Protection of modern pitches means the ‘sticky wicket’ has had its day

Protection of modern pitches means the ‘sticky wicket’ has had its day
Cricket has had an uneasy relationship with rain throughout its history. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2022

Protection of modern pitches means the ‘sticky wicket’ has had its day

Protection of modern pitches means the ‘sticky wicket’ has had its day
  • Rain has for centuries caused havoc with surfaces but new covering measures mean more predictable conditions

Over its history, cricket has developed a language of its own. In so doing, it has been responsible for introducing words and phrases, unique to the game, into common usage or adapting simple words and making them specific to cricket.

An obvious example of the former is “playing with a straight bat,” meaning to act in an upright, honest and respectful manner.

An example of the latter is “sticky wicket,” where a difficult, even treacherous, situation is encountered. In cricket, this situation was created by a particular combination of rain, sun and wind.

Cricket has had an uneasy relationship with rain throughout its history. It makes a pitch soft, the degree of softness depending upon the hardness and quality of the pitch prior to rain, the rain’s intensity and the type of soil on which it fell. If, once play resumes, the pitch is very soft, the ball will cut through the surface, taking a piece of the top with it, leaving a mark and/or a tuft. On harder pitches, the ball may skim through or bounce steeply.

Anticipating how a pitch will play after rainfall is not an easy task, as there are so many variables to consider. One of these is how quickly the pitch will dry. Rain, followed by hot sun and/or a drying breeze, provides conditions for a sticky wicket to reveal its character. Conditions for batting become problematic, as the ball could be spun quite sharply, with the patches on the damaged pitch creating a surface from which the ball could either rear to head height or shoot through at ankle level.

A wet outfield stops the progress of the ball across it and the movement of fielders is impeded. The area over which the bowler approaches the crease, the runup, becomes difficult to navigate, increasing the importance of slow bowlers, especially those possessing the guile to extort maximum advantage.

It is logical to think that measures would be taken to minimize the effects of rain. Throughout the 17th, 18th and the first half of the 19th century, pitches were uncovered and open to the elements, largely because of a lack of effective materials. It is reasonable to assume that the players of the day would be as concerned as current ones about the loss of play to rain and its effect on the wicket. There would have been considerable concern amongst participants in matches played for wagers about the negative impact of rain on the outcome. Indeed, a revision to the Laws in 1788 included a provision for the covering of the pitch during a match by mutual consent, a situation that remained in place for another 100 years.

In those days players did not have to worry about overarm bowling, which was legalized in 1864. The downward pressure exerted by overarm action to pitch the ball, compared with underarm delivery, which started its trajectory by travelling upwards or horizontally, caused the ball to bounce higher. This could be head high and potentially dangerous. Bowlers lengthened their runups before delivering the ball, which, in wet conditions, was hazardous.

It should be of little surprise, then, that calls for the ends of pitches, at least, to be covered, grew. In experiments at Lords between 1872 and 1875, prepared pitches were covered with tarpaulin before the match. The results were not satisfactory and, in 1884, a revision of the Laws made it illegal to cover the wicket — with or without consent — once the game had begun. There was no mention of wicket covering before the match began.

Given this imprecise guidance, individual administrators and groundkeepers took it upon themselves to decide when pitches should be covered. The potential loss of income caused by rain-affected matches was enough to influence their decisions. By 1910, protection of pitch ends during playing hours was introduced.

The responsibility for making and maintaining the Laws was vested in the Marylebone Cricket Club or MCC. This notoriously conservative body embraced a view that pitch covering ran contrary to the spirit of the game. Its members were also probably of the view that batting on unpredictable, sticky wickets was regarded as a supreme test of skill. Another 70 years would pass before pitch protection against rain at all times for Test matches was authorized in 1979 and, for all first-class games, in 1982. In the intervening years, the age of the sticky wicket had its heyday.

In extreme circumstances, a benign pitch could turn into one on which only the greatest players could succeed. There are famous examples of this, Hobbs and Sutcliffe of England being classic exponents. In mid-August 1926, an overnight storm in South London turned the pitch at the Oval into a quagmire. Australia expected the rapidly drying pitch to assist them to defeat England. Yet, on a venomously spitting pitch, the pair scored a 100 and 161, respectively, to create a winning basis for England.

Conversely, Sir Donald Bradman, whose average of 99.94 is the highest ever in Test match cricket, chose not to master batting on such wickets, as he came across them so infrequently.

Cricket authorities in other countries made much quicker progress toward full covering. Australia, for example, had made covering compulsory for State matches with effect from the 1934-35 season. It was not a popular move with everyone. Australian slow bowlers who had earned their reputations on sticky wickets were most disadvantaged and disappeared from view, along with sticky wickets.

The conditions for these remained in certain countries, including England, for almost another 50 years. During this time, various types of covers were deployed, ranging from tarpaulin sheets, to arched covers on wheels and a machine modelled on a hovercraft. All of these took time to roll out. At a recent Test match at the Oval, London, I witnessed, for the first time, easily portable, semi-translucent polyethylene, 100 percent waterproof sheets being placed quickly over the pitch and a wide surrounding area. The age of the sticky wicket has passed but its memory remains.


Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 October 2022

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
  • National boards often fail to keep up with the times and consistently provide the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into winning teams

Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. At least this is what appears to be the case if public pronouncements by some national cricket boards are to be believed.

This is simultaneously alluring and aspirational, despite evidence that at times during cricket’s history some teams have dominated all others.

The West Indian men’s team won the 50-over World Cup in 1975 and 1979 whilst, between 1984 and 1991, it did not lose a Test series. After that, Australia became the dominant men’s team, going unbeaten in all Ashes series until 2005, and achieving a hat trick of World Cups in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Currently, it holds the T20I World Cup and tops the table of Test-match-playing countries.

Throughout this time, India has been straining to achieve dominance, but has failed. Its last 50-over World Cup triumph was in 2011, its last T20I World Cup triumph was in 2007 and it last reached a final in 2014, losing to Sri Lanka. In these respects, its record of achievement is inferior to the West Indies, which has twice won the T20I Cup and on a par with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and England. Neither South Africa nor Bangladesh has featured in a final of either format.

At Test level, India came second in the 2019-2021 cycle of performance to New Zealand, who suffered defeat in the finals of the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2021 T20I World Cup.

All of this suggests that the major trophies are shared around over a 10- to 20-year cycle. There are complex reasons why this happens. Successful sides grow old together and the transition takes longer than planned. A raft of injuries to key players prematurely weakens the team. Internal politics stunt performance, as may inappropriate selections, strategies or coaching qualities. The next generation of talent may take up alternative sports, as happened in the West Indies.

One other potential explanation is that the domestic structure is out of keeping with the times. National cricket boards are entrusted with providing the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into national teams. Within this structure lie regional bodies whose responsibility is to achieve the same in their designated area, providing a funnel through which the most talented players can progress to national level.

Recently, in the wake of a disastrous series in Australia, the England and Wales Cricket Board, or ECB, published a High-Performance Review of the men’s team. Its starting point is that, over the last 42 years, the team has been the No. 1 Test team in the world for a total of 12 months, No. 1 in ODIs for 64 months and has held top place in T20I cricket for the equivalent of two years since 2011. This is perceived to be a sub-optimum outcome.

Seventeen recommendations have been proposed, including changes to structure, to support a new vision. This is to be, in five years, the world’s best men’s team across all formats, defined as being No. 1 in at least one format, top three in the others and sustaining this for a long time.

It may safely be assumed that such ambition is shared by a number of other Test-playing teams and national boards. Only the ECB has a structure which does not follow the three predominant formats — multi-day matches, ODIs and T20s. Although India and Pakistan have retained domestic T20 competitions alongside T20 franchised tournaments, it is because their depth of talent allows this to happen. The ECB justifies its decision to introduce The Hundred, a format played in no other country, in terms of attracting a different segment of the market — women and young children.

One of the High-Performance Review’s conclusions was that too much cricket is being played. On the back of this, the ECB propose to reduce the number of matches in all competitions except The Hundred. Separation of the 18 first-class counties into three divisions of six is predicated on the basis that it will allow the best to play against the best. This is an objective which underpins the structures found in other countries.

Australia has only six States, so can aspire to this more easily, as can New Zealand with six teams and West Indies with seven. In 2019, a structural reorganization in Pakistan replaced a departmental, city and regional team structure with six regional teams to encourage “best versus best,” an unpopular move with departments.

Sri Lanka Cricket, with a similar objective in mind, introduced a revised structure this year. A National Super League was created, consisting of five teams selected from players who had competed in a prior 26-team Major Clubs Tournament.

Conversely, in 2021, Cricket South Africa reverted to a 15-team provincial structure, which had been replaced in 2004-2005 by a six-team franchised system. India’s domestic structure, apart from the franchised Premier League, has remained constant since each major competition was founded.

A slight tendency toward a narrow top structure of five to six teams may be discerned from the above, but it may reflect circumstances of geography, as much as deliberate strategy. What all of the Boards share in common is the problem of fitting in the requisite number of matches to fulfil national and international agreements, plus T20 franchises. As schedules continue to adapt to a post-pandemic environment, narrow structures may be best for the times.

It is ironic that since the ECB’s review was launched, its men’s team performances have improved significantly. This is a result of changes in leadership and strategy, drawing from the same talent pool that was available previously, produced by the structure deemed to be inadequate. The effects of alterations to structures can take years to become apparent. It would be wise for any Board with lofty aspirations to acknowledge this, along with recognition that dominance across all formats for a sustained time is rare and getting more difficult.


Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible
Updated 06 October 2022

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible
  • The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week
  • LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023

BANGKOK: Six-time major winner Phil Mickelson on Thursday backed moves to award world ranking points for events on the breakaway LIV Golf circuit, saying it would help maintain the “credibility” of the global leaderboard.
The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week and on Wednesday announced a deal to have tournaments co-sanctioned by the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour and awarded Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
The OWGR has not announced whether points will now be awarded to LIV events, starting with this week’s tournament in Bangkok.
But Mickelson, whose departure from the US PGA Tour helped kickstart the big-money LIV series, said it was in the ranking body’s interests to do so.
“I think for the World Golf Rankings, this is a great way to keep its credibility, while not bringing politics into the decision-making process,” the 52-year-old left-hander said on the eve of the LIV’s Bangkok Invitational.
LIV has already staged five events but without any ranking points awarded for its players — including British Open champion Cameron Smith and former world number one Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, Smith and Johnson are all competing at the new Stonehill course outside the Thai capital for a share of $20 million, with $4 million up for grabs for the winner, easily the largest purse for a golf tournament in Asia.
A host of top players have joined the series, plunging golf into bitter civil war as the US PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour have scrambled to hold on to talent while the Asian Tour, and now the lesser-known MENA Tour, have aligned themselves with LIV.
Only the top 50 players in the world qualify automatically for the four majors, so top names have been concerned about slipping down the rankings.
But Mickelson said he had no worries that LIV events would be given points appropriately.
“The reason I’m not concerned is that the number of points are based on the quality of the field and not the organization that’s running the tournament, and the quality of our field is remarkably strong,” he said.
“I’m sure for the world golf rankings to maintain their credibility, they’ll continue to award the proper number of points that the tournaments deserve for all tours.”
US players who have signed up to LIV Golf have been indefinitely suspended from the PGA Tour, while the DP World Tour has issued fines and short-term bans.
LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023, with players competing for $405 million in prize money.


How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
Updated 23 min ago

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth

How Saudi Arabia is fostering a field hockey culture among its youth
  • Championships for schools and Gulf to be set up, says official
  • Partnerships with playing nations Egypt and Oman soon

It seems that barely a week goes by without the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee adding yet another sporting federation to its rapidly expanding portfolio.

The latest sport to be given a major boost is field hockey, and leading the campaign to raise awareness about it is Mohammed Al-Mandeel, president of the Saudi Hockey Federation.

“I have (a) passion for different areas in sport so I became Saudi Hockey Federation president for many reasons,” he told Arab News at a training camp set up by the body. “One of them is that I used to play this game when I was a student, and inshallah I’m planning to transfer my knowledge here to make it one of the more popular sports (in Saudi Arabia).”

Al-Mandeel graduated with a degree in telecommunications engineering from Cranfield University in the UK, and assumed his role as head of the federation at the start of 2020, though official affiliation to the Asian Hockey Federation did not come until 2021.

“Field hockey is one of the biggest, oldest historical sports in the world, and also a major Olympic sport,” he said, before highlighting its history including that 4000-year-old inscriptions from ancient Egypt seem to depict a sport similar to hockey.

“When you have a new thing in society there will be resistance, so part of our strategy is to raise awareness, to let people know about this sport,” he said. “Football, basketball and volleyball all have an established audience, but hockey is considered a new challenge, and for people who like to try something new our federation is setting up new training programs for beginners who want to try this sport.”

It is not only in Europe and Southeast Asia that hockey is popular, it already has a following in several Middle Eastern countries.

“The top Arab country in this sport is Egypt while in the Gulf it’s Oman. They have a lot of good players, and we already have partnerships with them to have their knowledge transferred here to Saudi,” Al-Mandeel said.

A strategy to raise the profile of the game is already in place.

“We have different channels (to promote hockey),” said Al-Mandeel. “In digital media, we have Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and we have our official website. And through small pop-up events, we are spreading new ideas to the people.”

The federation’s website is already open for people wishing to register for training programs. Al-Mandeel’s long-term ambitions are far more lofty.

“My (aim) is to have a Saudi team in the top three in the Olympics,” he said.

A member of the federation’s board of directors, Abdullah Sulaiman Al-Sayari, laid out the strategy to attract youngsters to hockey in a country were three or four major sports attract most of the attention.

“We made a plan to reach out to schools (by) nominating three schools in Riyadh, three in Jeddah and three in the Eastern region, and started working with them to transform these schools into hockey academies for their students or other children in the area,” said Al-Sayari.

“So far we are working with Al-Arkam Schools in Riyadh, with a huge number of students. We want to invest in kids, as it’s a new game and it’s hard to attract new players as they have other hobbies an interests in different sports,” he said. “But we are allowing them to attend training sessions of some big clubs to let them know that they can reach their level and compete.”

Al-Sayari was also keen to highlight the support of the government in promoting the sport.

“We faced a lot of challenges in this sport, such as the availability of suitable playgrounds, availability of suitable tools, and coaches (and) referees,” he said. “To be honest, the number is too small but we are currently working on that. We are also working on many championships, especially at school level, which will have one very soon.”

Al-Sayari also revealed that the federation is working on establishing a Gulf region championship in December 2022, having already reached out to willing neighboring countries. They are currently working on a location and budget, he said.

But growing the game and increasing the number of participants is a long-term project with plenty of challenges for Al-Sayari and his colleagues.

“We are trying our best to overcome these obstacles,” he said. “However, taking into consideration that the federation is new and hasn’t even completed one year yet, we have established five championships in which four to five teams have participated from different regions in the Kingdom.”

“The game has started to grow, and we also have a female team now and we are working on expanding it,” Al-Sayari added. “As for the men’s teams, we have already reached the maximum number of players we planned for, but the challenge here is finding suitable coaches to support coach Ahmed Abdo (technical director of the federation).”

“Currently we have four other assistant coaches who are being trained and also working on training some teachers in the schools to become coaches in the future. We are trying our best to overcome all of these obstacles and hoping by the end of this year to reach at least 40 to 50 percent of our plan.”

Participation is coming from unexpected sources.

Adwa Al-Hunaidi and her daughter Meshael have been taking part in the sessions since they discovered they were open to females.

“Meshael initiated the idea of joining the field hockey program because she was the one who was interested,” said Adwa.

“To start with, what we had in mind when we first came was to enroll my son Yousef, that’s when we found out that girls can join too. And the coach made it clear to us that mothers (and) adults can join too,” said Adwa.

She said they were really “excited” and now all three of them have joined up. “We really loved the idea since we have always been fond of sports.”

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For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek

For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek
Updated 06 October 2022

For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek

For Saudi fan, road to World Cup is a desert trek
  • Alsulmi says the journey, faithfully documented for his thousands of Snapchat followers, is meant to highlight regional enthusiasm for the first World Cup in the Middle East
  • Alsulmi hopes that by posting about his experience, he can inspire other Saudis to consider trekking through their homeland

AL-KHASRAH, SAUDI ARABIA: The idea hit Abdullah Alsulmi earlier this year, while he was watching a television show in which a senior Qatari official promised an “exceptional” experience at the upcoming World Cup.

His excitement building, the 33-year-old Saudi recalls thinking: “I will go to Doha no matter what, even if I have to walk!“

It was an unlikely beginning to what has become an audacious adventure dismissed by some of Alsulmi’s own relatives as “crazy“: A two-month, 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) solo trek from his native Jeddah to the Qatari capital.

Alsulmi says the journey, faithfully documented for his thousands of Snapchat followers, is meant to highlight regional enthusiasm for the first World Cup in the Middle East — which Saudi officials have pitched as a milestone “for all Arabs.” 

“We want to support the World Cup,” Alsulmi told AFP one day last week as he sheltered from the midday sun near roadside shrubs in the town of Al-Khasrah, 340 kilometers southwest of Riyadh.

Wearing a wide-brim hat and a backpack to which he’d affixed Saudi and Qatari flags, he said: “I consider myself like a Qatari who is very interested in this World Cup and its success.”

Alsulmi has experience with extended treks in Canada and Australia, where he used to live, yet those pale in comparison to the rigors of traversing the Arabian Peninsula.

He typically sets out at sunrise and walks until 10 or 10:30 a.m., but then the heat forces him to break for a few hours before resuming in the afternoon and continuing until sundown.

Occasionally he walks at night to maintain his goal of around 35 kilometers per day.

To keep his load light, Alsulmi subsists on food he can buy at petrol stations, often chicken and rice, while showering and washing his clothes at mosques.

His social media posts capture details of life on the trail, from the mundane to the menacing: His nightly search for a spot to sleep, and the time he eyed a scorpion dozing dangerously close to his tent.

He also records conversations with Saudis he meets along the way, many of whom offer snacks and juice to keep him going.

“There are moments of ups and downs, but when I meet people and hear these sweet words — ‘We will follow you on your account and support you’ — this encourages me to finish,” he said.

Straying from the main roads as often as he can, he says he has been rewarded with a taste of the varied scenery on offer in the Kingdom — something he didn’t fully appreciate before.

“Walking from Jeddah to Doha, every 100 kilometers is different. I mean, the first 100 kilometers there are sand dunes, then mountains, and then comes empty land, then farms,” he said.

“I am going through all terrains in one country in two months. This is a beautiful thing.”

Alsulmi hopes that by posting about his experience, he can inspire other Saudis to consider trekking through their homeland.

“When I do this, I want to convey to people that hiking and walking is a beautiful sport, even if the weather is difficult here in Saudi Arabia, even if the terrain is difficult. We can do it,” he said.

“It is a sport for simple people. You only need a bag and a few simple things, and a tent and nature.”

If all goes according to plan, Alsulmi will arrive in Doha in time for Saudi Arabia’s opening showdown against Argentina on Nov. 22.

It will be a moment of divided loyalty, since Argentina is his favorite team.

Four days later, he has a ticket for the Green Falcons’ match against Poland.

His hopes are high for a Saudi squad that has now qualified for six World Cups but advanced to the knockout stage just once, during its 1994 debut.

“This year we have good players. The coach is the great French coach (Herve) Renard,” he said.

“We expect and hope that this year the team will deliver an exceptional performance.”


Bucks clash with Hawks in basketball’s debut in UAE

Bucks clash with Hawks in basketball’s debut in UAE
Updated 06 October 2022

Bucks clash with Hawks in basketball’s debut in UAE

Bucks clash with Hawks in basketball’s debut in UAE
  • MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo mulls a 50-point haul
  • Atlanta guard Trae Young has plans to counter the offense

As Abu Dhabi gets set to host the region’s first NBA games this Thursday and Saturday, stars of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks have vowed to put on a show at the Etihad Arena.

The Bucks and the Hawks – who squared off in the 2021 NBA Eastern Conference Finals before the former went on to win their first championship in 50 years – will get their preseason campaigns up and running with two sold-out clashes on Yas Island.

Both teams held open practice sessions at Etihad Arena on Wednesday and spent some time talking to the press. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from an exciting media day in the capital.

A 50-point game from Giannis?

Milwaukee superstar and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo initially laughed off the idea he would score 50 points against the Hawks on Thursday before adding: “But you never know though, never say never.”

The Greek Freak then shared what he thinks fans can expect from him and his teammates.

“A good game with a lot of intensity, a lot of excitement, a lot of threes, a lot of dunks and hopefully the Bucks win,” said Antetokounmpo.

While Atlanta guard Trae Young would not promise any half-court shots, the two-time NBA All-Star predicts a high-octane battle with the Bucks, after spending a full five days enjoying the sights in Abu Dhabi while upping preseason training with his team.

“I’m definitely going to come out here and try to put on a show for the fans,” said Young.

“I know this is big for the people out here and what’s going on for the game.

“From our team you’re definitely going to get a competitive side, I know Giannis is going to do the same for his team, the Bucks. It’s going to be competitive but at the same time we know what the long run is and we’re trying to build and trying to get better still.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer hopes his team’s values shine through when they take to the court for these two games.

“Hopefully the fans will see a team that plays with a lot of passion, that plays hard, that plays unselfishly; it’s got great energy,” he said.

“There’s probably nobody that’s got more passion than Giannis and I think it’s infectious, the whole team kind of plays similarly so hopefully they’ll see a team that plays hard, plays together, and hopefully does some special things.”

Trae’s ‘unreal experience’

You don’t often see players from opposing teams in professional sport decide to train together during the offseason, but that’s what Young and Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry did over the summer.

Two of the best shooters of the game, Young, 24, and Curry, 34, spent a week working out together and honing their skills for the new season and it was an experience Young says he’ll never forget.

“That was an unreal experience. For me, just knowing how he’s changed the game, and what he brought to the game; I’m always a sponge and learning new things, so there are a lot of things that he’s done that I’ve never seen or I’ve never been a part of,” said Young on Wednesday, heaping praise on Curry.

“So just being a part of workouts and getting on the court and actually playing some games with him was actually really fun, so I’ve actually learned some things.”

Dejounte Murray, who joined the Hawks from the San Antonio Spurs in June, also rubbed shoulders with an all-time great during the offseason. Murray had “a really great workout” with LeBron James this summer and got a brief but close look at some of the things that make the four-time NBA champion a strong contender in the GOAT debate.

“He’s not just one word, he’s a great,” said Murray of the 37-year-old James, considered one of the Greatest of All Time players.

“Longevity, 20 years, that means he takes care of his body, his diet, the food he eats, he works on his game, in the weight room, however you want to put it; he’s the whole package. We’ve got to appreciate guys like that. Those are guys who you honor and look up to when you’re trying to be a basketball player.”

First look at Young and Murray

Since news broke that the Hawks had acquired Murray from the Spurs, the anticipation has been building to see how he and Young will look to share the back court this upcoming campaign.

The guard mates sound excited about teaming up and Hawks coach Nate McMillan is keen to see what kind of chemistry they will have in their first game together on Thursday.

“We’re excited about bringing Murray on with us to join our roster. I think he’s just going to add so much to the team on both ends of the floor; the offensive end of the floor as well as the defensive end of the floor,” McMillan told Arab News.

“His ability to defend, (he’s) one of the top defenders in the league, which is the area we felt that we needed to improve on; he will help us establish our defense.

“Offensively, the combination of Trae and Murray in the back court, they both will be able to play off of each other. It’s really been good in training camp; we’re excited to see it for the first time tomorrow night against Milwaukee and we’ll be able to learn from that game the things we can do with those two guys now playing in the back court together.”

Young will understandably need to make some adjustments with the arrival of Murray but is not daunted by that prospect.

“It’s going to be fun, it’s not going to be, say a challenge. I think the only challenge is just learning how to play off the ball a little bit with him and just kind of getting a feel. You’ve got a new teammate, you’ve got to learn how different things feel, so that’s going to be the only challenge,” said Young.

“Besides that, we’re both competitors, we’re both very smart, we can pass, score; we have a lot of similarities. The connection is already there, it’s just now you’ve got to get some game reps and get it going.”

They’ve already gone on camel rides together in the Abu Dhabi desert; that’s definitely a good start.

‘The mind is infinite’

He’s already shaping up to be one of the best to ever play the game but what makes Antetokounmpo even more intriguing is the fact he hasn’t even come close to hitting his ceiling yet.

“I think that’s the most special thing about Giannis when we think about him today, it’s how much better he can get,” explained coach Budenholzer.

“I don’t think we ever want to put a ceiling on him. He’s very special, very unique and we look forward to watching him grow.”

The big man from Greece says he has put the Bucks’ 2020-2021 championship-winning season behind him and insists it’s time to create new memories and hit new milestones with the team.

Antetokounmpo has dominated a lot of the conversations between players and the press so far in Abu Dhabi, with Young noting his passion for the game as the Greek’s most standout attribute, while Giannis’ older brother Thanasis hailed his “unselfishness.”

Giannis spoke about how much attention he gives to preserving his mental health and described the constant work he does with his sports psychologist as the “best investment” he’s ever made.

“We invest in real estate, we invest in stocks, we invest in whatever people invest in, but the biggest investment you can do is with yourself and it’s okay to not be okay,” said the 27-year-old.

“The stigma around young athletes, or anybody in general, when they say something is wrong with them and they’re being labeled as weak, it’s got to stop.

“For me, daily or every other day I talk to a sports psychologist; that helps me a lot. I believe in my body, you can improve until a point; you can jump this high, you can be this quick or whatever, but mentally, your mind is infinite.

“You can always improve, you can always learn something new, you can always develop good coping mental mechanisms to cope with your life and it has helped me to become a better father, a better partner, a better son, a better teammate, just a better human being. So the best investment you can do is that.”