Confusion reigns as cricket makes African Games debut

Confusion reigns as cricket makes African Games debut
Above, the opening ceremony of the 2023 African Games in Accra, Ghana on March 8, 2024. Cricket was played at the African Games for the first time ever. (AFP)
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Updated 28 March 2024
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Confusion reigns as cricket makes African Games debut

Confusion reigns as cricket makes African Games debut
  • In the final on March 23, Zimbabwe convincingly beat Namibia by eight wickets with five overs to spare
  • Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe competed in men’s cricket, with Rwanda replacing Ghana in the women’s

This month, cricket was played at the African Games for the first time ever. The 13th edition of the the games, originally scheduled for August 2023, were hosted by Ghana, which had struggled to deliver the infrastructure in time for 2023.

This was not helped by disputes between the three organizing bodies over marketing revenues and ownership of the games.

The postponement had other consequences. Proximity to the Paris Olympics, scheduled for July 26 to Aug. 11, and national championships in several African countries in March meant that a range of top athletes were absent, providing opportunities for younger athletes.

In football, the Africa Cup of Nations had only ended on Feb. 11. The executive board of the Confederation of African Football determined that the participating countries should be those whose under-20 team reached the quarterfinals of the 2023 U-20 African Cup of Nations, plus the host nation.

Ultimately, 53 of the 54 members of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa sent delegations, the exception being Cape Verde. Competition occurred in 23 sports. Accra was the main center, supported by the sub-host cities of Kumasi and Cape Coast. Despite being postponed to 2024, the title of 2023 African Games was retained.

Eight countries competed in men’s cricket: Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. A marginally different eight competed in women’s cricketing, with Rwanda replacing Ghana. In each case, the teams were divided into two groups of four who played a round-robin. The two teams with the highest number of points then advanced to the semifinals.

In the men’s event, those semifinalists were Namibia who beat Uganda and Zimbabwe who beat Kenya. In the final on March 23, Zimbabwe convincingly beat Namibia by eight wickets with five overs to spare. Earlier, on March 13, Zimbabwe’s women’s team claimed gold in beating South Africa but by a much narrower margin.

After 20 overs each, both had both scored 112 runs. This meant a super over to determine the winner. In one of cricket’s arcane procedures, a super over in T20 format stipulates that each team selects three batters, an innings ending if two of them are dismissed. This happened to South Africa who could only score two runs for the loss of two wickets. Zimbabwe’s batter scored a four off the second delivery to seal the match.

As if this drama was not enough, cricket managed to create a controversy all of its own making. The impact of the postponement of the games affected not only athletics and football but also cricket. Boards in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia found that top players were engaged elsewhere, in either the Indian Premier League or domestic competitions.

This was especially true of Cricket South Africa, whose press release announcing the squads stated that the men’s team comprised players who have represented their respective university teams, while the women’s was a mix of emerging players. Zimbabwe entered an under-25 squad and Namibia were missing key players.

In 2018, the International Cricket Council gave T20 International status to all T20 matches played by both Full and Associate members. A rider to this in 2022 excluded matches involving A teams or age-group sides. Did CSA consider their men’s squad to be classed as either an A team or U-25 and had there been any clarification of this with the ICC prior to the tournament? There seems to have been a general assumption that all the matches had official T20 International status, meaning that the results feed directly into the ICC T20I team rankings. This has relevance to qualification for the 2026 ICC T20I World Cup. The process for this was approved by the ICC on March 15, after the announcement of squads for the African Games.

There will be 20 places available for the men’s 2026 World Cup. This will comprise the top eight in the 2024 T20 World Cup, two for co-hosts India and Sri Lanka, if not in the top eight this year, with up to four awarded to teams based on their ICC T20I rankings. This refers to teams ranked immediately below 10th. They are Ireland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Scotland, and the Netherlands, all tightly bunched.

South Africa is ranked sixth and likely to finish in the top eight in the forthcoming World Cup, so why would CSA be worried? However, something extraordinary occurred during the event. Although South Africa won its first match, it lost the next two, thus failing to reach the semifinals. On or around March 20, the day that its elimination was confirmed, sharp-eyed observers noted that the statuses of the matches were being changed on cricket websites, downgrading them from T20I status, as well as showing a changed team name.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Had CSA asked for clarification of the status of the matches and, if so, was that after the exit of the team or before? There were rumors that CSA would not have participated if the matches were accorded T20I status and had only done so on the basis that they would not be.

Eventually, on March 26, the ICC announced that matches involving both the South African men’s and women’s teams at the African Games in Ghana did not hold international status. Presumably, this means that Kenya and Uganda, who beat South Africa, lose points.

The ICC added that “all other matches played between teams at the men’s and women’s events were T20 Internationals.” This may not sit comfortably with the South African women’s team.

There is little doubt that this is a mess and a bad look for cricket. It is difficult to determine if it is incompetence, miscommunication or collusion. A polite interpretation would be miscommunication of crossed messages and understanding. It looks deeper than that. The organizers would have wanted South Africa involved, almost at any cost, to heighten the profile of the games. In return, CSA would not have wanted any degradation of its ranking. Sadly, the high hopes that the inclusion of cricket in the games would provide a boost for cricket in Africa have suffered a knockback at the hands of some petty politics played by people who are not coming clean.


KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL
Updated 20 April 2024
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KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL
  • Innings played key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.

LUCKNOW: KL Rahul’s solid 82 runs off 53 balls helped Lucknow Super Giants comfortably beat Chennai Super Kings by eight wickets in the IPL on Friday.
Rahul’s time at the crease, which saw him smash nine fours and three sixes, played a key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.
“I felt that if we bat well, we could chase it down... when your partnership goes on, you can take a few more chances. Glad that it happened,” said Rahul.
Chennai got off to a slightly jittery start after being invited to bat first, losing Rachin Ravindra (zero) and skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad (17) in the first five overs. Ajinkya Rahane looked to steady the side, with the help of Ravindra Jadeja, but fell in the ninth over after racking up a respectable 36 runs off 24 balls.
Lucknow’s clinical bowling restricted Chennai in the middle overs, with Shivam Dube (three) not being able to pop off.
But Jadeja soldiered on for the rest of the game, getting his half-century in the seventeenth over.
Reliable warhorse M.S. Dhoni, who smacked 28 runs off 9 balls, helped Chennai turn up the heat in the last three overs and pushed the team to 176-6.
Lucknow openers Quinton de Kock and KL Rahul set up the chase with a superb 134-run partnership, before de Kock, who hit five fours in his 43-ball 54, fell in the fifteenth over.
Rahul went onto smash an incredible 82 runs off 53 balls before being dismissed in the eighteenth over. A final push by Nicholas Pooran (23) helped seal the victory for Lucknow.
“We lost wickets regularly and were 10-15 short,” said Gaikwad.
“Good to play them again soon, will come back with homework done.”


Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings

Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings
Updated 18 April 2024
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Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings

Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings
  • Suryakumar Yadav hit an impressive 78 runs off 53 balls to help Mumbai Indians post a solid 192-7
  • Sharma hit an explosive 61 runs off 28 balls for the Punjab Kings, but it was not enough to carry the day

MULLANPUR, India: Mumbai Indians managed to fend off a valiant effort by Punjab Kings batsman Ashutosh Sharma to win by nine runs in a fiercely fought IPL thriller on Thursday.
Invited to bat first, Mumbai Indians started off on a decent note. After losing only two wickets in the first 12 overs, Suryakumar Yadav went on to smash an impressive 78 runs off 53 balls to help the team post a solid 192-7.
The second innings began on a disastrous note for the Punjab Kings, with fast bowler Gerald Coetzee and Indian pacer Japsrit Bumrah striking quick to leave them reeling at 14-3 at the end of the second over.
Sharma eventually managed to help rebuild the innings with an explosive 61 runs off 28 balls, aided ably by Shashank Singh (41) and Harpreet Brar (21), but it was ultimately not enough to carry them through the day.
Punjab Kings acting captain Sam Curran said it was “heart-breaking” for his team to take it close and still lose.
“This team loves a close game. Got well to get close, thanks to Ashutosh... Hopefully we can win the close ones and get the momentum,” Curran added.
Mumbai openers Ishan Kishan and Rohit Sharma kicked off the first innings with an 18 run partnership before Kishan, who hit eight runs off eight balls, fell in the third over leaving the team at 18-1.
Sharma, who scored a 25-ball 36, built another partnership with Suryakumar Yadav before falling in the 12th over. Yadav went on to smash 78 runs off 53 balls before being dismissed in the 17th over.
Young Tilak Varma went on to rack up a solid 18-ball 34, with the assistance of cameos from Hardik Pandya (10) and Tim David (14), to help Mumbai wrap up the first innings at 192-7.
The game seemed in the bag in the early portion of the second innings, partly due to sharp bowling by Coetzee and Bumrah, who took three wickets each.
When the glimmer of hope given by Sharma was extinguished, Kagiso Rabada put up a last-ditch attempt with eight runs off three balls but ultimately ended up falling in the last over.
“What a game. We started really well. Cricket’s a funny game. We thought we had it, they battled really well. Then it was like a see-saw,” said Coetzee.


Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit
Updated 18 April 2024
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Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit
  • Non-cricket fans may struggle to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup

MUSCAT: Even to cricket aficionados — sometimes referred to as badgers — the various ways teams can qualify for the world’s major tournaments might appear opaque.

As may the term “badger”. Badgers are known for their tenacity, focus and persistence, qualities which can apply to those who dedicate chunks of their life to the game, its history, statistics, spectating, discussion and administration. This is not a complete list, but it provides a flavor.

A test case for tournament opaqueness is the Asia Cup. Non-badgers can be forgiven if they fail to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup. They all fall under the aegis of the Asia Cricket Council and their existence represents an attempt by the organization to provide a more coherent regime for qualification into the big event — without using the word “qualification.”

The situation was much simpler in 1983, when the ACC was founded with the aim of promoting goodwill between Asian countries. In 1984, the first edition of the Asia Cup was held in Sharjah, where the ACC was based. It was One Day International in format and India won, but then boycotted the 1986 event because of strained relations with Sri Lanka. Strained political relations with India caused Pakistan to boycott it in 1991 event, whilst the 1993 cup was cancelled for the same reasons. Sadly, the ACC’s original aim was sorely tested almost from the outset.

Subsequent tournaments did not fit any regular temporal pattern. It was not until 2009 that the tournament was regularized onto a biennial basis. In 2015, the ACC announced the tournament would be played on rotation between ODI and Twenty20 International formats. Despite the introduction of a group stage to allow a slight expansion in the number of teams, the tournament has normally had only six competitors.

The International Cricket Council’s decision in April 2018 to grant T20I status to all 104 member nations – both men’s and women’s teams - has had far-reaching effects on cricket, including the Asia Cup. The number of countries with teams playing formalized T20 cricket at international level has grown rapidly.

It could be argued that the decision democratized cricket for both men and women. The 50-over ODI format requires a longer commitment and a deeper allocation of resources beyond the means of many of the boards administering cricket. T20 cricket offered a quicker, less resource-intensive route for the teams of associate member countries to test themselves not only amongst their peers, but also against the full members on the pitch. It has become a format for the many, not the few.

However, there remains a huge gulf between funds available to associate members and full members. This situation is exacerbated by the ICC’s decision-making regime which allows very little representation for associates. In the latest, 161st edition of the Wisden Almanack, its editor berates last year’s decision to increase the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s share of ICC’s central funds from 25 to 38.5 percent. It is not as if it needs the funds.

The BCCI argues that, since it brings the lion’s share of revenue into the game, it should be proportionately rewarded. This argument suggests a desire to control other members rather than encourage their development. Wisden’s editor asks: “Is it really beyond the wit of the administrators to distribute cash according to need, not greed?” By way of example, the West Indies cricket board receives just under 5 percent of ICC central funds. No wonder its premier players frequent the game’s franchise leagues.

The views of Wisden’s editor will probably be regarded in cricket’s power circles as a rage against the dying of the light for a previous regime, governed from England. Whilst it is true that regime was as concerned with its own protection as the current one, its idea of spreading the game was somewhat parochial. It is in that context that the ICC’s mission to spread the game should be seen. Now, cricket is not only played internationally in countries which raise the eyebrows of many when the name is mentioned, it is also accompanied by grass roots growth.

Given the recognized closeness between the ICC and the BCCI, whose secretary is also president of the ACC, the motives for restructuring the Asia Cup are worth exploring. If it is accepted that T20I cricket has the potential to provide a more level playing field, at least in terms of recognition of performance to a global standard, then the competitive structures should encourage meritocracy. This does lead to criticism that the breaking of records by associate players dilutes those set by full member players. There was such an example in Oman this week when Nepal’s Dipendra Singh Airee hit six sixes in an over, no mean feat in any standard of cricket.

This achievement will have set off the cricket badgers. One remarkable coincidence is that the umpire at the bowler’s end had also stood on another occasion when six sixes had been struck in an over. The badgers should also reflect on the possibility that the Asia Cup structure made this possible. At the base of the three-tier structure is the Asia Challenger Cup, from which two teams progress to the second tier, the Premier Cup. The winner of that is elevated to the Asia Cup with the full members. The pathway provides every ACC member with a chance to strive for this nirvana.

Yet the structure is not just about merit, it is also about commercial opportunity. Three stand-alone competitions offer the opportunity, it is argued, for each to be marketed separately, thus increasing their commercial potential. The most visible sponsorship at both the Challenger and Premier Cups has been by DafaNews and 1XBet, plus FanCode. This is sponsorship of a highly specific, and in some eyes potentially contentious, nature. Badgers may need to be tenacious in rooting out the relationship between the new Asia Cup structure and its sponsors.

 


Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.


Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224

Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224
Updated 16 April 2024
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Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224

Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224
  • Chasing 224 for victory, Rajasthan looked in trouble at 121-6 in the 13th over but Buttler moved through the gears in his 60-ball blitz to achieve the target
  • Narine hammered 109 off 56 balls to guide Kolkata, who stay second in the 10-team standings, to 223-6

KOLKATA: Jos Buttler smashed an unbeaten 107 to trump Sunil Narine’s first T20 century as Rajasthan Royals pulled off a joint record IPL chase against Kolkata Knight Riders off the final ball on Tuesday.
Chasing 224 for victory, Rajasthan looked in trouble at 121-6 in the 13th over but Buttler moved through the gears in his 60-ball blitz to achieve the target with two wickets to spare at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
Rajasthan equalled their own record from 2020 when they chased down 224 against Kings XI Punjab in Sharjah.
Buttler, who came in as an impact substitute, reached his second ton of the season in 55 balls with a six off Varun Chakravarthy at the start of the last over.
Buttler, struggling with cramp, then played out three dot balls before a two and a single on the final delivery ensured Rajasthan held on to top spot in the table with six wins in seven matches.
England’s Buttler, who hit nine fours and six sixes, moved ahead of Chris Gayle with seven IPL tons and is only behind Virat Kohli’s eight in the T20 tournament.
Buttler built key partnerships including 50 runs with Riyan Parag (34), 57 with Rovman Powell (26) and then an unbeaten 38-run stand with Avesh Khan (0 not out).
Spinners Narine, Chakravarthy and fast bowler Harshit Rana took two wickets each for KKR.
Narine hammered 109 off 56 balls to guide Kolkata, who stay second in the 10-team standings, to 223-6.
Narine put on 85 runs for the second wicket with Angkrish Raghuvanshi, who hit 30, and got together for a 51-run stand with Andre Russell.
Narine, playing his 504th T20 match, reached his ton from 49 balls with a six and a four off Yuzvendra Chahal for Kolkata’s third hundred in the IPL as he jumped for joy.
He was finally bowled by a Trent Boult yorker before he returned to a standing ovation.
Narine moved into the top three in the batting charts led by Royal Challengers Benguluru’s Kohli (361) with 276 runs.
Rinku Singh finished off the innings on a high with his unbeaten nine-ball 20 including a four and two sixes.