Pakistan pins its hopes on return to cricket’s world stage

Pakistan pins its hopes on return to cricket’s world stage
Fans watch the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2022 final cricket match England and Pakistan being aired on a huge screen at a Hockey Stadium in Karachi early this month. (AFP)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Pakistan pins its hopes on return to cricket’s world stage

Pakistan pins its hopes on return to cricket’s world stage
  • Global game can be a unifying force against obstacles the country faces internationally

Fallout in the aftermath of the 2022 ICC men’s T20 World Cup continues to affect cricket nations around the globe.

England has crashed back to earth, losing all three matches in an ODI series to Australia.

The team was missing several of its stars and more than a little of its focus, but the crushing defeat took some gloss off the T20 World Cup performance.

In India, the cricket control board has exercised its control function by sacking the entire selection panel, immediately inviting applicants for the vacancies.

Meanwhile, there is apprehension in Pakistan. This is not because of sackings of captain, selectors or coaches.

England’s first Test there in 17 years is scheduled for Rawalpindi on Dec. 1. Political unrest is in the air. An anti-government march in support of Imran Khan, former prime minster and national cricket captain, who survived a recent assassination attempt, threatens the itinerary of the three-match series.

How ironic that a British-educated, high-society, top-class cricketer, who led Pakistan to a World Cup victory over England in 1992, should be the person in the eye of this storm.

This speaks volumes for the intricate, complex nature of England’s relationship with Pakistan, a subject that is brilliantly explored in a recently published book, “Cricket in Pakistan: Nation, Identity and Politics,” by Ali Khan, of the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

He begins by quoting C.L.R James’ famous “What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?”

James’ work was based on the West Indies, but his message that cricket is not just a sport, but part of a wider reality, can be applied universally.

The extent to which this has been recognized by the game’s numerous stakeholders is open to debate. Clearly, the fact that accusations and examples of racism still plague the game means that James’ idealism has been unrecognized by many, even if they knew about it in the first place.

Can there be any doubt that cricket reflects a society’s history, structure, culture and politics? In societies where it is the main sport, it may also reflect hopes and fears.

In Pakistan’s case this is evident. Cricket is a unifying force against the obstacles the country faces in the wider world.

Khan suggests that cricket has come to represent Pakistan, articulating its history, culture, society and economy in a way that no other construct can achieve. As an example of this, he refers to the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team’s bus on its way to the Qaddafi stadium in Lahore in March 2009.

As a result, Pakistan was not allowed to host international cricket for over a decade. This has affected the team’s global competitiveness, an isolated example of where the country can do this. Cricket’s ability to be a unifying influence, when all else seems to be going badly, took a severe psychological blow from the attack. Its players were condemned to a life on the road.

Consistency has never been a frequently used description of the performances of the Pakistan’s men’s cricket team. This may be unfair, given that few teams manage to achieve prolonged consistency. One description that I have heard used frequently is mercurial and this is one to which Khan also refers. He feels that, although the epithet is exaggerated, it is a defining feature of Pakistan’s cricket. Why this is so rooted does appear to be a function of the country’s history, the way in which Pakistani cricket has evolved, and the changing ideologies to which its society has been subject.

The early years of cricket in Pakistan was played mainly by the urban middle-class. Lahore and Karachi were the main centers of activity with universities, schools and sports clubs providing the basic structure. This regime continued for around 30 years, the team achieving international success in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Societal changes, population growth, especially in urban areas, vacillating policies of different political ideologues, and broadcasting of cricket on television led to the sport being played and watched by a much wider spectrum of the population. It also brought in different types of players from a different background to those who represented Pakistan in its early days. One contributing factor which Khan considers not to have received the recognition it deserves has been the role of tape-ball cricket.

Electrical tape is stretched over a tennis ball. This removed the natural bounce of a tennis ball and those who could bowl quickly benefitted by low bounce, particularly if the ball was pitched close to the striker’s feet. When the tape frayed, the ball’s movement swerved through the air.

Matches of short duration were played under streetlights at a frantic pace, while some laws of cricket were ignored, such as leg before wicket, as well as umpires. These conditions generated innovation through a variety of bowling actions, not all legal, and batting strokes. Of course, there was no coaching. The players who came into the professional game through the tape-ball route were uninhibited, natural, high-risk and, to an extent, lawless.

Some of Pakistan’s finest bowlers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries learnt their tricks in tape-ball cricket. Their ability to bowl fast deliveries into the feet of strikers, to make the ball deviate once it had lost its shine and to spin on surfaces others could not manage were wondrous to behold. However, the lack of coaching and fitness levels meant that if these natural assets were countered, they lacked an alternative plan. In turn, this fed the images of inconsistency and mercuriality.

The inconsistent tag has not been helped by previous “match-fixing” incidents and controversies. These ruined the reputation and careers of both experienced and young cricketers, leading to the removal, at a stroke, of a part of the team who had to be replaced, almost immediately.

The renewed hope for Pakistan to host international cricket — this time against a former colonial ruler and protagonist — hangs by a thread.

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title
Updated 04 December 2022

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

LONDON: Tyson Fury retained his World Boxing Council heavyweight title with a decisive stoppage win over British rival Derek Chisora on Saturday.
Fury, still unbeaten as a professional, dominated from the start, and with Chisora's eyes starting to close, referee Victor Loughlin stopped the fight shortly before the end of the 10th round at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The 34-year-old now boasts a record of 33 wins from 34 fights with one draw.
Fury's latest win also paved the way for a unification bout with Oleksandr Usyk, the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion.
Usyk was at ringside on Saturday as he returned to the venue where he deprived Britain's Anthony Joshua of all those titles in September last year before defeating him again in Jeddah this July.
Soon after Fury's hand was raised in victory, he was involved in a ringside face-off with Usyk with only the ropes separating him from the Ukrainian.

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands
Updated 04 December 2022

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands

DOHA: Lionel Messi finally scored a goal in the knockout rounds of the World Cup on Saturday as he inspired Argentina to a 2-1 win over Australia that sets up a mouthwatering quarter-final showdown with the Netherlands, who proved too strong for the United States earlier.
The Argentina captain marked his 1,000th career appearance with his 789th goal to open the scoring in the first half at Doha’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
It was a classy finish from a player appearing at his fifth World Cup but who had never previously found the net in a knockout tie at the tournament he is looking to win for the first time at the age of 35.
It looked like Argentina were going to run away with the game when Julian Alvarez took advantage of a goalkeeping mistake to double their lead just before the hour mark.
Yet an Australia team who had already defied all expectations in Qatar just in reaching the last 16 went down fighting.
They pulled one back when a Craig Goodwin shot deflected in off Enzo Fernandez for an own goal and only a last-ditch challenge from Lisandro Martinez prevented Aziz Behich, of Dundee United in Scotland, from scoring a remarkable late equalizer.
“It was a really physical game but I am very happy with the victory and that we have taken another little step forward,” Messi told Argentine television.
Argentina were one of the pre-tournament favorites and have since bounced back from losing to Saudi Arabia in their opening game to progress to the last eight.
Australia, meanwhile, go home after failing in their quest to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, but it has been a memorable campaign for Graham Arnold’s Socceroos.
“It’s all about making the nation proud and I’m pretty sure we did that,” Arnold said.
“Everyone said we were the worst Socceroos to ever qualify for the World Cup and the worst Socceroos ever.
“That’s gone now.”
Argentina can now look forward to a last-eight tie next Friday against the Netherlands, a pairing that evokes memories of some classic World Cup contests, including the 1978 final won by the South Americans and a 1998 quarter-final decided by a brilliant Dennis Bergkamp goal.
Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side also started slowly in Qatar but they still topped their group and on Saturday they produced their best performance yet to beat the United States 3-1.
Their victory was set up by a wonderful early opening goal at the Khalifa International Stadium, with Memphis Depay finishing at the end of a 20-pass move.
Daley Blind got their second goal just before half-time and a late strike from Denzel Dumfries sealed a deserved victory after Hajji Wright had pulled one back.
“We always want to improve and, since the start of the tournament, it’s been getting better and better with each game,” Van Gaal said.
For the United States it was a familiar story — they enjoyed plenty of the ball but were hampered by the lack of a cutting edge.
USA coach Gregg Berhalter’s men head home after scoring just three goals in their four matches.
“When you look at the difference of the two teams, there was some offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we were lacking,” said Berhalter.
“We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now, who’s scoring in the Champions League, playing for Barcelona, experienced at scoring at this level.”
The last-16 action continues on Sunday as holders France take on Poland before England meet Africa Cup of Nations winners Senegal.
While Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski will attract most of the attention when the French and Poland face off, the game will also be significant for France captain Hugo Lloris as he equals Lilian Thuram’s national record of 142 caps.
“It is no small achievement. I am really honored at the figures and very proud, even if it is very much secondary to the fact that we are on the eve of the last 16 of the World Cup,” Lloris said.
England are expected to see off Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium but their manager Gareth Southgate has no intention of underestimating Aliou Cisse’s men.
“They have some excellent individual players who can cause problems, but a good structure as well,” he said.

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals
Updated 04 December 2022

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals

DOHA, Qatar: Louis van Gaal leaned to his left, wrapped his arm around Denzel Dumfries, and planted a kiss on the player’s cheek.
Dumfries probably deserved even more smooches from his coach on Saturday after leading the Netherlands into the World Cup quarterfinals with a goal and two assists in the 3-1 victory over the United States.
“Yesterday, or a day before yesterday, I gave him a big fat kiss,” Van Gaal said at the post-match news conference. “I am going to give him another big fat kiss so everybody can see.”
And so he did.
“There you go,” Van Gaal said, showing his affection for the right back, who plays for Italian club Inter Milan.
Dumfries did it all against the Americans as the Netherlands extended its unbeaten run to 19 games as it pursues an elusive World Cup title.
The Dutch national team carries the burden of probably being best soccer country to never have won the World Cup. The Netherlands has been the runner-up three times — 1974, 1978 and 2010 — and was third in 2014 after losing to Argentina on penalties in the semifinals.
However, the team failed to qualify in 2018, probably providing more motivation this time.
Dumfries scored Oranje’s final goal in the 81st minute on a volley after second-half substitute Hajji Wright scored in the 76th to briefly get the Americans back into the match. He also added assists on the other two goals at Khalifa International Stadium — Memphis Depay’s in the 10th, and Daley Blind’s in first-half stoppage time.
“It was a great game and I’m happy I can be important for the team,” said Dumfries, who is named for American actor Denzel Washington.
“I’m proud to have his name,” he said. “I am incredibly proud of Denzel Washington. He is a really strong personality who voices his views and I see that as an example.”
Dumfries said Oranje was “more focused” than it was in lackluster group games — a 1-1 draw with Ecuador and 2-0 victories over Senegal and Qatar.
“We knew that we could play better than we did in the first three matches,” he said.
The United States had more possession of the ball, and more attempts at goal — 16 to 12. But the Dutch dealt with that just fine.
“In Holland we’re used to having the ball, to having possession,” Dumfries said. “This is a different way of playing. I also understand the criticism in Holland because we can play much better with the ball.”
United States goalkeeper Matt Turner and the American defense were under constant pressure handling crosses into the 6-yard box.
“It was like they had a little bit of extra patience and cut the ball back, and we didn’t track well,” Turner said. “I felt like every time they crossed the ball they got a head on it or they got a piece of it.”
Cody Gakpo, who has scored three goals in the tournament, said what Van Gaal has been talking up: The Netherlands can finally win the title, though few think this is one of the nation’s best teams.
“We’ve believed in ourselves from the start and we’ve come here with a goal,” Gakpo said. “And that’s to try and become world champions. We believe in that.”

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament
Updated 03 December 2022

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament
  • As a competitive Qatar 2022 group stage ends, Arab News looks at why expansion in four years’ time might backfire

LONDON: Competitive teams. Fair, hard-fought competition with no chance of blow-out scorelines or one-sided matches. A gripped, captivated global viewership of billions.

It is the “Holy Grail trifecta” for sport governing bodies the world over in their quest for audiences, viewing figures and lucrative sponsporships. And, even with all their arrogance and bravado, especially for the most powerful of the lot — FIFA.

Finally, in the ongoing World Cup in Qatar, as the group stage closes and the high-drama of knockout football gets underway, the FIFA bigwigs might have finally found a winning formula.

But, in true FIFA fashion, in four years’ time the governing body will be throwing the baby out with the bathwater and tinkering, fine-tuning and meddling at the most inopportune moment.

The 1998 tournament in France was the first to feature the now-established 32-team format that fans have grown to know, love and plan their lives around for the quadrennial six-week run of a FIFA World Cup.

Eyebrows were raised back then. Even more so as Spain thumped Bulgaria, Netherlands hammered South Korea and Argentina dismantled Jamaica. Letting in the so-called “also-rans” was watering down the tournament, reducing the quality and cheapening the product, said the naysayers.

“24-team tournaments just work,” they bemoaned. “Look at the quality of the European Championship (at the time an intense, high-drama 16-team battle to be continental champions),” they cried. “The smaller teams will just devalue the competition,” they howled.

But, FIFA stuck to its guns and in the ensuing two decades since has produced three World Cups arguably very near the top of most people’s lists of “favorite World Cups,” especially within the big-spending, sought after millennial generation. Germany’s fiesta of football in 2006 stands out for this writer, in particular.

Of course, the mathematical, logical argument of 32 going into 16 was also a major factor in FIFA’s decision-making. Long gone were the complicated best-third-placed teams equations to work out and unfair criteria of tournaments past. It was now a case of: “Finish in the top 16 spots, you progress.”

And so, 24 years on from France’s shock triumph over Brazil in a home tournament, the benefits are being reaped in the Middle East.

We have seen one of the most memorable group stages of a World Cup in living memory in Qatar. Saudi Arabia beating Argentina, Japan toppling Germany, Morocco looking like world-beaters on their way to topping their group, more Asian teams in the Round of 16 than South American sides for the first time.

The list goes on.

FIFA’s 32-team format this year has gripped the world and, bar an anomalous seven-goal demolition of Costa Rica by Spain proving the exception rather than the rule, fans tuned in to every game truly pondering who might come out on top — even in so-called “David vs. Goliath on paper” clashes.

As the old adage goes, the game is not played on paper.

So, much like the Euros losing some of its magic and allure when UEFA expanded its showpiece tournament to 24 teams in 2016, it is likely that the type of memories-of-a-lifetime made in Doha will fade away when FIFA expands to 48 teams in US, Canada and Mexico’s 2026 tournament.

Adding another 16 teams, some most likely playing in their first World Cup, has the danger of making the tournament too protracted, too long and too complicated.

FIFA’s quest to “spread the game as wide as possible,” giving nations a chance of playing on the biggest stage and delivering millions more people the joy of watching their national heroes taking to a World Cup pitch is a laudable, noble one.

But, with all due respect to any nations competing, would TV audiences or (more importantly for FIFA) wealthy sponsors with deep pockets want to provide financial backing or tune in for a Dominican Republic vs. Hungary match? Take a day off for a Finland vs. Sierra Leone match? Or set the alarm clock for a potential blow-out match between France and Haiti?

FIFA has a difficult task of making the World Cup as egalitarian as possible, while maintaining the captivating, high-drama competition that has already marked out Qatar 2022 for high praise.

Perhaps, rather than throwing more teams into the mix, an overhaul of the whole qualification procedure would work? Or, maybe, addressing the obvious imbalance in favor of UEFA’s European monopoly of qualification berths for each tournament might help?

Whatever the solution for FIFA, having finally hit the nail on the head with a winning product in the World Cup finals itself, as another well-known saying goes … “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable
Updated 03 December 2022

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable
  • The medical team diagnosed a respiratory infection, which is being treated with antibiotics
  • The 82-year-old will remain hospitalized for the next few days to continue treatment

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian soccer legend Pele was diagnosed with a respiratory infection but remains in a stable condition, a medical report showed on Friday.
“The medical team diagnosed a respiratory infection, which is being treated with antibiotics. The response has been adequate, and the patient, who remains in a common room, is stable, with general improvement in health status,” said the report from hospital Albert Einstein.
The 82-year-old will remain hospitalized for the next few days to continue treatment, his medical staff added.
Pele was admitted to the hospital in Sao Paulo on Tuesday to reevaluate his treatment for cancer after he had a tumor removed from his colon in September 2021.
On Thursday, the former forward posted a photo on Instagram thanking his supporters for the positive messages he has received.