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.


Emotional Boult calls T20 World Cup exit his ‘last day’ for New Zealand

Emotional Boult calls T20 World Cup exit his ‘last day’ for New Zealand
Updated 18 June 2024
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Emotional Boult calls T20 World Cup exit his ‘last day’ for New Zealand

Emotional Boult calls T20 World Cup exit his ‘last day’ for New Zealand
  • Boult’s tally of 317 wickets in 78 Tests, is the fourth highest by any New Zealand bowler

Tarouba, Trinidad and Tobago, June 17, 2024 Agence France Presse: Left-arm paceman Trent Boult said he had played his “last day” of international cricket after New Zealand’s disappointing T20 World Cup campaign ended with a seven-wicket win over Papua New Guinea in Trinidad on Monday.
His 13-year stint in international cricket appeared to have ended in the downbeat setting of a ‘dead’ T20 World Cup game.
“It feels a little bit weird, a few emotions obviously the last couple of days,” said Boult.
Pressed on whether the game represented his final New Zealand appearance, Boult added an element of doubt: “I haven’t thought much further than this, I’m in no position to comment right now. I enjoyed being out there one last time.”
Defeats by Afghanistan and tournament co-hosts the West Indies earlier in Group C had helped end the Black Caps’ hopes of qualifying for the second-round Super Eights.
Papua New Guinea had also been eliminated before the match in front of a sparse crowd at the Brian Lara Stadium.
Boult took two wickets for 14 runs as PNG were skittled out for 78 in an innings where fellow quick Lockie Ferguson finished with a remarkable 3-0 from his maximum four overs but
“Gutted to not go any further, but I’m very proud of what I’ve done with the Black Caps and sad it’s my last day with New Zealand,” said Boult.
The 34-year-old has been infrequently selected for international duty since being released from his New Zealand central contract in August 2022, allowing him to play in more domestic T20 leagues abroad.
The swing bowler did feature in New Zealand’s 50-over World Cup campaign last year, where they reached the semifinals only to suffer a 70-run defeat by tournament hosts India at a packed Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
Boult’s tally of 317 wickets in 78 Tests, is the fourth highest by any New Zealand bowler. Longstanding new-ball colleague Tim Southee (380 Test wickets) is second, behind Richard Hadlee (431 wickets).
“I’ve shared a dressing room with Tim Southee for well over a dozen years,” said Boult, with the pair both involved when New Zealand beat India in the inaugural 2021 World Test Championship final. “It’s a partnership I’ve enjoyed forming, and we’re very good friends off the field.”
Boult’s last Test was against England at Headingley nearly two years ago, with the World Cup semifinal the most recent of 114 one-day internationals that yielded 211 wickets in total.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson paid tribute to Boult by saying he had been a “great servant of the game” who was “consistent in all formats.”
The star batsman added: “It’ll be sad to see him go, it’s been quite special being with him throughout his career.
“He’s got such an attitude for getting better. He trains very hard, he’s as fit as he’s ever been. He knows how he wants to operate in all formats. He sticks his chest out and performs well for his country.”
“He’s made a fantastic contribution to our game and he’s created a space for new players to come in and meet the standard that he’s set.”


England bat in rain-hit must-win T20 World Cup game against Namibia

England bat in rain-hit must-win T20 World Cup game against Namibia
Updated 15 June 2024
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England bat in rain-hit must-win T20 World Cup game against Namibia

England bat in rain-hit must-win T20 World Cup game against Namibia
  • England are currently two points behind Scotland in Group B
  • Title-holders England inflicted an eight-wicket thrashing of Oman on Thursday as they chased down a target of 48 in just 19 balls

NORTH SOUND, Antigua and Barbuda: Reigning champions England were sent in to bat by Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus after rain reduced their must-win T20 World Cup game in Antigua on Saturday to an 11-overs per side contest.
Anything other than a victory would see Jos Buttler’s men knocked out, with Scotland joining already-qualified Australia in the second-round Super Eights before the two countries meet later Saturday in St. Lucia.
England are currently two points behind Scotland in Group B but with a superior net run-rate that will be the tie-breaker if both teams finish level on points.
Title-holders England inflicted an eight-wicket thrashing of Oman on Thursday as they chased down a target of 48 in just 19 balls — the largest win in T20 World Cup history in terms of balls remaining.
But the game with already-eliminated Namibia is England’s last in a Group B where their opening match against Scotland ended in a washout before they suffered a convincing 36-run loss to Australia.
Even if England beat Namibia, they could still be knocked out should Scotland achieve a stunning upset win over Australia or if that game ends in a no-result.
England, in a game delayed by three hours, made two changes to the team that hammered Oman, with left-arm paceman Sam Curran and ‘death’ bowler Chris Jordan replacing express quick Mark Wood and spin-bowling all-rounder Will Jacks.

Teams
England: Phil Salt, Jos Buttler (capt/wkt), Jonny Bairstow, Harry Brook, Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, Chris Jordan, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, Reece Topley
Namibia: Nikolaas Davin, Michael van Lingen, Jan Frylinck, JP Kotze, Gerhard Erasmus (capt), JJ Smit, David Wiese, Zane Green (wkt), Ruben Trumpelmann, Bernard Scholtz, Jack Brassell

Umpires: Adrian Holdstock (RSA), Langton Rusere (ZIM)
TV umpire: Rashid Riaz (PAK)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)


US cricket team advances to second round in Twenty20 World Cup debut at Pakistan’s expense

US cricket team advances to second round in Twenty20 World Cup debut at Pakistan’s expense
Updated 15 June 2024
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US cricket team advances to second round in Twenty20 World Cup debut at Pakistan’s expense

US cricket team advances to second round in Twenty20 World Cup debut at Pakistan’s expense

LAUDERHILL, Florida: The United States cricket team made more history by reaching the second round in its Twenty20 World Cup debut after its last group game against Ireland was washed out on Friday.
Rain meant the match at Broward County Stadium was abandoned without a ball bowled, advancing the Americans to the Super Eight stage and automatically qualifying them for the 2026 Twenty20 World Cup in India and Sri Lanka.
The US qualified for this T20 World Cup only as a co-host with the West Indies, but it has used home advantage to make a stunning first impression in its first major cricket tournament.
While the Americans progressed alongside unbeaten India from Group A, former champion Pakistan and winless Ireland were eliminated from Super Eight contention.
Pakistan won the title in 2009 and reached two more finals, including at the last T20 World Cup in 2022. Pakistan has failed to get out of the group stage for the first time. Ireland was expected to be a threat, too. The Irish also reached the second round on debut in 2009 and repeated in 2022.
The competition point from the washout was enough for the US to advance after beating Canada in Texas and stunning Pakistan in Texas during the first week.
Tying Pakistan in regular overs then beating it in a super over was one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history.
The Americans were thumped by India, one of the title favorites, as expected on Wednesday but the hosts’ progression without being able to play on Friday was still well deserved.
The umpires made four inspections of the wet outfield before heavy rain arrived at around 1:30 p.m. local time and the match was called off three hours after its scheduled start.
The 17th-ranked US joined the West Indies, India, Australia, South Africa and Afghanistan in the Super Eight, with two more teams yet to qualify. The Super Eight starting on Wednesday splits into two groups, with each team guaranteed three games to try and reach the semifinals.
Nepal wins toss
At Kingstown, St. Vincent, Nepal won the toss and chose to bowl in its later match against Group D leaders South Africa, the first international match between the teams.
South Africa already has qualified for the Super Eight stage after winning its first three matches against the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. South Africa’s first match in the Super Eight playoffs is next Wednesday against the US in Antigua.
Nepal lost to the Netherlands in its opening match and its second match against Sri Lanka was rained out, meaning this will be its first game in 10 days. It is also the first match at the tournament to be played in St. Vincent.
Nepal captain Rauhit Praudel said he elected to bowl first to take advantage of easier batting conditions in the second innings. Proteas captain Aiden Markram said he would have chosen to bat first.
For the first time at the tournament, Nepal has been able to select its leading player Sandeep Lamichhane. Lamichhane was convicted of rape in January and sentenced to eight years in jail. But his conviction was overturned in May by the Nepal High Court.
His application for a visa to travel with the Nepal squad to the United States was rejected. But he has been able to join the team in St. Vincent, bringing the Nepal squad up to its full complement of 15 players in the Caribbean.
New Zealand bowls first
At Tarouba, Trinidad, New Zealand won the toss and chose to bowl in a Group C match against Uganda. The West Indies and Bangladesh already have taken the two Super Eight qualifying spots available from the group.
New Zealand lost its first two matches at the tournament to Bangladesh and the West Indies and can no longer qualify. It sits at the bottom of the group behind Uganda which has two points from a win over Papua New Guinea.
New Zealand’s failure at this tournament ends a run of success at white ball World Cups. It has reached at least the semifinals of the last six white-ball world tournaments over the last decade.


England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign

England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign
Updated 14 June 2024
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England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign

England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign
  • This overwhelming Group B victory meant England recorded the largest win in T20 World Cup history in terms of balls remaining
  • Oman had no answer to England's attack, leg-spinner Adil Rashid taking 4-11, while Jofra Archer and Mark Wood had 3-12 figures

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda: England thrashed Oman by eight wickets as the reigning champions revived their T20 World Cup campaign with a record-breaking success in Antigua on Thursday.
Needing a heavy win to bolster their net run-rate (NRR) as they attempt to overhaul Scotland in the race to qualify for the second-round Super Eights, England dismissed Oman for just 47.
England then made 50-2 in a mere 3.1 overs, captain Jos Buttler 24 not out and Jonny Bairstow, who hit the winning boundary, unbeaten on eight.
This overwhelming Group B victory meant England recorded the largest win in T20 World Cup history in terms of balls remaining.
Oman had no answer to England’s combination of spin and pace, leg-break bowler Adil Rashid taking 4-11 from his four overs, while express quicks Jofra Archer and Mark Wood both had figures of 3-12 in an innings that ended with nearly seven overs to spare.
Number seven Shoaib Khan (11) was the only Oman batsman to reach double figures after Buttler won the toss.
Significantly, England’s NRR climbed to 3.081, better than Scotland’s 2.16. England, however, stayed third on three points, behind Scotland’s five.
Already-eliminated Oman, who ended the tournament having lost all four of the games, just scraped past the record lowest completed total of 39 at any T20 World Cup, posted by fellow-non Test nation Uganda against co-hosts West Indies in Guyana last week.
Archer did the early damage with 2-12 in nine balls.
Oman then lost two wickets in Wood’s first over as they slumped to 25-4 in six overs.
The very next delivery wicketkeeper Buttler luckily removed the bails at the second attempt to stump Khalid Kail off Rashid’s first ball Thursday as wickets continued to tumble.
Phil Salt struck the first two balls of England’s chase for six, only to be bowled off the third by Bilal Khan, but his side were on their way.
England, beaten by Australia after their group game with Scotland was abandoned due to rain, play Namibia on Saturday.
Australia and Scotland, however, will meet on Sunday after England have completed their group games.


The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket
Updated 13 June 2024
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The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket
  • Fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperforming can mean the end of a contract or career

Fans of cricket may find it impossible to understand the pressures that professional players are under. Although some of us have played good standard club cricket and faced tight match situations, we have not had the pressure of our career and livelihood being at stake, playing in front of crowds, screened by the media and subject to scrutiny. This is now ubiquitous, both mainstream and on social media.

It was instructive, therefore, to listen to one England’s greatest batsmen, at a time before batter became the preferred term and social media existed, provide some insights into these pressures. This was none other than Yorkshire and England’s Geoffrey Boycott. The occasion marked the launch of the 11th book under Boycott’s name — “Being Geoffrey Boycott,” published by Fairfield books — 60 years since he made his debut for England on June 4, 1964. 

This was at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, against Australia. Looking at pictures of him on the day, his large glasses, cap and kit, unadorned by sponsorship logos, are a large remove from the appearance of modern-day cricketers. However, there is a commonality: that of pressure to succeed. In Boycott’s case, that pressure had been heightened when he was told, aged 17, that he needed to wear glasses. This ended his football career, during which he played for Leeds United’s under-18 team. 

In his debut match he top scored in England’s first innings but could not bat in the second because of a finger injury sustained in the first. This kept him out of the following two matches before he scored his maiden Test match century in August 1964. He would go on to score 8,114 runs in 108 Test matches in a career which had its fair share of controversy and turmoil. Between 1974 and 1977 Boycott made himself unavailable for England selection focussing, instead, on captaining Yorkshire.

In late September 1978, his mother died. Two days afterwards, Yorkshire’s committee met to inform Boycott that he was to be removed as the county’s captain because of a failure to win trophies and his unpopularity amongst the players. Boycott was asked if he had suffered from mental health issues during these years. He said no, he had been close to his mother and it had saddened him to see her deteriorate week after week. His reaction was a natural one to a deeply mourned loss. The treatment by Yorkshire compounded this, in terms of its timing and nature.

From the outside this appears a cold-hearted decision, especially its timing. Boycott was devastated. He continued as a player the following season, breaking more records. This says much about his determination to succeed against the odds. He was known for being a singular man and for spending time away from teammates after play. Cricket involves a series of battles between individuals, primarily between bowler and batter. A wicket, a boundary, a catch, a century, a five-wicket haul represents individual achievement within a team setting. Opponents look to identify and expose weaknesses.

It can be argued that this is the case in all sports. However, cricket has a difference, especially with batting. If a batter makes a mistake, he or she is not straight into the next piece of action. There is time to reflect on the reason for the dismissal. It may be days before the player’s next innings. This allows much time for introspection, analysis and self-analysis.

The fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperformance can mean the end of a contract or career. Fear induces nervousness, breeds insecurity and anxiety, creating conditions which counteract those needed to succeed. They are also conditions which sports psychologists recognise as underpinning mental illness.

Professional cricketers, as with other athletes, have an inherent desire to succeed. The consequences of failure are evident from an early age and often result in being dropped from the team. Boycott admitted to having a fear of failure during his career, of nerves and of a determination to overcome them. He said that he was able to block out all external noise when batting. This set him apart from many other players, revealing immense mental strength. He also emphasized the need for high-quality technique and practice. This was echoed by a former Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, who contends that, unless playing a certain shot or bowling a particular delivery has not become a habit, it is almost impossible to produce that shot or delivery under pressure.

Such pressure situations have grown exponentially with the advent of T20 cricket.  These are evident in abundance in the current ICC men’s T20 World Cup. South Africa were 3 for three against the Netherlands and 27 for four against Bangladesh, but recovered to make scores that were just sufficient to earn victory. The recoveries were instigated by the middle order batters, notably David Miller. Imagine the pressure that was on him to perform, especially as South Africa has a history of losing matches which it should have won. Crucially, he reined in his natural game and adapted to the pitch conditions. Bangladesh required 11 runs from six deliveries to win against South Africa, two batters were caught on the boundary trying to hit sixes. The match between India and Pakistan went to a super over. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir was entrusted with it but, under pressure, failed to bowl straight and Pakistan lost. 

The margins in these pressure situations are very thin. Results can go either way, determined by the performance of those who have trained themselves to be able to handle such situations. The mentality required for this was exemplified by Geoffrey Boycott’s approach to the game, completely unlike that of an all-time great Australian all-rounder, Keith Miller, who had served with the Royal Australian Air Force in the Second World War. His dashing approach to life and cricket was summed up in a single (adapted) quote: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt directly behind you, playing cricket is not.”

How times have changed.