantine and, at worst, a ban from the tournament.

A bubble breach by a family member of a player or match official will attract equally serious sanctions. If a team knowingly allows an outsider into the team bubble, it could face a fine of up to 10 million Indian rupees ($130,000) for the first lapse. Subsequent lapses could lead to a deduction of points.

Already, there have been several high-profile withdrawals of overseas players who do not wish to endure continuing cricket bubble-life. This factor, perhaps prompted by the longer span of the 2022 tournament, seems to have outweighed their foregoing of significant income. Conversely, five South Africans have chosen the IPL over playing for their country.

The stringent COVID-19-related security measures have also been designed to protect income. As discussed in an earlier column, the IPL is now sponsored by Tata in a two-year deal worth $90 million. Current broadcasting rights, held on a five-year, $2.6 billion contract by the Disney-owned Star Sports, are due to expire after IPL 2022. Invitations to tender for the next cycle, 2023 to 2027, have been trailed since October.

In an interview in December, the BCCI’s president said that the IPL could expect to attract bids of $5.2 billion, thereby providing the basis to take the sport to greater heights.

If subsequent rumors are true that Amazon and Reliance Industries will enter the fray to compete with media groups, Sony, and Disney, the figure may run to $6.5 billion.

IPL cricket has become the cockpit in which two companies seeking to grow in the e-commerce market and build up their digital platforms will compete with or, maybe, combine with traditional media. This provides the BCCI with the opportunity to shape its tender and generate even greater revenue.

In the first half of IPL 2021, played in India, matches reached 350 million viewers. These numbers hold vast appeal for both TV and over-the-top advertising, which is delivered directly to viewers via streaming services that bypass traditional TV providers. I have tried to watch IPL matches but am, literally, turned off by the volume and frequency of advertisements. I accept that I am not the target market, but I do question how much further this model can grow and whether the anticipated spike in the costs of acquiring media rights is sustainable.

This also has to be placed within the context of the BCCI’s financial management policies. What is it going to do with its surpluses? The level of these is difficult to ascertain. The most recent financial statements on the board’s website are for 2016/2017. It has historical disputes to settle, including tax liabilities, for which significant set-a-side provisions have been made.

The BCCI orchestrates the most spectacular, richest, cricket show in the world, turning many cricketers into millionaires. Before it moves onto even greater heights, whatever they may be, it would be reassuring to have greater certainty that its behaviors have probity. It has disrupted cricket’s old model and has the power to do so again.


’Little Pep’ Gvardiol coming up big for Croatia at World Cup

’Little Pep’ Gvardiol coming up big for Croatia at World Cup
Updated 7 sec ago

’Little Pep’ Gvardiol coming up big for Croatia at World Cup

’Little Pep’ Gvardiol coming up big for Croatia at World Cup
DOHA: For 90 minutes, the hulking, masked mass that is Joško Gvardiol kept Belgium’s big-name strikers at bay with timely tackles — none bigger than his stop on Romelu Lukaku two minutes into stoppage time.
Then the 20-year-old Croat who is fast becoming the most sought-after center back in Europe went over to the side of the field and reached up to embrace his mother and cry.
The fact that Croatia conceded only one goal in their three group games at the World Cup is largely down to the performance of Gvardiol, who, despite his hefty stature, is nicknamed “Little Pep” because of the similarities of his last name with that of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
“He’s the best defender in the world,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said through a translator after Thursday’s game. “Even if he’s not currently No. 1, he will become No. 1.”
While he only recently extended his contract with Leipzig through 2027, Gvardiol is reportedly a big transfer target for Chelsea, which should have no problem paying a 50 million euro ($50 million) release clause inserted into his deal with the German club.
In the meantime, veteran Croatia defenders Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida, who are both 33, have taken Gvardiol under their wing. His addition to a team that in 2018 reached the World Cup final has added another dimension in terms of physicality and youth.
“He enjoys great support from Lovren both on and off the field, and Vida also helps with extra advice,” Dalić said. “I am happy to watch how good they work together.”
Gvardiol is wearing a face mask during the tournament because he broke his nose when he collided with Willi Orbán during a Bundesliga match on Nov. 10 — the day after he was named to Croatia’s World Cup squad.
Up next for Gvardiol and Croatia is a match in the round of 16 on Monday against a Japan squad that are coming off an inspiring victory over Spain and managed to advance ahead of four-time champion Germany, which was eliminated in one of the most competitive groups.
“Before the end of the group stage, if we could choose the opponent in the next round, maybe some would say Japan,” Dalić said Friday. “But after seeing that they beat both Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easy opponent.”
The core of Croatia’s team remains their experienced midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović — plus winger Ivan Perišić.
At the age of 37 with 158 international appearances, Modrić is still able to dominate soccer’s biggest games with both Real Madrid and Croatia.
Perišić, who is also 33, never seems to tire on the left wing. He ran 72.5 kilometers during Croatia’s seven matches in the 2018 World Cup and could break that mark in Qatar.
While coach Roberto Martinez announced he was leaving Belgium’s squad after their “Golden Generation” was eliminated following a 0-0 draw with Croatia, Dalić said he isn’t through with his national team — no matter how Croatia finishes this tournament.
“This team are a mix of youth and experience,” he said. “I have more plans for Euro 2024 and only then might I reflect on taking some other steps and moves in my career.”

Berhalter ‘hopeful’ on Pulisic fitness for World Cup last 16

Berhalter ‘hopeful’ on Pulisic fitness for World Cup last 16
Updated 02 December 2022

Berhalter ‘hopeful’ on Pulisic fitness for World Cup last 16

Berhalter ‘hopeful’ on Pulisic fitness for World Cup last 16
  • Chelsea star Pulisic suffered a pelvic contusion following a heavy collision while scoring the winning goal in Tuesday's 1-0 victory over Iran
  • Berhalter said Pulisic was on the mend and would be tested later Friday during training

DOHA: United States coach Gregg Berhalter is “hopeful” Christian Pulisic will be fit to face the Netherlands in Saturday’s World Cup last-16 clash but striker Josh Sargent remains a fitness doubt.
Chelsea star Pulisic suffered a pelvic contusion following a heavy collision while scoring the winning goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Iran.
The 24-year-old was subsequently substituted and went to hospital following the game for tests.
Berhalter said Pulisic was on the mend and would be tested later Friday during training.
“Regarding Christian, we’re going to see him on the training field today,” Berhalter told a news conference on Friday.
“It looks pretty good, but we’ll have to see him on the pitch to get confirmation of that.”
However, there remain concerns over Norwich striker Sargent, who also picked up a knock in the win over Iran.
“With Christian we’re hopeful, with (Josh) a little less so,” Berhalter said.
“But we’ll see. At this stage of the tournament it’s go time. If you can push through it, you do. I’m sure he’ll have that mindset.”
The United States advanced to Saturday’s second round meeting at the Al Khalifa Stadium after finishing second behind England in Group B.
Captain Tyler Adams said the American squad had been energised by the support at home, where record numbers of viewers have tuned into the USA’s games in Qatar.
“The support from the US has been surreal — it’s really cool to see how much a tournament can change the perspective of people watching soccer,” Adams said.
“That was one of our goals coming into the tournament. The further we go, the more support we gather. We want the next generations to come to have that support.
“When we can play an attractive style, and fight and represent the country in the right way, you’re going to gather that support.”
Berhalter said the US squad had “felt a responsibility to use this World Cup to create momentum in the United States for soccer.”
“That’s why we want to keep going and do well and make the country proud,” he added.


In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love

In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love
Updated 02 December 2022

In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love

In Maradona’s shadow, Messi strives for Argentina’s forever love
  • Adoring Argentines give Messi fantastic backing in Qatar
  • Argentines traditionally more ambivalent to Messi than Maradona

BUENOS AIRES/DOHA: Lionel Messi’s passionate performances at the Qatar World Cup are earning him oodles of love from Argentines, but their old favoritism for Diego Maradona may resurface unless he brings home the trophy on his final attempt.
The two diminutive and brilliant No. 10s have dazzled the world with their prolific goalscoring and strikingly similar styles, relying on low center of gravity to swerve and slalom their way past defenses, ball glued to flashing feet.
Yet only Maradona, who died two years ago, has won the biggest trophy. He dragged a mediocre team behind him in 1986 when his “Hand of God” goal against England became a symbol of national defiance after the shame of the Falkands War defeat.
For years, Argentine fans said that no matter how many Ballons d’Or and trophies Messi won with Barcelona, he could never match Maradona until he too lifted a World Cup.
And why, they asked, was he so shy and introverted whereas their lovable rascal Maradona had entertained them so richly with jokes, songs and expletive-laden tirades against authority?
Was Messi even a true Argentine anyway, some grumbled, especially older fans. After all, he left for Spain at 13 while Maradona was more one of their own, born in a slum and working his way up through local clubs including Boca Juniors.
Messi has, of course, enjoyed more success in sheer numbers of goals and honors than Maradona, even surpassing his national appearances this week as he drove Argentina into the last 16 of the World Cup. And he has kept himself in great shape whereas Maradona succumbed to drugs and wild living in ways that frustrated and saddened even his most loyal fans.
Those close to Messi say that though his shyness may have disguised it in the past, there was always nothing he longed for more than to bring glory to Argentina. That passion was laid bare when he broke down in tears after leading Argentina to the Copa America in 2021, their first major trophy in 28 years.
“Argentines always had a love-hate relationship with Messi,” said 44-year-old fan Gustavo Franchini in Buenos Aires.
“We always compare him with Maradona, who won the World Cup 36 years ago, since when we haven’t won again ... Everyone says he has to win the World Cup to achieve Maradona’s stature and many, like me, think that even then he doesn’t match him,” he added, noting how Maradona carried the 1986 team almost solo.
In Qatar, on Messi’s fifth and final quest, he has been the beating heart of the squad and Argentina appear to have as good a chance as any to lift the trophy on Dec. 18.
Packing out stadiums in Qatar and bars and parks back home, fans have backed Messi throughout, cheering his two goals, encouraging him after a penalty miss, and parading his image proudly on myriad flags and banners.
Many of the banners show Messi and Maradona together, some depicting the late No. 10 smiling down from heaven at his heir. And Messi himself has opened up emotionally to rally the team and nation after their shock defeat to Saudi Arabia. He has celebrated goals wildly with fans and lead celebratory songs on the pitch and in the changing room after they beat Mexico and Poland.
“After the Copa America he seems to have eased up, he’s more relaxed, enjoying it,” said another fan Facundo Moreno, 39, also in the Argentine capital.
“For me, Messi has always felt and done his all for the national team, from his first game until now. He’s my idol,” he added. “Maradona and he have totally different personalities but on the pitch they both do the same.”
Marcelo Sottile, a sports journalist and author of a book about Messi, said that while his clean-cut image and polite persona mirrored the sort of person Argentines aspired to be, the rebellious Maradona reflected more of who they really were.
However, there is a generation gap among those who remember and revere Maradona most and younger fans less prejudiced against Messi, he told Reuters.
“I have an 18-year-old son who never questioned Messi, who never said ‘you play well for Barcelona but not for Argentina’,” he said. “Messi has suffered from being a venerated star in Barcelona but often under attack here in Argentina.”


Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
Updated 02 December 2022

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
  • Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters

DOHA/RABAT: Moroccan fans celebrated on Thursday as their country became the only Arab nation to reach the knockout rounds of the first World Cup held in an Arab country, dancing and cheering in the stadium in Qatar and on the streets back home.

Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters. In earlier matches they had tied with Croatia and scored a surprise win over Belgium, the second-ranked team in the world.

“This team can go all the way in this World Cup!” shouted a young woman draped in a Moroccan flag, leaning from the window of a packed car in Rabat as people rushed toward a central district to join street celebrations.

In Qatar, where the home team along with Saudi Arabia and Tunisia have already been knocked out, Morocco now carries the mantle for an Arab world that has cheered victories by Arab teams against some of the tournament favorites.

Hundreds of fans crowded outside the stadium, some pushing and shoving and others trying to climb a fence to get in even after the game had begun, a Reuters journalist there said. Many lacked tickets but hoped to see the game.

“Fans crowded here because they can’t enter the stadium. Almost all these fans have no ticket and they love Morocco and want to get in,” said one, Abdulmajid Mohammed, from Saudi Arabia.

The crowding also left some fans who said they had tickets unable to enter. “We have tickets but they closed all the doors and are not letting people in,” said Mohammad Abdelhadi from Libya, who said his group’s tickets each cost more than $200.

FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the crowding outside the stadium.

The deafening support has been a 12th man for the side.

“They proved on the pitch that they are lions... honestly as a Saudi we lost yesterday but we made up for that loss with Morocco’s win,” said Talal Ahmed Obeid, watching at a fan zone in Casablanca.

While Morocco is a proud member of the Arab League, the country has also in recent decades embraced its African identity and Berber lineage, enshrining Amazigh as an official language.

“We hope to fly the flag of African football high,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui on Wednesday.

Mohamed Tahiri, a lawyer out celebrating in Rabat among crowds waving flags and honking car horns despite the rainy weather, said Morocco was the only team left for Arabs to identify with.

“This is a day of celebration not only for us Moroccans but for all Arabs and for all the Amazigh North Africans too,” he said.

People had already been out looking for cafes with televisions to watch the game hours before kickoff.

“My generation is experiencing this for the first time,” said Oufae Abidar, 38, a company employee. She was a toddler when Morocco last reached the knockout phase in 1986. Morocco’s last World Cup appearance, four years ago, ended in the group stage.

Back in Doha, Omani national Saeed Al Maskari, 30, said he would be supporting Morocco now. “We are in the Asian part (of the Arab region) and they are in the African part. But we speak one language,” he said. 


Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston
Updated 02 December 2022

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston
  • Kipchoge won Berlin in September in 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds — the fastest time in a marathon competition in history

BOSTON: World record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge will make his Boston Marathon debut in 2023 along with reigning women’s world champion Gotytom Gebreslase and six former Boston winners returning 10 years after two bombs exploded at the finish line.

Two-time winner Lelisa Desisa will return in the men’s division, 10 years after he won the 2013 race that was interrupted by the attacks that came about two hours after the winners crossed. He also won in 2015.

“There is no one in athletics who will be more focused than me this spring in racing, as I look to once again win the Boston Marathon,” Desisa said. “Ten years since my first victory — I understand what this anniversary means and I would love nothing more than to put my name into the history of the race again. I stand with the people of Boston, and I will be running the race of my life for you all.”

Reigning champion Evans Chebet of Kenya will also lead a field of 30,000 from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back bay on April 17 for the 117th edition of the race. Des Linden, the 2018 Boston winner, is also in the race, along with Edna Kiplagat (2017) and Atsede Baysa (2016).

“History and heritage are two cornerstones of the Boston Marathon,” Boston Athletic Association President and CEO Jack Fleming said. “The world will be watching Boston with great anticipation to see how the competition plays out.”

Kipchoge won Berlin in September in 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds — the fastest time in a marathon competition in history. He also completed the distance in an exhibition in 1:59:40 in 2019 in an exhibition engineered to break 2 hours.