Head to the fore as Australia set up World Cup final against India

Head to the fore as Australia set up World Cup final against India
Left-hand batsman and part-time off-spinner Head stood out. (AP)
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Updated 16 November 2023

Head to the fore as Australia set up World Cup final against India

Head to the fore as Australia set up World Cup final against India
  • The final is on Sunday at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad

KOLKATA: Travis Head starred with bat and ball as Australia set up a World Cup final clash with India after a tense three-wicket win over South Africa in Kolkata
on Thursday.
Chasing a tricky 213 for victory, Australia wobbled after Head hit 62 but Steve Smith (30) and Josh Inglis (28) helped the five-time champions reach their target with 16 balls to spare in the second semifinal in Kolkata.
As Australia reached an eighth World Cup final, South Africa were left to rue a fifth semifinal loss despite David Miller’s 101.
Australia slipped to 137-5 and then 193-7 before Mitchell Starc (16) and skipper Pat Cummins (14) kept their nerve to steer the
team home.
Left-hand batsman and part-time off-spinner Head stood out after taking two wickets and then with his 48-ball innings laced with nine fours and two sixes.
Australia were in trouble when they were five down as spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi struck in quick succession to rattle the middle-order.
Maharaj bowled Head, who was dropped on 40 and 57, and Shamsi, a left-arm wrist spinner, trapped Marnus Labuschagne lbw for 18 and bowled Glenn Maxwell for one in his next over.
Australia started the tournament with two losses but registered their eighth straight win.
Starc led the bowling charge with figures of 3-34 and Cummins also picked three wickets to bowl out South Africa for 212 in 49.4 overs.
Left-arm quick Starc struck in the first over to send back South Africa captain Temba Bavuma, who had said he was not “100 percent fit” at the toss, for a fourth-ball duck.
Josh Hazlewood claimed the wicket of in-form Quinton de Kock for three as Cummins took a stunning catch.
De Kock, who will quit one-day international after the World Cup, ended with 594 runs including four centuries to sit behind the tournament’s leading batsman Virat Kohli (711).
The new-ball bowlers kept up the attack with the wickets of Aiden Markram (10) and Rassie van der Dussen (six) as South Africa slumped to 24-4 and were 44-4 when rain interrupted play.
Klaasen and Miller hit back after the 45-minute rain break as the two put on 95 runs but Head broke through to bowl Klaasen for 47.
Head trapped Marco Jansen lbw on the next delivery to be on a hat trick, which was saved by Gerald Coetzee, who put on a 53-run partnership with Miller.
The left-handed Miller smashed eight fours and five sixes in his 116-ball knock.
The final is on Sunday at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.

Outbreak of new controversies continues to plague international cricket

Outbreak of new controversies continues to plague international cricket
Updated 07 December 2023

Outbreak of new controversies continues to plague international cricket

Outbreak of new controversies continues to plague international cricket
  • Two recent controversial developments have done little to improve the image of the game in Australia and Pakistan

All of a sudden cricket has been impacted by an outbreak of controversies. Amongst them have been a fierce dispute between former colleagues in the Australian men’s team, the loss of free-to-air viewing rights in Australia and the appointment of a disgraced Pakistani cricketer as an advisor on national selection.

On Dec. 4, the International Cricket Council announced that Amazon Prime had been awarded the broadcast rights in Australia for all ICC tournaments for the next four years, starting on Jan. 1, 2024.

This means that Australian cricket fans will need to have a Prime Video subscription if they wish to watch Australia’s men’s and women’s teams playing in ICC competitions, including Under-19 World Cup events. There are 11 of them up to the end of 2027. None of the tournaments will be held in Australia. This has provided an opportunity for the ICC and Amazon Prime to avoid so-called Australian anti-siphoning rules.

Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a paywall has been greeted with outrage. The CEO of Free TV Australia, the industry body which represents all free-to-air Australian TV networks, condemned the move, saying that “all Australians deserve the right to share our great sporting moments for free, and that right is in serious jeopardy.”

That view seems to be shared by the federal communications minister, Michelle Rowland, who has recently introduced a bill to parliament that updates anti-siphoning laws. Once in law, free-to-air services must be offered first refusal for important sporting events.

This measure may not go far enough. The Broadcasting Services (Events) Notice, as the anti-siphoning legislation is known, was first introduced in 1992 when the concern was related to subscription TV securing sports rights. The protective provisions apply to senior Australian cricket teams playing in Test, one day and T20 matches in Australia, New Zealand and the UK between Australia and England. Discussion has been reawakened as to whether this geographical coverage should or can be expanded.

It is too late for the timescale of the ICC/Prime deal. Social media comments have been quick to blame the minister and Cricket Australia for this to happen. Neither has any involvement or power in the broadcast deals which the ICC arranges. However, the introduction of Prime, as the fourth major broadcaster of cricket in Australia and the first which is entirely on-line, has added to the melange of cricket viewing options for Australian audiences.

They have been used to a 15-year long joint venture for ICC tournaments between Foxtel and Channel Nine, which ended with this years ODI Final. Cricket Australia’s domestic broadcast rights have been held by a partnership between free-to-air broadcaster Seven and pay TV channel Foxtel since 2018, when Channel Nine lost out after forty years of dominance. A new seven-year domestic rights deal was signed in January 2023 by Seven and Foxtel.

They, along with Foxtel’s video streaming subscription service, Kayo, will broadcast Australian men’s Tests and all women’s internationals on home soil. They will also show both the men’s and women’s Big Bash. Fox Cricket and Kayo broadcast Australian men’s limited-overs internationals on home soil, non-Ashes Australian men’s internationals and women’s outside of Australia.

The once dominant Channel Nine has the rights to broadcast the England v Australia Ashes series scheduled to played in England in 2027 and 2031. Domestic men’s and women’s competitions are broadcast by Cricket Australia’s Live app and cricket.com.au, with selected matches shown on Fox and Kayo. At least for the next four years, the broadcasting landscape for Australian audiences looks stable if not wholly acceptable, given the new loss of free-to-air.

This means that audiences will have to pay for all international limited-overs cricket played by Australia’s men’s and women’s teams. The next ICC event scheduled to be hosted in Australia is the T20 World Cup in 2028, after the timeframe of the Amazon deal. The battle is on to preserve an Australian way of life — the opportunity for all to enjoy free TV coverage of iconic sporting events,

Alongside this development, two former colleagues in the Australian men’s team have locked horns. Mitchell Johnson, who retired in November 2015, has criticized the decision of opening batter David Warner to choreograph his retirement. Warner announced his plans on June 3, 2022, targeting the third test against Pakistan in Sydney in January as his Test swansong.

Johnson thinks it wrong that a player can attempt to influence team selectors in this way. He argues that Warner’s recent performances do not justify his selection. Furthermore, Johnson has rekindled the tensions over Warner’s involvement in a ball-tampering incident in South Africa in 2018 over which Johnson feels that Warner displayed insufficient contrition.

Current colleagues have come to Warner’s defense and former players have commented that the affair paints a bad image for Australian cricket. Johnson also criticized the chair of selectors for being too close to the players, implying that this is a contributory factor to Warner’s continuing presence in the team. When Warner made his original announcement, it did appear to be rather presumptuous. Johnson has a point, but he could have expressed it in a less vituperative manner. It seems that he may have been prompted into action by a text which he received from Warner on another issue.

In Pakistan, those who replaced the leaders of the men’s team in the 2023 World Cup caused an embarrassment by appointing a former captain, Salman Butt, as a selection consultant. Butt received a five-year ban from cricket and served a seven-month prison sentence for spot-fixing in Test in 2010. A wave of criticism from commentators, journalists and ex-players, caused the chief selector to reverse his poorly judged appointment after one day.

Two of the three controversies are not good for the image of two countries — Australia and Pakistan. Whether the ICC’s broadcasting rights deal will damage its image will take longer to be emerge. No doubt, the ICC will be happy with the undisclosed funds it has generated, but incurring the wrath of Australians, seemingly without consultation, may have unintended consequences.

Cricket’s uneasy relationship with the environment

Cricket’s uneasy relationship with the environment
Updated 30 November 2023

Cricket’s uneasy relationship with the environment

Cricket’s uneasy relationship with the environment
  • Sport is not only a victim of climate change but also a contributor to it
  • Anyone who attended World Cup matches in Delhi, as did your columnist, cannot have failed to have noticed or been affected by the appalling air quality

Fallout from the 2023 World Cup continues. Some Indians have been enraged by pictures of an Australian player resting his leg on the trophy, labeling him disrespectful.

One supporter has lodged an official complaint to high level authorities calling for the player to be banned from playing in India. Needless to say, Australians have retorted by accusing Indians of being poor losers.

On the Indian cricket analysis sites which I access, reactions to India’s loss have ranged from highly emotional — one bizarrely suggesting a link between change of sponsor and failure to win trophies — to a recognition that Australia’s tactical plan was perfectly executed.

A form of redemption for India has come in the shape of winning the first two of five matches in a T20 series with Australia in India. This has come hard on the heels of the World Cup final and features few of the players who competed in that match.

Currently, New Zealand are playing a two-match test series against Bangladesh, England embark on a ODI and T20 series in the West Indies on Sunday, Pakistan travel to Australia for three tests before going to New Zealand, India will visit South Africa, all before the end of the year. Women’s cricket also has a busy schedule. England visit India, as do Australia, while Pakistan go to New Zealand and Bangladesh to South Africa in the next four weeks.

Those who wish to see the game grow and expand will be heartened by these schedules. Others are not so sure. In England, the Professional Cricketers’ Association has reacted to the 2024 domestic schedule as “unrelenting, involving dangerous travel windows and a feeling from the player body that the game is prioritizing commercial revenue over player welfare.”

Australia’s all-conquering captain, Pat Cummins, puts a different spin on it in saying that “realistically, the word rest and rotated gets thrown around a lot but you never miss a test if you are fully fit.”

Perhaps there is a different perspective on life in the domestic and international circuits.

There is another aspect to the substantial growth that has taken place in cricket, which is driven by the different formats and the expansion of women’s cricket.

As COP28 opens in the UAE, the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed on Monday it is joining the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. It is the first national cricketing governing body to do so and joins two English county clubs, Gloucestershire and Surrey. Marylebone Cricket Club has also signed up, along with Melbourne Cricket Club and the ILT20 franchise, Desert Vipers.

Signatories are encouraged to embed environmental thinking into their decision-making, along with targets of halving greenhouse emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2040.

Prima facie, the list of signatories within cricket is short. The sport is not only a victim of climate change but also a contributor. Examples of measures taken to reduce contribution by those who have signed up include reducing direct emissions, especially electricity consumption, improving operational processes and increasing amounts of recycling.

At Surrey, one stand has had solar panels installed on the rooftop and measures to reduce the significant proportion of emissions generated by external sources have been introduced. Similar concerns have been addressed at Edgbaston, Birmingham, which has no direct metro stop. The number of car parking spaces at the ground has been reduced and for big match days a shuttle bus service has been initiated. Changing people’s habits in this way is not an easy task.

At the recreational level, the ECB has made funding available to encourage water management and energy saving, including the use of electric mowers and rollers. It introduced extreme heat regulations after such conditions occurred in 2022, while assistance is available to alleviate the impact of drought, storms and floods, for which reparations have become increasingly costly.

Air quality is another issue. Anyone who attended World Cup matches in Delhi, as did your columnist, cannot have failed to have noticed or been affected by the appalling air quality. Training was canceled for the Sri Lankan and Bangladesh teams on Nov. 5 and there was talk of the match being canceled.

On match day, Delhi’s air quality index exceeded 400, officially hazardous. A representative of the International Cricket Council said it was monitoring the situation. Separately, India’s captain and England’s Joe Root expressed public concerns. Root commented that in Mumbai it was difficult to “get your breath.” A former West Indian captain, Daren Ganga has urged administrators to adopt measures to ensure player protection. He also called on them to be more explicitly concerned about the game’s environmental footprint.

Unless the ICC, the game’s governing body, displays leadership in this respect, addressing the issues will be left to local initiatives. There is no systematic approach across cricket. Indeed, there are actions which pull in the other direction. One is the amount of air travel generated by international cricket.

In this respect, it has been eye-opening to learn about the strategy of the Desert Vipers in the DP World ILT20. The franchise is the only one not owned by Indian interests. Its owners and leaders have placed sustainability at the heart of its operations. They seek to promote sustainability within the UAE and the broader cricketing community. Their motivation derives from awareness of climate change, pollution and natural resource depletion.

In 2018, the Climate Coalition reported that cricket would be the pitch sport most impacted by climate change. Five years on more evidence of this is apparent. As such, cricket has the potential, some would say responsibility, to acknowledge the relationship between environmental, social, economic and technological factors and address them for the long-term viability of the game. Slowly, very slowly, in the face of powerful, dissenting voices, parts of cricket’s ecosystem are waking up.

How Australia crashed India’s expected 2023 Cricket World Cup party

How Australia crashed India’s expected 2023 Cricket World Cup party
Updated 23 November 2023

How Australia crashed India’s expected 2023 Cricket World Cup party

How Australia crashed India’s expected 2023 Cricket World Cup party
  • Host nation were on top form and set for procession toward the title until final act of a tournament of many landmarks

So, it came to pass. As soon as I set foot in India on Oct. 4 in Ahmedabad, I detected an inexorable momentum toward India being crowned ODI World Champions on Nov. 19. It was an orderly procession for the team with few bumps in the road toward what always felt like a coronation. Enrapt, noisy, fervid Indian supporters filled the stands when their heroes played. Other teams were a sideshow, there as a necessary irritant to be swatted aside as quickly as possible.

All of them were, until the final act.

In that moment, it did not come to pass. The coronation was jilted, the stadium quietened and half emptied well before the final’s end, an Australian’s masterly century received in near silence, the trophy presentation ceremony conducted in perfunctory manner. What would one give to have been privy to PM Modi’s inner thoughts as he handed the trophy to Australia’s captain?

Within India, post-mortems abound. In the final reckoning, the overall objective of India’s desire to triumph was not achieved. On the day, Australia planned, riskily it appeared, even rashly, to bowl first. The response from bowlers and fielders was superb. If the objective was to restrict India to anything under 280, it worked so well that 241 was the target. India lost because its innings was bogged down and because it could not break Australia’s fourth wicket partnership.

Yet, what of the tournament itself, the vehicle for India’s anticipated success? It witnessed the breaking of records, too numerous to list. Notable among them was the fastest ODI World Cup century, broken not once but twice, the highest match aggregate, the highest number of sixes hit and the highest innings total. This latter record is now held by South Africa, who amassed 425 for the loss of only five wickets against Sri Lanka in Delhi. The total surpassed Australia’s total of 411 for six against Afghanistan in 2015. Five of the ten highest ODI World Cup totals were scored in the 2023 edition.

Off the field, the International Cricket Council is claiming a record for the highest number of people attending an ODI World Cup. It estimates that an aggregate 1.25 million spectators attended the 48 matches, an average of 26,000. This exceeds the previous record of 1.016 million set in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand, across 49 matches, an average of 20,734. In England and Wales in 2019, 0.75 attended across 48 matches, an average of 15,625.

It should be no surprise that the attendance record was broken in India. What ought to be a surprise is that it was not broken by more. Official figures indicate that 92,500 turned up for the final. If a similar number or more attended the India v Pakistan match at Ahmedabad, then it is reasonable to assume that these two matches accounted for 20 percent of aggregate attendances. If India’s other nine matches attracted, say, 60,000 each, then attendances for the home team’s matches represented more than half of total attendances. As may be deduced from the sea of blue shirts at India’s matches, it is reasonable to assume that almost all of them were supporting India.

If the above assumptions are correct, then 0.6 million people attended the other 37 matches, an average of about 16,000. Matches early in the tournament had swathes of empty seats. This was true of the opening match between England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad, despite the official estimate of a 45,000 attendance. It certainly did not feel that number to your columnist, who was present. If official estimates have been shrouded in mystery from day one, then revenue even more so. If discussions with people around me were any guide, then not everyone had paid for their ticket.

A prime example of this occurred in Delhi. At first, the zone where I was seated was sparsely populated. Uniformed senior police appeared, a prelude to the arrival of dozens of men, women and children, who turned out to be representing a police families welfare society. Cricket was incidental to the display of banners, consumption of freely available food and picture-taking. Their presence swelled the attendance but only a few will know the extent to which it swelled income. This is not meant to be churlish. More spectators heighten the atmosphere and Indians certainly know how to party. Those who turned up to neutral fixtures raised the noise levels.

The tournament also broke multiple broadcast and digital viewership records. Final numbers have yet to be announced but at the halfway stage the ICC reported a 43 percent rise in viewing minutes compared with 2019. Hotstar, India’s digital streaming service, saw its record for the number of concurrent viewers broken four times. 

Emphasis on records deflects from more fundamental issues. One is existential — will the ODI format survive and has this tournament been a help or a hindrance? Second is the relationship between the ICC and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Thirdly, how inclusive was this event? The next ODI World cup is set to be hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2027, followed by India and Bangladesh in 2031, both involving 14 teams. Its medium-term existence appears secure. Whether the demands of broadcasters, for whom matches involving India is the biggest draw, will cause any changes to the format remains to be seen.

This issue is likely to further test the ability of the ICC to withstand the power of the BCCI. This is not a given. On the day after the final, the ICC issued a statement thanking the BCCI for successfully hosting the 2023 World Cup, the biggest ever. This glosses over a number of issues pertaining to the spectator. Your columnist has reported previously about difficulties of access and egress at grounds, about high-handed security checks, pettiness over banned items, all of which detract from the live viewing experience. None of these appear to matter to the authorities. It seems that television and streaming audiences are the golden egg that shall not be broken.

Travis Head breaks India hearts as Australia win sixth Cricket World Cup title

Travis Head breaks India hearts as Australia win sixth Cricket World Cup title
Updated 19 November 2023

Travis Head breaks India hearts as Australia win sixth Cricket World Cup title

Travis Head breaks India hearts as Australia win sixth Cricket World Cup title
  • Head’s knock and his marathon stand of 192 with Marnus Labuschagne, unbeaten on 58, ended India’s dominant run of 10 unbeaten matches

AHMEDABAD: Opener Travis Head hit a sparkling 137 to power Australia to a record-extending sixth World Cup title with a convincing six-wicket win over India in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
Chasing a tricky 241 for victory in the final, Australia slipped to 47-3 before the left-handed Head hit his second century of the tournament to steer the team home with seven overs to spare.
Head’s knock and his marathon stand of 192 with Marnus Labuschagne, unbeaten on 58, ended India’s dominant run of 10 unbeaten matches at the event.
Head fell after his 120-ball knock laced with 15 fours and four sixes before Glenn Maxwell hit the winning runs to trigger wild celebrations in the Aussie camp.
“Just thrilled to be a part of it,” man-of-the-match Head told Star Sports.
“It’s a lot better than seeing the World Cup on the couch at home (on his injury). I was a little bit nervous but Marnus played exceptionally well and soaked all the pressure.”
India’s chances of ending a global trophy drought since their 2013 Champions Trophy win went up in smoke once Head got going with Labuschagne.
Head’s century was the seventh in a World Cup final and third by an Australian after Ricky Ponting (140 not out v India in 2003) and Adam Gilchrist (149 v Sri Lanka in 2007).
The bowlers set up victory for an Australian side that bounced back after two losses to win nine in a row as Mitchell Starc (3-55) and Pat Cummins (2-34) helped bowl out India for 240.
India hit back when Mohammed Shami shared the new ball with Jasprit Bumrah and struck on his second delivery to get David Warner caught behind for seven.
But it was Bumrah’s double strike in quick succession that raised the roof as he had Mitchell Marsh caught behind for 15 and Steve Smith lbw for four.
Head stood firm with Labuschagne for company to thwart the Indian attack despite captain Rohit Sharma rotating his bowlers in a hunt for a breakthrough.
Head, who suffered a fractured hand in South Africa in September, was in danger of missing the World Cup but Australia kept him in the squad until he was fit to play.
He hit a match-winning century against New Zealand in the team’s sixth league game and after a few low scores hit an attacking 62 in his team’s nervy three-wicket semifinal win over South Africa in Kolkata.
He turned India’s nemesis a second time this year after his 163 proved decisive in Australia’s World Test Championship triumph at the Oval in June.
Head reached his 100 in 95 balls and raised his bat to an applauding Australian dressing room.
“What we’ve achieved today is unbelievable,” said Labuschagne.
“It’s the best achievement I’ve ever been part of. India have been the team of the tournament, but you know if you play your best cricket, you have a chance. Our bowlers were sensational and Travis put on one hell of a display.”
Warner said, “Our bowlers were fantastic, they set the tone from ball one. The fielding supported that.”
Australia elected to field first and the players backed up Cummins’ decision with disciplined bowling and impressive fielding.
Virat Kohli and KL Rahul hit 54 and 66 respectively after Rohit’s attacking 47 but the ball dominated the bat on a slow, dry pitch.
Head took a stunning catch while running back from cover point to cut short Rohit’s innings off spinner Maxwell.
Cummins bowled Kohli, who ended as the leading batsman in tournament with 765 runs, to silence the crowd of 92,453 fans, who like the home team in the middle had a forgettable day.

Australia ‘ready for anything India throw at us’

Australia ‘ready for anything India throw at us’
Updated 18 November 2023

Australia ‘ready for anything India throw at us’

Australia ‘ready for anything India throw at us’
  • India have been the form team of the World Cup, winning all 10 games on their way to Sunday’s showpiece match in Ahmedabad

AHMEDABAD, India: Australia are adamant they will be “ready for anything” India throw at them in the Cricket World Cup final after controversy hit the tournament in a “pitch switch” row. 

India have been the form team of the World Cup, winning all 10 games on their way to Sunday’s showpiece match in Ahmedabad. 

But there was controversy in the lead-up to their 70-run semifinal in over New Zealand in Mumbai after it emerged the game was being played on a Wankhede Stadium pitch already used twice before during the tournament rather than a freshly prepared surface. 

“No doubt playing on your own wicket in your own country has some advantages,” Australia captain Pat Cummins told a press conference on Saturday. “But we’ve played a lot of cricket over here.” 

“We’ll be ready in terms of anything they’ll throw at us ... we’ll make sure we have some plans.” 

The pitch will be the same surface as the one on which India cruised to a seven-wicket pool win over Pakistan last month, when they dismissed their arch-rivals for just 191 after winning the toss. 

“My understanding is it’s going to be on the slower side,” said India captain Rohit Sharma later Saturday. 

“But we have to assess what it is like tomorrow,” he added, pointing out that while there had been dew on the ground ahead of the Pakistan game, none appeared during the match itself. 

“That’s why I keep saying the toss is not going to be a factor, you’ve got to play well to win the game regardless of how well you know the conditions.” 

A used pitch had no major bearing on the Mumbai semifinal, with more than 700 runs scored in the game. 

Cummins, asked if he had already seen the pitch for the final, replied: “Yeah, just had a look. It looked pretty firm ... I think Pakistan played someone there!” 

Used pitches generally favor spinners, with slow bowling a key component of a five-man India attack where Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja are expected to bowl 20 of their 50 overs on Sunday. 

Australia have already won the World Cup a record five times and 30-year-old fast bowler Cummins, a member of the victorious 2015 side, was excited by having the opportunity to emulate the likes of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting by leading the team to another triumph. 

“It would be huge,” he said. “We were all kids not too long ago, watching some of those great teams win the 1999, 2003, 2007 World Cups.” 

He added: “To be captain would be an absolute privilege ... it’d be awesome. 

“It (the World Cup) has got the longest history of a world event where all the teams compete. 

“You only get a shot at it every four years. So even if you have a long career, you might only play in two of these events. 2015 is still a career highlight for me, but I think tomorrow, if we win, might pip it.”