Cricket’s ability to mock itself

Matches in the imminent twenty-team T20 World Cup will take place in the US, and T20 cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2028. (X/@T20WorldCup)
Matches in the imminent twenty-team T20 World Cup will take place in the US, and T20 cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2028. (X/@T20WorldCup)
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Updated 30 May 2024
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Cricket’s ability to mock itself

Cricket’s ability to mock itself
  • Shorter forms of cricket started as “a bit of a joke” but are now behemoths threatening longer-established formats

LONDON: In cricket, what started out as a “bit of a laugh” but turned out to be much more serious? This is not a trick question. It could refer to Test cricket’s origins. England v Australia, five-day matches, players switching allegiance between countries, a jibe by Australians to create the “ashes” of English cricket in an urn. Although this turned a bit of fun into a deadly serious contest over almost 150 years, it is not the answer.

Another possibility is the start of limited-overs cricket. The first so-called international limited-overs match was played between Australia and England on Jan. 5, 1971 in Melbourne. The first three days of a Test match had been rained off and the authorities faced a significant loss of income. They decided to abandon the match, replace it with a one-off, one-day match and add a seventh Test at the end of the series. This was much to the surprise and reluctance of the players, who were not consulted.

The English players seemed more concerned about receiving money for being asked to play extra matches. They were used to the benefits of limited-over cricket, which had started in the English and Welsh professional game in 1963 as a response to falling attendances and defensive play. Although commercially successful, with a sponsor in Gillette, no other Test-playing nation displayed any enthusiasm for the format. The decision by the Australian authorities to stage the match did not raise a laugh among the players, while the Australian Cricket Board was not laughing in the face of a serious need to generate income.

On what would have been day five of the Test match, the one-day game went ahead in a format of 40 overs, each of eight deliveries, the standard in Australia at the time. The teams were billed as an “England XI” and an “Australia XI.” Press reports referred to it as a “one-day Test match.” Any skepticism about the match by players and authorities was not shared by spectators, 46,000 of them turning up to watch.

This was a light-bulb moment for the Australian Cricket Board, whose head, Sir Donald Bradman, proclaimed: “You have seen history made.” Australia won the match, the England captain admitting that his players did not take the game seriously, although they were relieved to play some cricket after having spent so much time in the dressing room, as well as receiving an extra £50 for participating.

In this rather grumpy and fragile set of circumstances history was, indeed, created without many of the participants recognizing the significance of the event. Some years later, one Australian player recalled his surprise that a game they thought a “bit of a joke” became part of cricket’s history.

A revolution had been set in train. In 1973, the first women’s one-day world cup was staged, followed by the men’s in 1975. Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket in 1977 in Australia shook cricket’s authorities into realizing the commercial opportunities offered by the format. At that time, Australia, England and the West Indies were dominant. India did not take the format, often referred to as “pyjama cricket” because of the use of colored kit, at all seriously.

This all changed in 1983 when not only did India take the format seriously but its team also won the one-day world cup, defeating England, Australia and the West Indies along the way, inspired by the captain, Kapil Dev. In two months, the appeal of limited-overs cricket was transformed, as the Indian public fell head-over-heels in love with it and its heroes. Triangular and quadrangular tournaments were spawned on the Indian subcontinent and Sharjah. A joke became a joyful and serious commercial activity.

Yet, this is still not the answer to the original question. At the turn of the 20th century, falling attendances in England and Wales, poor performances by the national team and the imminent banning of tobacco advertising in sport combined to create a new crisis. Based on focus groups and surveys, the England and Wales Cricket Board concluded that the population wanted a form of cricket with wider appeal in terms of both duration and form of delivery. Reduced-over formats, such as 15 eight-ball or 20 overs of six balls, had been used for decades in club cricket in mid-week evening cups. In 2002, the board proposed a new Twenty20 Cup competition for the professional game.

This was narrowly approved by the county cricket clubs and launched in May 2003 on a roof garden in central London with members of a quickly forgotten pop group appearing in a tacky photoshoot. They were accompanied by the captains of the two county teams that were to contest the first match. One of them admitted to cringing when he saw the result of the photoshoot. He also said that he found the first match, on June 13, 2003, a “bit of fun.” It was not taken too seriously, as the general view was that it would not last.

How wrong could they have been? Another piece of cricketing history had been made, without anyone understanding the significance of the event. Counties used increasingly garish methods to entertain their new breed of spectators, who responded positively, thus ensuring that the format lasted longer than many thought would be the case. Once again, India was slow to adopt the format, but when it did cricket was transformed, the subcontinent effectively hijacking the new format.

The impacts of this continue to reverberate and encroach on other formats, as well as driving the game’s global expansion. Matches in the imminent twenty-team T20 World Cup will take place in the US, and T20 cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2028. So, from being a “a bit of a laugh,” it has become the dominant format and a commercial behemoth of existential threat to longer-established formats, both of which started as a “bit of a joke.” Cricket has a way of making fools of those who joke.


Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey

Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey
Updated 19 July 2024
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Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey

Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey
  • The Lotto Dstny rider celebrated his win with his partner and baby on a video call straight after the finish
  • The main contenders for the overall win, including Pogacar and his rivals Jonas Vingegeaard and Remco Evenepoel, finished 13 minutes and 40 seconds behind Campenaerts
  • With only three stages left, Pogacar has a comfortable lead of 3:11 over two-time defending champion Vingegaard

BARCELONETTE, France: Belgian rider Victor Campenaerts posted the biggest win of his career Thursday as he claimed the tough and hilly 18th stage of the Tour de France after a three-man sprint.

Two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogacar kept the race leader’s yellow jersey as the top of the overall standings remained unchanged with just three days of racing left.

Campenaerts spent most of the day at the front and jumped away from a breakaway group some 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the finish together with Frenchman Matteo Vercher and former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland.

Campenaerts, who won a Giro stage in 2021, patiently waited behind his rivals in the last kilometer and did not panic when Vercher attacked. He stayed in the wheel of Kwiatkowski, then launched his sprint from behind.

The Lotto Dstny rider celebrated his win with his partner and baby on a video call straight after the finish.

“After the (spring) classics, I had a very difficult time,” Campenaerts said, holding back tears. “I had a verbal agreement with the team about extending the contract and I got ignored for a long time and it was really difficult. I was on a long altitude camp but my girlfriend was there and she supported me every day, highly pregnant, and I was struggling to finish my training schedules. But I changed my mind, I have a bright future now still in cycling, I became a father and it was like blue skies, only blue sky.”

There was a flurry of attacks at the start of the rollercoaster 180-kilometer stage featuring five climbs as riders tried to break away before the first ascent, the Col du Festre. But the peloton rode at a high speed, thwarting all those early efforts.

About 20 riders finally managed to open a gap during that climb and were joined by Wednesday’s stage winner Richard Carapaz and other talented contenders for the stage win, including Ben Healy and Geraint Thomas.

With the best-placed rider in that large group already lagging nearly 34 minutes behind Pogacar overall, the pack let the break get away. The main contenders for the overall win, including Pogacar and his rivals Jonas Vingegeaard and Remco Evenepoel, finished 13 minutes and 40 seconds behind Campenaerts.

Earlier, Healy attacked twice from the leading group in the Cote de Saint-Apollinaire but his move eventually backfired as the Irishman got dropped when others upped the pace. A pivotal moment came in the Cote des Demoiselles when Kwiatkowski accelerated to move away and was later joined by Campenaerts and Vercher. The trio collaborated well as counter-attackers looked hesitant and reacted too late to catch them.

With only three stages left, Pogacar has a comfortable lead of 3:11 over two-time defending champion Vingegaard. Tour debutant Evenepoel is lagging 5:09 off the pace.

The battle between Pogacar, Vingegaard and Evenepoel is expected to resume on Friday. At less than 150 kilometers, the 19th stage to the ski resort of Isola 2000 is short, but tough. Riders will climb above 2,000 meters three times, including the climb to the summit of La Bonette, the highest road in France at an altitude of 2,802 meters.
 


Israel clear to play in Olympic soccer tournament after FIFA postpones decision on possible ban

Israel clear to play in Olympic soccer tournament after FIFA postpones decision on possible ban
Updated 19 July 2024
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Israel clear to play in Olympic soccer tournament after FIFA postpones decision on possible ban

Israel clear to play in Olympic soccer tournament after FIFA postpones decision on possible ban

ZURICH: FIFA has postponed a decision on a Palestinian proposal to suspend Israel from international soccer because of the conflict with Hamas, clearing the way for the Israeli men’s national team to play at the Paris Olympics.
Soccer’s world governing body had been set to make a decision Saturday at an extraordinary council meeting after asking for an independent legal assessment of the Palestinian proposal two months ago. That decision would have come just four days before the start of the Olympic soccer tournament, where Israel has been drawn into a group with Japan, Mali and Paraguay.
However, FIFA said Thursday that it had pushed back the timeline because “more time is needed to conclude this process with due care and completeness” — meaning a decision is now set to come after the Olympics have finished.
FIFA said both parties had made requests for extensions “to submit their respective positions” and that the independent assessment will now be shared with FIFA by Aug. 31 at the latest.
The men’s Olympic final is set to take place on Aug. 9.


Beleaguered Olympic boxing has a new look in Paris: Gender parity, but the smallest field in decades

Beleaguered Olympic boxing has a new look in Paris: Gender parity, but the smallest field in decades
Updated 19 July 2024
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Beleaguered Olympic boxing has a new look in Paris: Gender parity, but the smallest field in decades

Beleaguered Olympic boxing has a new look in Paris: Gender parity, but the smallest field in decades
  • 12 years after women’s boxing made its Olympic debut with just 36 fighters in three weight classes in London, the sport likely has achieved gender parity, reaching the overall Olympic movement’s goal
  • The 248 fighters in Paris are a shadow of the Olympic-record 432 who participated in Seoul in 1988, and it’s even down sharply from the 289 boxers who participated in Tokyo

PARIS: Boxing is already on the Olympic ropes after an epic fight between its banished governing body and the IOC. Although the sport has been a staple of Olympic programs for over a century, it could be dropped before the Los Angeles Games if big changes in governance don’t happen in the next year.

The fights are still on in Paris this month, but this Olympic tournament will look like nothing fans have seen in decades — for better in some ways, and probably for worse in others.

Twelve years after women’s boxing made its Olympic debut with just 36 fighters in three weight classes in London, the sport likely has achieved gender parity, reaching the overall Olympic movement’s goal. Give or take a few last-minute additions or dropouts, half of the 248 boxers in Paris will be women fighting in six weight classes.

But this milestone was reached by sharply cutting the number of male boxers in an overall field that will be the smallest for Olympic boxing since 1956. While there will be 23 more women fighting in Paris than in Tokyo three years ago, there will also be a whopping 63 fewer men, and they’re fighting in only seven weight classes — the fewest since 1908.

In fact, Paris will have dozens fewer boxers than in every other Games in the 21st century. The 248 fighters in Paris are a shadow of the Olympic-record 432 who participated in Seoul in 1988, and it’s even down sharply from the 289 boxers who participated in Tokyo.

USA Boxing head coach Billy Walsh has been an ardent proponent of the women’s sport ever since he coached Katie Taylor of his native Ireland to a gold medal in London, and he says the addition of three women’s weight classes in Paris is “fantastic.”

Walsh still recognizes the drawbacks to the sport’s growth when it comes up against the IOC’s typically firm cap on total Olympic participants. It’s rare to add more athletes to a traditional Olympic sport, particularly while the IOC is adding trendy new sports to each Games.

“It is sad in a sense for the men,” said Walsh, who competed for Ireland in the Seoul Olympics in 1988. “Because when I boxed, they had 12 (men’s) weight divisions. They went down to 10, and then down to eight, and now we’re down to seven.”

In Rio de Janeiro eight years ago, 250 men had the career-defining honor of being Olympic boxers. That number has been halved just eight years later, with 124 men competing at three fewer weights than in Rio.

Men’s boxing in Paris will have its fewest weight classes since 1908 in London, where the second boxing tournament in the modern Olympics was contested at just five weights. Three years earlier in Tokyo, men’s boxing already dropped to eight weight classes for the first time since 1948.

That means there is no longer an Olympic weight class between 71 kilograms (156 pounds) and 80 kilograms (176 pounds). Professional middleweights fight at 160 pounds, and super middleweights weigh in at 168 pounds, but any fighter who couldn’t go down or up to the Olympic limits was out of luck.

That’s a concern to Walsh and many others around the sport. The elimination of weight classes encourages fighters to stretch the limits of their bodies to see if they can fit into a less-than-ideal weight class for qualification — and that can lead to mismatches up and down the scales.

“When we’ve narrowed down the numbers, it’s also put a big gap in the weight divisions,” Walsh said. “There’s so much gap now. There’s a reason why there are (weight classes). It’s because of the power of the punch. These guys are hurting you. There’s damage you can do. If some guy is barely making the welterweight division, he’s got 10 kilos he has to put on, and the other guy is coming down from four or five kilos above that, it’s a lot of power in the punch. It’s a combat sport, and people do get hurt, do get injured. I worry about that.”

Fewer overall fighters means smaller teams for many nations — and fewer chances to win gold, even for the traditional powers of the sport.

The US, which has won the most total medals and gold medals in Olympic history, qualified eight fighters for Paris under a challenging new qualification system administered by the IOC task force overseeing the tournament. The American team will have fewer fighters than Australia — which had an extraordinarily easy path to Paris under the new system — Brazil, Ireland or modern amateur boxing powers Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Cuba, which ranks right behind the US in Olympic achievements, improbably will have only five fighters in Paris after two men failed to clinch a spot during the final qualifying tournament. Cuba also has no women on its team for the fourth straight Olympics, even though the nation belatedly lifted its internal ban on the women’s sport in late 2022.

Yet the small Cuban delegation includes two-time gold medalists Arlen Lopez and Julio Cesar La Cruz. They’ll both try to join Hungary’s Laszlo Papp and fellow Cubans Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon as the only three-time Olympic boxing champions.

The smaller field will lead to a different kind of competition in Paris: Fewer bouts with higher stakes. That could be exciting, particularly when fresher fighters move into the medal rounds, which will be held at the famed Roland Garros tennis complex.

Many fighters only need to win two bouts to clinch an Olympic medal, including every man fighting at heavyweight and super heavyweight. Both of those divisions have only 16 competitors, and no weight class in Paris has more than 22 fighters.

The tournament won’t even run for the entire Olympiad: For the first time in decades, boxing competition will conclude one day before the closing ceremony.

“It’s going to be different, that’s for sure,” Walsh said. “But it will be exciting.”
 


Verstappen counting on Red Bull upgrades for ‘important weekend’

Verstappen counting on Red Bull upgrades for ‘important weekend’
Updated 19 July 2024
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Verstappen counting on Red Bull upgrades for ‘important weekend’

Verstappen counting on Red Bull upgrades for ‘important weekend’
  • The 26-year-old explained that he felt the team needed to step up the pace to boost their defense of both the drivers' and constructors' titles
  • While Red Bull fitted upgrades to their cars, McLaren were forced to close their 'Team Hub' multi-storey motor home in the paddock following a storm on Wednesday

BUDAPEST: Max Verstappen hopes that a new Red Bull upgrade package will give him momentum as he seeks increased pace in a bid to stay ahead in this year's title race starting with this Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.

"We brought some stuff before, but it was not particularly big, so this one is a bigger one and it is a very important weekend," said the series leader and three-time world champion who seeks to complete a Hungarian hat trick this weekend.

"I think for everyone, this is an important, important weekend."

The 26-year-old explained that he felt the team needed to step up the pace to boost their defense of both the drivers' and constructors' titles.

"You could say that," the Dutch driver said.

"I think so. If this is not giving us some good lap time, I don't know how the rest of the season is going to evolve, but at the same time, I also don't know what's coming from the other teams.

"So we just focus on ourselves. We are bringing some things to the car and of course, I hope that it will give us a bit of lap time."

For his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, this is another key weekend to prove he can recover his form and deliver podium finishes.

While Red Bull fitted upgrades to their cars, McLaren were forced to close their 'Team Hub' multi-storey motor home in the paddock following a storm on Wednesday.

The facility was left flooded in places only weeks after it was damaged at the Spanish Grand Prix by an electrical fire.

"The team are currently working to fix the damage and therefore unfortunately our Team Hub will not be open to any guests or media for the duration of the Hungarian GP," said a team statement.

In Spain and Austria, when the facility was out of action, team chief Zak Brown used the FIA's hospitality area as his base while drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri used other McLaren facilities.

English driver Norris arrived in the paddock on Thursday to be greeted by light-hearted references to the European Championship soccer final which he attended in Berlin last Sunday.

A message on his car parking space board read '2-1 Viva Espana' in reference to Spain's Euro 2024 final win over England.

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin told reporters he was not responsible, pointing out "there is another Spaniard" before it was revealed that the joke was the work of Carlos Sainz's manager Carlos Onoro.
 


Saudi Olympians meet with local mayor at Paris Games training camp

Saudi Olympians meet with local mayor at Paris Games training camp
Updated 18 July 2024
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Saudi Olympians meet with local mayor at Paris Games training camp

Saudi Olympians meet with local mayor at Paris Games training camp
  • Marc-Antoine Jamet spoke with pole vaulter Hussain Al-Hizam and swimmer Zaid Al-Sarraj

LONDON: The mayor of Val-de-Reuil in Normandy met with Saudi athletes preparing to compete in the upcoming Paris Olympics at their training camp in the commune on Thursday.

Marc-Antoine Jamet spoke with pole vaulter Hussain Al-Hizam and swimmer Zaid Al-Sarraj as well as the director of the Saudi team, Afnan Barnawi, and a number of camp administrators.

The mayor was joined by local children and they wished the Saudi team luck and success in their Olympic participation.

Also on Thursday, the Saudi show jumping team held a training session in the Kingdom ahead of their journey to join up with the Saudi delegation in Paris two days before the equestrian competition starts on July 27.