As England celebrate T20 World Cup win, underperforming teams begin inquests into what went wrong

As England celebrate T20 World Cup win, underperforming teams begin inquests into what went wrong
England's Adil Rashid bowls past India's Virat Kohli (L) during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2022 semi-final cricket match between England and India. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 November 2022

As England celebrate T20 World Cup win, underperforming teams begin inquests into what went wrong

As England celebrate T20 World Cup win, underperforming teams begin inquests into what went wrong
  • South Africa, Australia and India among the sides from which the press and supporters will demand answers

Fortunately, the T20 World Cup was played last Sunday in Melbourne without interruption, much to the relief of the organizers. At the start of the tournament, Australia were favorites to win, narrowly followed by India and England. Pakistan and South Africa were the next-favored teams. Given the outcome, performance reviews are already underway.

In Cricket South Africa’s case, this is being undertaken with intensity. Its team has an unfortunate history of losing winning positions in World Cups. This year, victory over the Netherlands in the final group match would have carried a semifinal place. The subsequent shock loss meant elimination. Mindful of its history, the CSA is placing an emphasis on looking forward and not dwelling on the past, which may be just as well.

Between 2017 and August 2020, the CSA has had three CEOs, all of whom left in acrimonious circumstances. The middle appointee put in place an overhauled coaching system, with a team director. He was quickly replaced with a coach. Over the same time, there were four Test captains and four national men’s coaches, plus a failure to launch a T20 franchise competition. When one was launched in 2018, it had neither television rights nor sponsorship deals in place.

There has also been a shuffling of the pack in terms of the CSA’s director of cricket. The last change was in June 2022 and was followed by the decision of the coach to resign after the World Cup. Under such chaotic governance it is testament to the team and coaches that they have been able to focus on playing, achieving some notable victories along the way. Understandably, several senior players have opted out of some tournaments and it should not be so surprising that shock defeats happen on occasion. A period of stability is badly needed, along with a successful and profitable T20 franchise in January 2023.

In contrast, the changes effected in England’s on- and off-field leadership in the wake of disastrous performances in late 2021 and early 2022 have proved to be a revelation. A bold, ambitious playing philosophy, coupled with latent potential, a willingness to take risks, aided by some luck, has brought six test wins in seven matches and the T20 World Cup. No need for an inquest, then? Wait a minute, the High-Performance Review set up in April is still in process — has it been overtaken by events? It does serve to show how fortunes can change so quickly in cricket’s modern frenetic schedules of play.

Australia will be well aware of this, failing to become the first team to be successive winners of the T20 trophy. The country’s press has been brutal in assessing the team’s performance, expecting immediate and wholesale changes to a fatigued squad.

Inquests and its ramifications have started to occur in India, where there are, literally, millions of opinions and suggested solutions. Some straws in the wind have emerged from the Board of Control for Cricket in India. In the aftermath of elimination, coach Rahul Dravid and his coaching team were excused from duties on the forthcoming tour of New Zealand. Dravid has said that one of the problems may be the BCCI’s ban on Indian players entering overseas T20 tournaments, which is possibly hindering their development. However, he recognizes that these occur in the middle of the Indian season and the release of players would seriously denigrate domestic cricket.

Another straw is that the former, highly successful Indian captain, M.S. Dhoni, is rumored to be in the BCCI’s thoughts for a future role. The men’s team has not won a trophy since the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013, when Dhoni was the captain. Since then, it lost in the semifinals of both the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cups, was beaten in the final of the 2014 T20 World by Sri Lanka, lost in the semifinals of the 2016 T20 World Cup and failed to reach the semifinals of the 2021 T20 World Cup. In the World Test Championship final in 2021, it lost to New Zealand. Although it is the most successful team in the Asia Cup, with seven titles, India failed to reach the final of the 2022 edition.

This is a below-par return for a country with the depth of playing talent and financial resources available to it. Whilst not on the same level as South Africa’s governance turmoil, the administration in India has been subject to change and controversy. Most recently, the BCCI’s president of three years stood down amidst rumors of political intrigue. The current captain, in his post for less than one year, is already under pressure and the style of play in the recent T20 World Cup has been criticized for being too conservative.

Approaches to how T20 cricket is best played to achieve success are constantly evolving. The tendency in most countries has been to select the best players to play across all formats. Now, some players are choosing to specialize, usually in limited-overs formats. This is either because they can, given the financial rewards on offer, or have the decision taken for them by those who select teams, sometimes a result of injury. Most of India’s team in the recent World Cup also play Test cricket. Only one of England’s team has been a regular member of the Test team in the last year.

The reasons for success and failure at the T20 World Cup are complex and, to some extent, intangible. Apart from the need to have the right caliber of player, it is reasonable to assume that good governance, harmony between coach and players, wedded to clarity of purpose, will be key elements. Examples of these — good and not so good — have been on show in Australia. A new element may now be emerging, partially driven by overlapping schedules, in which players and coaches deliberately choose to specialize by format. In addition to T20 cricket offering greater opportunities for lower ranked teams to cause upsets, it could be on the brink of upsetting cricket’s structure yet again.

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Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
Updated 27 November 2022

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
  • Messi equalled Diego Maradona's Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup
  • Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute

LUSAIL, Qatar: Lionel Messi thumped in a 64th minute goal and Enzo Fernandez added another late in the game to give Argentina a 2-0 victory over battling Mexico in their World Cup Group C match on Saturday and reignite their tournament hopes.
Messi, who equalled Diego Maradona’s Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup, was nowhere to be seen for more than an hour before picking up an Angel Di Maria pass, finding just enough space and rifling in from 20 meters.
Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute.
The result restored order for the Argentines in Group C after their shock opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Argentina, on three points, can guarantee progress with a win over Poland, top on four, in their final game on Wednesday.
“Today starts another World Cup for Argentina,” Messi said. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe.
“The first half we didn’t play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and until the goal we went back to being what we are.”
Mexico, who have now lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina, have one point and must beat Saudi Arabia, on three, to have any chance of continuing their run of making the last 16 in the last seven World Cups, but even that might not be enough.
HIGH TENSION
With the prospect of an Argentina elimination, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half but with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere in the stadium.
The opening period did not live up to the match’s billing with neither team wanting to commit too many players forward and apart from a free kick by Mexico’s Luis Chavez in the ninth minute that sailed past the goalmouth there were few chances.
Mexico’s high pressing game stifled most of their opponents’ attack and Argentine talisman Messi, struggled to find any space to maneuver in a congested midfield.
Apart from a Lautaro Martinez effort that was well off the mark and another from Messi, Argentina were toothless up front.
But in a major blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, had to be taken off injured in the 42nd.
The Mexicans still carved out two more chances before the break with Alexis Vega first curling a free kick over the wall for keeper Emiliano Martinez to save and minutes later thundering a shot over the bar.
The South Americans looked more determined after the break but had no real chance before their 35-year-old captain dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament.
The stadium erupted in cheers once more with Fernandez’s late strike which sealed Argentina’s first win in the tournament and rekindled Messi’s hopes of a first ever World Cup title.


Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says
Updated 26 November 2022

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says

Saudi Arabia ‘will keep focused and fighting,’ Coach Renard says
  • ‘Don’t think that we are finished,’ Frenchman says after defeat by Poland
  • Green Falcons will play their final Group C game against Mexico on Wednesday

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s soccer players will remain focused and keep fighting until the World Cup’s last moments, their head coach said on Saturday after the team’s 2-0 loss to Poland.
“I am proud of my players and football is a team sport in which there is success and failure,” Herve Renard told a press conference. “The most important thing is that we have one match (left) and we must remain focused.”
After an epic win against Argentina in their opening game, the Green Falcons failed to soar to the same heights against Robert Lewandowski and his Polish teammates at the Education City Stadium in Qatar and so remain on three points in Group C.
Despite the disappointment, Renard said his team were far from giving in.
“We will play to the last second of this tournament and we will not give up,” he said.
“We will play the third match with the same energy and we need the fans to be present and fill the stadium against Mexico.
“We didn’t lose because of luck but because we weren’t so effective, and I will support all the players. I made a lot of changes after the first half to have a good reaction and get back into the game.”
The French coach said the reason he substituted Nawaf Al-Abed was because the player had suffered an ankle injury.
“I am very proud of what the players have achieved … we should have tied before the end of the first half,” Renard told Alkass Sports Channel, adding that his team had worked incredibly hard.
“The most important thing is that we remain standing here. And don’t you think that we are finished,” he said.
Poland’s coach Czeslaw Michniewicz was also full of praise for the Saudi team.
“They have good players,” he said. “The best for me is the captain, No. 10, Salem Al-Dowsari, and goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, who is a great goalkeeper and saved dangerous balls from our players.”
Poland had gained a hard-fought victory “with two goals against a valuable team,” he said.
 


In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football
Updated 27 November 2022

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football

In the zone: Fans flock to Mrsool Park for festival of football
  • ‘This is a really fun way to watch the World Cup,’ fan says
  • Live games, food and fun on offer as part of Riyadh Season

RIYADH: Saudi football fans unable to attend the World Cup in Doha have been enjoying the next best thing thanks to a designated fan zone inside Mrsool Park stadium.

Organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Riyadh Season, the area features a giant screen for people to watch the game, as well as food and drinks stalls to keep them fed and watered.

On Saturday, the zone was full of fans hoping for a second win of the tournament — after the amazing victory against Argentina — but the Green Falcons came up short against Poland.

Football fan Ibtisam, who watched the game with her friends, was full of praise for the venue.

“The organization is really great and this is a really fun way to watch the World Cup and support our national team,” she said.

Because the game was being screened inside a real football stadium, the atmosphere was similar to that experienced by the traveling fans at the Education City Stadium in Qatar.

Abdulaziz Al-Subaie, who watched the game with his family, said: “It’s a great atmosphere and has allowed us to watch the game outdoors with the rest of the Kingdom.”

Riyadh Season had ensured the city was full of entertaining activities, he added.

Saleh Al-Subaie, who spent much of the match against Poland hugging his father because of the tension and excitement, was equally complimentary.

“I liked the fact that we have things to do here before the game and during halftime. Aside from watching the game we can enjoy fun games here with everyone.”

As well as watching the action on the big screen, fans were able to test their own football skills in a series of challenges or play one of the many video and virtual reality games.

Rawan Filimban said he hoped to attend the World Cup live one day but in the meantime thought the fan zone was a great alternative.

“Riyadh Season is really cool and watching the World Cup like this just adds to the fun factor. The fan zone in Mrsool Park is an experience I won’t forget.”


Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16
Updated 26 November 2022

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16

Mbappe double sinks Denmark and takes France into World Cup last 16
  • Having scored four during France's victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances
  • France were more wasteful in front of goal on this occasion

DOHA: Kylian Mbappe scored twice, including a late winner, as holders France edged Denmark 2-1 on Saturday to become the first team to reach the last 16 of the World Cup.
A potent French side knew a second victory in as many Group D outings would take them through to the knockout phase and they were well worth the lead that Mbappe gave them when he opened the scoring at Stadium 974 just after the hour mark.
However, Andreas Christensen soon equalized for the Danes and Les Bleus needed Mbappe to deliver again in the 86th minute as he turned in Antoine Griezmann’s cross to puncture the Danish resistance once and for all.
Having scored four during France’s victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances.
Didier Deschamps’s side now have the luxury of going into their final group game against Tunisia knowing a draw will guarantee them top spot, and even a defeat may not prevent them finishing first.
Having come roaring back to batter Australia 4-1 in their opening match in Qatar, France were more wasteful in front of goal on this occasion but at least they did not come unstuck against opponents who have caused them problems before.
They were reigning champions when a defeat to the Danes knocked them out of the 2002 World Cup, while the sides played out the only goalless draw in 2018.
More recently Kasper Hjulmand’s side beat France home and away in this year’s Nations League, and it seemed that Deschamps had learned lessons from those two encounters.
If France were a shadow of their usual selves in Copenhagen in September, they were much better in this match, played in a pop-up stadium made of shipping containers on Doha’s waterfront.
Deschamps changed three of his back four, with Theo Hernandez at left-back in place of his injured elder brother Lucas and Raphael Varane coming in for his first game in over a month.
But the French attack was untouched from the Australia game.
If Olivier Giroud took the headlines then, here Ousmane Dembele was electric at times on the right, Griezmann excelled in an advanced midfield role, and Mbappe made the difference.
France’s pace, power and passing were all too sharp for the Euro 2020 semifinalists who were lucky to go in level at half-time.
There were some French appeals for a red card in the 19th minute when Mbappe burst onto a beautiful threaded through ball by Griezmann only to be hauled down by Christensen, but the Danish defender escaped with a yellow.
The holders’ best chances in the first half came from headers by Varane and Adrien Rabiot, but when Mbappe turned away from Joachim Andersen just before the hour mark and accelerated away, it was a sign that a goal was coming.
His shot was turned behind by Kasper Schmeichel, and Griezmann then wasted a great chance shortly after, but in the 61st minute Mbappe did score.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar linked up brilliantly with Hernandez on the left and met his teammate’s cutback with a shot that beat Schmeichel thanks to a deflection off Christensen.
Denmark had offered little but suddenly they were level midway through the second half as Andersen nodded down a corner and his fellow defender Christensen headed home.
Hugo Lloris was then forced into a key save to deny Jesper Lindstrom and Martin Braithwaite grazed a post as Denmark threatened to turn the game completely on its head.
That would have been extremely harsh on France, even if they could only really have themselves to blame for not making more of their chances.
But Mbappe was not to be denied as he stole in front of Rasmus Kristensen at the back post with four minutes left to meet Griezmann’s cross with his thigh for his 31st international goal.


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
Updated 26 November 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
  • Game was an entertaining encounter that should have seen more goals
  • Green Falcons dominated possession, had more chances

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia lost 2-0 to Poland at Education City in Qatar on Saturday and remain on three points after two games in World Cup Group C.
Here are five things we learned from the match:
Saudi Arabia deserved something
It was an entertaining encounter that should have contained more goals, and many of them could have gone to Saudi Arabia. There may have been concerns that the win over Argentina was so big that it would be hard for coach Herve Renard to get his players down from cloud nine and focus on the task at hand, but that was not the issue. The problem was just a lack of clinical finishing. But there was plenty to like about the performance, with Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohamed Kanno particularly impressive.
Saudi Arabia had more of the possession and more of the chances. Even if we take away the missed penalty, there were plenty of opportunities for them to score. Unlike in the win over Argentina when the first two attempts resulted in goals, there was just no way past Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper had a fine game and there were examples of shots flying wide and over from good positions.
On another day, Saudi Arabia would have taken a point from this game, but they were punished by refereeing decisions, their own mistakes, not taking their chances and Poland making the most of theirs.
Harsh first half for the Falcons
Saudi Arabia played well in the first half, which lasted 55 minutes, but all the major incidents in the period went against them. First, Poland’s Matty Cash should have been sent off. The Aston Villa defender was booked for a late tackle but just a few minutes later somehow got away with a dangerous challenge on Mohammed Al-Burayk.
Had a second yellow been shown then Cash would not have been in an advanced position after 39 minutes to pass to Robert Lewandowski who then set up Piotr Zielinski to fire home. It was a goal that came totally against the run of play but that is what happens in football and Saudi Arabia will feel aggrieved that Poland still had 11 men on the pitch.
And then there was the penalty that came in added time as Saleh Al-Shehri was brought down in the area. In truth, Salem Al-Dawsari’s spot kick was not the best but Al-Burayk should have done better with the rebound. Going in level at the break against 10 men would have produced a very different second half.
This is a new, confident Saudi Arabia
What a difference a win against Argentina makes. If anyone was tuning in without knowing anything about the teams, they would have thought that the men in green were the favorites, with players active at the highest level, and that the ones in blue and white were the underdogs.
There were questions as to whether Renard would set his team up in the same way for the second game, and he did. The same, brave, high line was there, the same pressing and even more energy. Saudi Arabia flew out of the blocks and went at Poland, who did not impress in their opening 0-0 draw with Mexico. The Poles were clearly rattled, as three yellow cards collected in the first half of the first half showed.
This is now a Saudi team that knows it can trouble European and South American opposition and does not back down. This is an attitude that needs to continue.
Saudi Arabia have home advantage
Saturday’s game may have officially taken place in Qatar but it could have been Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam, such were the numbers of Saudi fans in the stadium. As well as the quantity, there was also quality, with noise levels reaching rarely heard heights at the tournament.
The atmosphere was something else and it spurred on the players. It also rattled the Poles who really struggled to settle. They were jeered when in possession, in contrast to the cheers that greeted Saudi Arabian possession. It took an opening goal before the Poles started to look even remotely comfortable. Whatever happens, the Saudi Arabian fans and the players have come together to make one of the stories of the World Cup, and Mexico will not be looking forward to visiting Lusail Iconic Stadium on Wednesday.
There is still all to play for and no reason to feel down
Fans will have to wait and see what happens in Saturday’s late game between Argentina and Mexico to know exactly what they have to do, but whatever happens, everybody would have accepted this position before the World Cup began. Three points from the first two games means the Falcons are in control of their destiny. A win over Mexico means that a place in the knockout stage is guaranteed. It remains to be seen if a draw will suffice.
Coach Renard will have to wait and see what happens with players who have collected knocks but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Saudi Arabia have shown that they can live with their opponents. Glory awaits and with tens of thousands of fans behind them next week then anything could happen. The defeat against Poland does not need to be a devastating one and nobody should feel down.