Evenepoel, Roglic get Tour de France taste at Paris-Nice

Evenepoel, Roglic get Tour de France taste at Paris-Nice
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme gives a press conference during the presentation of the route of the 2024 Paris-Nice cycling race in Versailles, near Paris, on Dec. 12, 2023. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 March 2024
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Evenepoel, Roglic get Tour de France taste at Paris-Nice

Evenepoel, Roglic get Tour de France taste at Paris-Nice
  • Tour de France will conclude with what should be a thrilling individual time-trial along the winding corniche from Monaco to the Riviera city Nice, where Paris-Nice also concludes on March 10
  • Paris-Nice is the first significant stage race of the season and packs all the difficulties of a Grand Tour into eight stages

PARIS: Cycling fans can enjoy a tantalizing peek at how the Tour de France may culminate in July when the Paris-Nice stage race sets off on Sunday toward a finale on the Promenade des Anglais on the Mediterranean seafront.

Due to the Olympic Games being hosted in Paris in July, the conclusion of the Tour de France has been switched away from its traditional Champs Elysees finish line in the French capital.

Instead it will conclude with what should be a thrilling individual time-trial along the winding corniche from Monaco to the Riviera city Nice, where Paris-Nice also concludes on March 10.

Neither Jonas Vingegaard nor Tadej Pogacar, winners of the last four Tour de France races, will be present at Paris-Nice.

But the other members of the so called ‘Fab Four’ fighting for the 2024 Tour title — Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel and Slovenian veteran Primoz Roglic — will be at the start line.

Belgian maverick Evenepoel has not only never raced a Tour de France, he has never even taken part in a stage race in the country.

“It’s a big race for us,” Evenepoel’s sports director Klaas Lodewyck said this week. “We’re aiming high.”

At 34, Roglic is cursed to be forever remembered for surrendering a 90-second Tour de France lead in a gut-wrenching last-gasp meltdown on the Planche des Belle Filles climb back in 2020.

Paris-Nice is the first significant stage race of the season and packs all the difficulties of a Grand Tour into eight stages.

Embarking from the Paris region, the race is affectionately known as the ‘Race to the Sun’.

The forecast predicts a windy stage in the plains south of Paris where the bigger, more powerful cyclists can prosper.

There’s a time trial for those who can maintain high performance over 30km, a medium mountain climb for the slender climbers, at least two finishes for the sprinters, and a chance for daredevils to shine in a thrilling finale out of the mountainous back country to the seafront at Nice.

Sunday’s opening run is largely flat but two late climbs may close the door for the outright fast men such as Fabio Jakobsen and Dylan Groenewegen of the Netherlands and Ireland’s Sam Bennett.

The first two stages will depend on the winds but are likely to offer at least one mass bunch sprint as will stage five.

Stage four takes the peloton over seven climbs through the picture-postcard Beaujolais vineyards.

Roglic and Evenepoel will likely come top two in the team time trial where teams set off together but will be timed individually.

The idea is that teams will deliver Evenepoel and Roglic before splintering as they send their leading contenders up the road near the finish.

The final weekend is likely to be where the race is decided with Saturday featuring a 7km climb at 7.2 percent incline toward a summit finish that favors Roglic.

Sunday’s final short but tough 108km rush toward old Nice favors Evenepoel and finishes with a white knuckle 16km downhill dash to the Promenade des Anglais.

 

Route

Sunday 3 March 1: Les Mureaux-Les Mureaux, 157.7 km

Monday 4 March, Stage 2: Thoiry-Montargis, 177.6 km

Tuesday 5 March, Stage 3: Auxerre-Auxerre (team time trial), 26.9 km

Wednesday 6 March, Stage 4: Chalon-sur-Saône-Mont Brouilly, 183 km

Thursday 7 March, Stage 5: Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut- Sisteron, 193.5 km

Friday 8 March, Stage 6: Sisteron-La-Colle-sur-Loup, 198.2 km

Saturday 9 March, Stage 7: Nice-Auron, 173 km

Sunday 10 March, Stage 8: Nice-Nice, 109.3 km


Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement
Updated 14 April 2024
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Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement
  • Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining; the course was tough as ever

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Scottie Scheffler was in the lead and seemingly in control of his game Saturday in the Masters until realizing there was no such thing at Augusta National.

He posed over another beautiful shot at the flag on the 10th hole and was stunned to see it take a hard hop over the green and roll down into the bushes. He made double bogey and suddenly was one shot behind.

“Make another bogey at 11 and all of a sudden I’m probably going from in the lead to a few out of the lead and then,” Scheffler said, “you know, things happen pretty fast out there.”

It was so fast and furious that it was hard to keep up.

Six players had at least a share of the lead at one point. There was a five-way tie for the lead early on the back nine. No one was safe. It was like that to the very end.

Scheffler made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-under 71 that gave him a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion who has largely disappeared from the elite in golf and now is one round away from the third leg of the Grand Slam.

Bryson DeChambeau looked to be on the verge of a meltdown when he drove into the trees right of the 18th fairway, punched out to the short grass and then hit wedge from 77 yards that spun back into the cup for a birdie to sum up a wild Saturday.

“Easier than putting,” DeChambeau, adding that he was joking although there was some truth to that. He three-putted three times on the back nine.

Max Homa has gone 32 holes without a birdie and he was only two behind after a round of 17 pars and one bogey for a 73. Xander Schauffele has gone 25 holes without a bogey, and that goes a long way. He was five back after a 70.

Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining. The course was tough as ever, with a wind that would have felt scary if not for the day before. The greens made players feel as though they were putting on linoleum floors.

Scheffler was at 7-under 209 as he goes for a second Masters green jacket and tries to extend a dominant stretch that includes two wins on tough courses (Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass) and a runner-up finish in his last three tournaments.

“It’s nice to have that experience, but going into tomorrow, that’s really all that it is,” he said.

Morikawa made two tough pars to finish off a 69 — of those was a long birdie putt that hit the lip and spun 12 feet away. He is the only player to break par all three days at this Masters. Not bad for a someone who only found a swing key on Monday, switched putters after the first round and hasn’t had a top 10 since the first week of the year.

“If you asked me at the beginning of the week I’d be one back heading into Sunday, I would have taken that any time,” Morikawa said. “You give yourself a chance with 18 holes left, that’s all you can really do.”

Another shot back was Homa, whose last birdie was on the fourth hole of the second round. He has made 32 pars in his last 36 holes.

Eight players were separated by five shots going into the final round, where the greens are likely to be even faster, crispier and more frightening.

Tiger Woods was not among them. Neither was Rory McIlroy.

Woods, having made his Masters-record 24th consecutive cut Friday, started the third round seven shots out of the lead and hopeful of at least making his massive following think there might be more magic left in that battered 48-year-old body.

Instead, Woods posted his highest round in three decades playing the majors. He shot an 82, the third time he has failed to break 80 in a major, and the first since the 2015 US Open.

“Just hit the ball in all the places that I know I shouldn’t hit it,” Woods said.

McIlroy came to the Masters thinking this might be the year he finally got the last leg of the career Grand Slam. All he could muster was a 71 that left him 10 shots behind with 20 players in front of him.

There were no shortage of challengers.

Ludvig Aberg, the rising Swedish star playing in his first major, was among those who had a brief share of the lead until missing a pair of short par putts on the back nine. He still managed a 70 and was only three shots behind.

Another newcomer to the Masters, Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark, had the lead to himself with three straight birdies around the turn. He celebrated that good fortunate by running off five straight bogeys, putting the ball in the water on both par 5s.

And then there was DeChambeau, who started the third round tied with Scheffler and Homa.

DeChambeau kept making enough birdies to hang around and was only one shot behind until he decided to go for the green from the trees on the par-5 15th. He went well right toward the 17th fairway — the second time in as many days he played a par 5 from two holes — only this one didn’t work out so well.

He chunked his wedge and watched it tumble into the pond. He took a penalty drop, pitched on and two-putted for double bogey. And then he three-putted for bogey on the 16th. And right when it appeared to be falling apart, he made his surprise birdie to limit the damage to 75. He was four shots behind.

Scheffler didn’t escape the craziness. He reached 8 under quickly by chipping in across the green on No. 1 and making a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 3. But all it took was two holes to make it feel like his head was spinning.

What saved his day was a 7-foot par putt on No. 12 and then a 30-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th that dropped on its final turn and elicited rare emotion from Scheffler.

“C’mon, baby!” he yelled when the putt dropped.

“Things got a little dicey in the middle,” Scheffler said. “On No. 10, I hit what I thought was a decent shot 8 feet from the hole and it wound up in the bushes. I did a good job of staying patient.”

He’ll need another dose for Sunday, even with the experience of winning a Masters. Two years ago, he had a three-shot lead going into the final round and spent the morning in tears as his wife gave him soothing words of confidence.

Now his wife is home in Dallas expecting their first child at the end of the month. Scheffler brought in his best friends from home to stay with him.

“I didn’t want to be in the house all by myself this weekend. Didn’t really seem that exciting to me,” Scheffler said.

There’s plenty of that inside the ropes.


Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300
Updated 14 April 2024
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Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300
  • Holloway-Gaethje was arguably the most anticipated fight on the loaded card, and it not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them before a sellout crowd of 20,067
  • In the evening’s final fight, Pereira dropped Hill to the canvas with a straight left hand and then pounded him

LAS VEGAS: Alex Pereira left no doubt he was the true light heavyweight champion in the main event, knocking out Jamahal Hill 3:14 of the first round Saturday night.

But the lasting image of UFC 300, one that likely will resonate for years to come, was Max Holloway’s last-second knockout of Justin Gaethje for the ceremonial BMF title belt.

Holloway-Gaethje was arguably the most anticipated fight on the loaded card, and it not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them before a sellout crowd of 20,067 that roared over the final seconds and its stunning conclusion.

“That fight sucked the life out of everybody tonight,” UFC President Dana White said. “People ask me what I do. I sell holy (stuff) moments. That was the ultimate holy (stuff) moment. Let’s just talk about his fight for the rest of the press conference.”

The UFC — which had its third-highest gate at $16.5 million — awarded Holloway a $600,000 bonus for his performance.

Even though Holloway (26-7) was well on his way to a victory by decision — two judges had him ahead 39-37 — the former featherweight champion could have run out the clock.

He instead pointed to the floor in the final seconds and then traded blows with Gaethje (25-5). It was a tremendous combination of punches from both fighters before the one that sent the now ex-BMF champ to the mat with just one second remaining in the five-round fight.

“This is the moment,” Holloway said about going for the KO. “This is what the BMF is known for. If that’s not a BMF moment, I don’t know what is. If Justin was up, he would’ve given me those 10 seconds.”

“That’s why Max Holloway is beloved,” White said. “He’s got the fight won and in there with one of the most dangerous fighters in the business. That’s like movie (stuff). It’s the fight of the year. If something beats that as fight of the year, holy (stuff).”

Holloway, who also used a spinning kick at the end of the first round to bloody Gaethje’s nose, was in control throughout most of the fight.

“I think it broke his nose. ... Any less of a man couldn’t do what Justin Gaethje does,” Holloway said.

In the evening’s final fight, Pereira dropped Hill to the canvas with a straight left hand and then pounded him. Referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight, giving the Brazilian the victory.

Pereira, 36, was a minus-132 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“I see myself as the champion. I didn’t want to let the belt go to my head,” Pereira said through an interpreter. “I had to step in and win the championship.”

Hill, 32, was the previous title holder, but a torn Achilles tendon forced him to vacate the championship last July. That put the belt in Pereira’s hands, eventually setting up this matchup and his fourth pay-per-view event in 16 months.

As would be expected from a milestone card number, this was a strong lineup that included 12 current or former champions, and 11 who have headlined UFC pay-per-view events.

Zhang Weili (25-3) retained her women’s strawweight championship in the co-main event, beating No. 1 challenger Yan Xiaonan (18-4) by unanimous decision. Each judge scored the fight 49-45.

Zhang nearly choked out Yan to end the first round. Yan, however, found a way to take the fight the five-round distance.

“She bounced back very quickly,” Zhang said through an interpreter.

No. 4 lightweight challenger Arman Tsarukyan (22-3) won by split decision over top-ranked challenger and former champion Charles Oliveira (34-10). Each scorecard was 29-28, two in favor of Tsarukyan.

“I thought all (the) judges were going to give me the decision,” Tsarukyan said.

Three-time NCAA wrestling champion Bo Nickal (6-0) led off the five-fight main card by submitting Cody Brundage (10-6) by rear-naked choke hold at 3:38 of the second round.

“I’m a little bit embarrassed with that performance because I expected to go in there and completely dominate,” Nickal said.

One of the more notable matchups on the undercard was between two-time US Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison and International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Holly Holm.

Harrison (17-1), who made her UFC debut, dominated Holm (15-7). She won the bantamweight bout by submission with a rear-naked choke at 1:47 of the second round.

Retired champion Amanda Nunes posted a video of herself on social media listening to Harrison in the cage and wondering why she didn’t mention her by name.

“I didn’t call Amanda’s name because Amanda’s not the UFC champion,” Harrison said. “I thought she was happily retired. I would love to win the UFC title, and if Amanda wants to come back, I would welcome her with open arms.”

White said he hopes to see Nunes return.

“I think she retired too soon,” White said.

Also on the undercard, second-ranked challenger Jiri Prochazka (30-4) put himself on track to reclaim the light heavyweight championship with a technical knockout at 3:17 of the second round of fifth-ranked Aleksandar Rakic (14-4). Prochazka lost his belt to Pereira in November on a second-round TKO.

“Whoever will win tonight in the main event, I want to take (him on),” Prochazka said.

CONOR MCGREGOR IS BACK

White said Conor McGregor will fight in UFC 303 against Michael Chandler on June 29 in Las Vegas. Also, Islam Makhachev will fight Dustin Poirier at UFC 302 on June 1 in Newark, New Jersey.


Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona
Updated 14 April 2024
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Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona
  • The victory on the Mediterranean island increased Madrid’s commanding lead of the league to 11 points before second-placed Barcelona played at Cadiz
  • Ancelotti equaled Zinedine Zidane with 183 league games coached for Madrid, second only to Miguel Muñoz’s record 424 league games

BARCELONA, Spain: Real Madrid ground out a 1-0 win at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Saturday while resting top players ahead of their decisive Champions League game at Manchester City.

Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni scored the only goal three minutes after halftime.

The victory on the Mediterranean island increased Madrid’s commanding lead of the league to 11 points before second-placed Barcelona played at Cadiz later.

Madrid visit Manchester City on Wednesday with their quarterfinal poised after a 3-3 draw in Spain’s capital this week.

“We have a very important game Wednesday,” Tchouameni said. “We played a very difficult game against City and we are tired, but we know that when we play for Madrid we have to give it our all until the end.”

Vinicius Junior and Eduardo Camavinga played the final half hour as substitutes. Dani Carvajal went on for the final minutes, while Rodrygo and Toni Kroos never left the bench. Jude Bellingham started and was replaced by Camavinga.

A long strike by Tchouameni that deflected off a defender before finding the net was the only way Madrid got past the defense of Javier Aguirre’s Mallorca.

Tchouameni will miss the game in England to serve a suspension. A holding midfielder, he was used as a central defender by manager Carlo Ancelotti in the first leg against City while Madrid dealt with injuries.

After facing City, Madrid will then host Barcelona in La Liga next weekend.

Ancelotti equaled Zinedine Zidane with 183 league games coached for Madrid, second only to Miguel Muñoz’s record 424 league games.

Mallorca were playing their first game since losing the Copa del Rey final on penalties to Athletic Bilbao last weekend. They remained in 15th place.

ATLETICO BEAT GIRONA

Antoine Griezmann scored twice as Atletico Madrid beat Girona 3-1 to boost their chances of finishing in the top four.

Griezmann got his first league goal since December by converting a penalty after a handball by Girona. His leveler in the 34th canceled Artem Dovbyk’s early opener.

Alvaro Morata’s hustle proved key to putting the hosts ahead in first-half stoppage time when he chased down a ball before it could cross the end-line and whipped it into the area for Ángel Correo to head into the top corner.

Griezmann, Atletico’s all-time top scorer, then blasted in a loose ball in the 50th for his 13th league goal of the campaign.

Dovbyk moved ahead of Bellingham as the leading league scorer with his 17th to give Girona the fourth-minute lead. The Ukraine striker tapped in a low cross from Yan Couto after a quick team passing move disrupted Atletico’s coverage.

Girona remained in third place at four points clear of Atletico in fourth. Atletico moved five points ahead of Athletic Bilbao in fifth. The top four finishers in Spain earn Champions League berths for next season.

“It was very important to win today. We want to be in the Champions League next season,” Griezmann said. “We didn’t start well but when we took it to them we could turn it around.”

Atletico visit Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday leading their Champions League quarterfinal after a 2-1 first-leg win in Spain.

Rayo Vallecano also drew with Getafe 0-0 at home.


Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase

Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase
Updated 14 April 2024
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Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase

Co-favorite I Am Maximus wins the Grand National Steeple Chase
  • The result delivered a first Grand National win for jockey Paul Townend and a second for trainer Willie Mullins
  • Defending champion Corach Rambler unseated jockey Derek Fox on the first fence, but there were no reports of any horses or riders being injured

LIVERPOOL, England: I Am Maximus confirmed his status as a favorite by pulling away late to win the Grand National Steeple Chase on Saturday.

About a dozen horses looked to be in contention as they cleared the final hurdle but none could match the finish of I Am Maximus, who had gone out as the joint favorite at 7-1 and pulled well clear on the final section.

The result delivered a first Grand National win for jockey Paul Townend and a second for trainer Willie Mullins.

“At halfway he was a bit careful with his jumping, but we just built his confidence back up again and then going over the last two (fences) I had the four horses in front of me that I wanted in front of me,” Townend said. “I was hoping when I pulled him out that he’d pick up and go and he did. ... The feeling passing the line is up there with the best I’ve had.”

Delta Work was second and Minella Indo third.

Defending champion Corach Rambler unseated jockey Derek Fox on the first fence, but there were no reports of any horses or riders being injured.

There was also no repeat of the chaotic scenes from last year, when the race was delayed by nearly 15 minutes and more than 100 people were arrested after animal rights activists scaled fences around the perimeter of Aintree racecourse and got onto the track in an attempt to stop the event.

Organizers made changes this year in order to avoid more protests, slimming down the field from the usual 40 horses to 34 in an attempt to reduce collisions and bunching either side of the fences. In the end, the slimmed-down race featured just 32 runners after Chambard and Run Wild Fred did not start.

Organizers also used foam and rubber toe boards to make the fences softer, and the race was held 75 minutes earlier than usual — at 4 p.m. local time — so the course would stay as soft as possible.


Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup

Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup
Updated 14 April 2024
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Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup

Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup
  • Saudi Arabia now play Hong Kong in a must win match on day three

AL-AMERAT: On April 12, the men’s Asia Premier Cup got off to a flying start on Oman’s two side-by-side turf grounds at Al-Amerat, Muscat.

This excellent facility provides the opportunity for two matches to be played on each turf a day. The press tent is situated between the two grounds so that both matches can be observed simultaneously.

Prospects of upsets were high. In Group A, Oman, one of the favorites to earn the top place and progress to the Asia Cup in 2025, were run close by Bahrain, who fell four runs short of victory. Oman had been given a scare and an upset avoided.

Another contender for top spot, the UAE, was subject to a steady top-order batting display by Kuwait, who posted 178 for 8. At 26 for 3, the UAE innings was on the back foot, but an unbroken fourth-wicket partnership of 153 avoided another potential upset.

Nepal twanged the heartstrings of their supporters against Malaysia, who posted a creditable 143 for 3. Captain Virandeep Singh anchored the innings with an unbeaten 72, supported by S. Muniandy, Nepal, using eight bowlers. Nepal made heavy weather of its reply, wickets falling at critical times, before a sixth-wicket partnership of 30 runs sent their delirious supporters into raptures. No other team in this tournament has this boisterous, enthusiastic support. There seemed to 100 or so, all working in Oman, making a noise far beyond their numbers. Crucially for them, another potential upset had been avoided.

In their performance, Malaysia had given a warning that they represented a strong challenge for Saudi Arabia on Day 2. Choosing to bat first, Malaysia lost Virandeep Singh in the first over, bowled by Ishtiaq Ahmad. Tight bowling by Saudi’s quicks reduced Malaysia to 53 for 5 after 10 overs. Several smart catches were taken but there was some ragged fielding.

At this critical juncture in the innings, Saudi needed to turn the screw. However, the left-handed A. A. Wahid rebuilt the innings, with help from V. Unni, and a late flurry of scoring in the last two overs took Malaysia to 146 for 7. This target looked achievable on a good batting pitch.

Saudi’s start was steady, but the introduction of spin at both ends stifled the scoring. In the sixth over, Saudi attacked but then lost two wickets in the seventh over, the score 47 for 3. Then came drama. First there was the dismissal of the captain, H. Shaikh, who was adjudged to be stumped, and then K. Abbas was caught behind in the same over, the batter being unimpressed to be out.

At 91 for 5 in the 15th over, the game was in the balance. A profitable over of 12 runs then ensued off a left-arm quick. The return of slower bowlers brought extra pressure and, despite several lusty blows, the lower order all gave straightforward catches in their attempts to find the boundary. As a result, the innings closed 12 runs short on 134 all out, with 5 balls spare.

It is a match that Saudi will be disappointed to lose. At 53 for 5, the Malaysian innings was in deep trouble, but they managed to wriggle free and then post a competitive score. The Saudi batters had difficulty in scoring sufficiently against the slower bowlers. Even so, to finish 12 runs short with 5 balls remaining suggests that some improved game management will be beneficial. Overall, the Malaysian team probably fielded better. The margins are so tight in T20 cricket that fielding often makes the difference.

In the other matches of day two, Kuwait made light of Cambodia’s 141 for 5, reaching the target in the 12-over for the loss of only 2 wickets. The UAE totalled an imposing 236 for 6 against Bahrain, who responded in positive fashion, particularly Ali Butt and I. Anwar with some superlative straight hitting. Ultimately, they perished and the team fell short by 37 runs.

However, the real fireworks of the day were provided by Nepal who scored 210 for 7. Before the last over, they had scored 174 for 7. Dipendra Singh Airee then smashed 6 sixes to place himself as only the third player to do that in T20I cricket. The others were Yuvraj Singh in 2007 and Kieron Pollard in 2021. Qatar replied with a spirited 178 for 9 and will wonder how much closer they might had been, but for Airee’s blitz.

At the end of Day 2, the UAE and Nepal lead their respective groups, each with two wins from two matches. Saudi Arabia play Hong Kong in a must-win match on Day 3.