How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

In the wake of Pakistan’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood around the team is different and much darker. (Reuters)
In the wake of Pakistan’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood around the team is different and much darker. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 June 2024
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How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead
  • Despite the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s of the 2024 T20 World Cup, there could be reasons to be optimistic

NEW YORK: How many times have we heard the words inconsistent, unpredictable and chaotic used to describe the Pakistan men’s cricket team’s performances over the years?

The answer is numerous, although usually the description is followed by the qualification that the team are at their most dangerous when in that state.

In the wake of the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood is different and much darker.

Inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos did not translate into becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united will perform best.

In my view, it is time for those involved in Pakistan’s cricket world to step away from the myth surrounding what it takes to galvanize the team. In its place ought to be a realization that the raw talent that once helped them produce magical moments is not being harnessed properly and that teams in other countries have adopted a more adventurous style of playing cricket.

The big question is how can Pakistan achieve such a transformation? There is nothing new about the current environment. Issues with chairmen and selection have abounded over the years, leading to accusations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe that there is reason to be hopeful.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red ball, are in positions which allow them to make decisions which are likely to be backed unconditionally by the hierarchy, even if it is just to save face for themselves.

Hopefully, the coaches will take full advantage of this opportunity to set their paths immediately. It is not an understatement to suggest that they are set for the hardest task of their careers. I was coached by Gillespie at Yorkshire and know his style is to be calm, which will be of help in this task. He prefers to let players lead while occupying a supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, evidenced by his time with India in winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.

Anyone who has followed the men in green will be very aware of all the issues with the team environment, so those must be addressed first. It is a very insecure one with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not have chosen the two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messaging to be able to go out and express themselves. However, given that two coaches are in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a trusted backroom staff body which is the same across the formats. Time is of the essence to put this in place as pressure to improve both team and individual performances will build quickly. In my view, the environment needs freshening and unnecessary baggage which has built up over the last couple of years needs removing.

One of the most difficult and contentious issues is that of the captaincy. In the current situation, I would play down the power and importance of the captain. This goes against my natural grain but, for the immediate future, the coach needs to be the figurehead and lead. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, so as to reduce noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white ball match is not until early November in Australia, so there is no need for immediate action. However, there are two Tests with Bangladesh to be hosted in August. Shan Masood is the current captain.

Another contentious issue is the selection process and, within it, the role of Wahab Riaz. It was only on Mar. 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously acted as chair, but that title was removed, Riaz remaining as a committee member. Somewhat impracticably, each member carried an equal vote from which a majority decision would be formed. How this works in practice is unclear.

In my view, the experiment should be ditched, with the coaches having the final say in a reduced committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chair, was senior team manager during the World Cup, despite there being a team manager and a coach! There is a public perception that Riaz appears to wield too much influence. It remains to be seen if the review of Pakistan’s World Cup performance will recommend that it is reduced. The results are expected shortly.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee a training camp ahead of these matches to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we can’t rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We need to make sure that we’ve got a squad mentality.”

Surprisingly, the talent pool appears to be small with a lack of ready-made replacements in some positions, so there is a need to identify and back those with the necessary character and skill. One of the options is Mohammad Haris. He has the modern-day approach which surely needs to be injected into the team’s approach and pursued all the way to the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could grow into a good finisher, whilst investment in batter Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast-bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary support to return to basics and improve his performance. In my view, he would be advised to forget about the captaincy to concentrate on taking wickets and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he appears to be on the right path to being world class. I expect Gillespie to provide those levels of support for both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would have been in my World Cup squad, whilst Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be the all-format No. 1 spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batter for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He has succeeded before and I have no doubt he will again, but he is another who needs to go back to basics.

My suggested change in approach for both coaches may not be very natural for either man. Both prefer to have a strong captain who takes the lead while they create an environment which encourages the players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that the coaches need to lead from the front, dealing with the noise and protecting their players from the inevitable attacks by ex-players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are advised to set out clear expectations. The team must become the priority in what is an insecure culture which makes the players think more about personal performances.

The two men need to settle the players in their minds through a combination of hand holding and tough love. Hopefully, a period of calm and support will create a better environment for success.


Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.


FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
Updated 17 July 2024
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FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
  • The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults

PARIS: FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
“FIFA is aware of a video circulating on social media and the incident is being looked into,” a spokesperson for world football’s governing body said.
They added: “FIFA strongly condemns any form of discrimination by anyone including players, fans and officials.”
The chants were heard during a live video posted on social media by Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
Some players, including 23-year-old Fernandez, sing a chant dating back to the 2022 World Cup final in which Argentina beat France.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Chelsea had earlier announced they had launched an internal disciplinary procedure against Fernandez over the incident.
Fernandez has apologized and the club said in a statement it had launched an “internal disciplinary procedure.”
“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behavior completely unacceptable,” it added.
“We acknowledge and appreciate our player’s public apology and will use this as an opportunity to educate.”
Fernandez, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for a Premier League record fee of £105 million ($136.8 million) in 2023, said in his apology: “The song includes highly offensive language and there is absolutely no excuse for these words.
“I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologize for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations.”
The French Football Federation (FFF) complained to FIFA about the chants on Monday.
FFF president Philippe Diallo “condemned with the greatest firmness the unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks made against players of the France team.”
France beat Argentina in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.


Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards
Updated 35 min 56 sec ago
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Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards
  • Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory
  • His Palestinian heritage serves as a profound source of motivation and pride ‘that means everything to me’

Riyadh: In the lead-up to UFC 304, slated for July 27 in Manchester, UK, Belal Muhammad, the formidable Palestinian-American welterweight contender, has honing his skills with a series  of rigorous training camps which have inluded sessions with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Mackachev in Dagestan.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, the 36-year-old reflected on his preparations and the profound significance of his upcoming bout against champion Leon Edwards.

“My training camp has been very good,” Muhammad said, detailing the final stages of his preparation. “It’s about being safe, staying uninjured, and making it to the fight week. It’s been a hard camp, but I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I can’t wait to get to Manchester and fight,” he added with palpable enthusiasm.

Ranked second in the welterweight division, Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory. “This is everything,” he stressed. “When I got into the UFC, all I wanted was to be the champion. Now, I see the finish line. I’m knocking on the door. All I’ve got to do is walk through it.”

Acknowledging the competitive landscape of the welterweight division, Muhammad assessed his opponents with a keen eye. “I see weaknesses in a lot of these guys,” he said. “I don’t think there are going to be easy fights, but looking at this division, Leon (Edwards) is my easiest fight,” he added.

Muhammad’s journey in mixed martial arts is deeply intertwined with his Palestinian heritage, which he views as a source of profound motivation and pride. “That means everything to me,” he said. “I wake up every day knowing I’m fighting for something bigger — to have my flag raised with the title, to give my people a voice.”

He highlighted the resilience and determination of his Palestinian community as a driving force in his career. “I can’t sleep. I can’t take any days off. I can’t be soft, because these people are hard. These people are so resilient. They push me every day to work harder. I’ve never seen a stronger people in my life.”

Addressing his Palestinian fans directly, Muhammad expressed solidarity and admiration. “Keep fighting. Keep staying strong. Keep being resilient because you’re changing the world,” he said, stressing the inspiration he draws from their unwavering support.

With the recent surge of MMA interest in the Middle East, Muhammad praised the region’s growing prominence in the sport. “It’s amazing to see the Middle East becoming a huge market for fighters and the UFC,” he said. “When you look at Arabs and Muslims, we’re not the tallest we’re not the biggest so you’re not gonna see a lot of us in the NBA. But now we have a different sport that we can take over. We can all be fighters,” he added optimistically, envisioning a future where Arab fighters continue to make significant strides in the sport.

Reflecting on his career’s evolution, Muhammad emphasized the lessons learned from both victories and setbacks. “I’ve had the highest highs and the lowest lows,” he said. “After every fight, I analyze what I did wrong. I train year-round to be a better fighter,” he added, attributing his continuous growth to a relentless pursuit of improvement.

Muhammad started his MMA journey at 23, unlike many fighters who start at a much younger age, a factor that has always played on his mind as he trains, he said.

“I really think I’m behind a lot of these guys. So I’ve always had that mentality that I’m behind and have to keep learning, growing, and getting better. And I think that’s what separates me from the rest. Every single fight, I come as a different fighter.”

Maintaining mental focus and motivation amid the stakes of UFC 304, Muhammad revealed a deeply personal motivation. “I love to win and I hate to lose,” he admitted. “I never want to see my mom disappointed in me. I keep winning so she keeps a smile on her face,” he added, highlighting the familial support that fuels his drive.

As the countdown to UFC 304 progresses, Muhammad stands poised to seize the welterweight crown, driven by skill, dedication, and a steadfast commitment to his goals. With Manchester on the horizon, Muhammad’s journey to championship glory promises to captivate fans worldwide and inspire a new generation of fighters from the Middle East and beyond.


‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup
Updated 17 July 2024
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‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup
  • 3 tournaments taking centerstage at Boulevard Riyadh City with high-stakes drama in store until Sunday  

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup has three major competitions taking place this week at Boulevard Riyadh City, promising further entertainment after a fortnight of action.

Running for eight weeks until Aug. 25, the Esports World Cup has a record-breaking $60 million prize pool on offer across 22 competitions and 21 games.

Sixteen clubs are vying to reach the latter stages of the $5 million “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” with hometown heroes Team Falcons flying the flag for Saudi Arabia.

Having topped the Group A standings with four wins and two draws from seven matches, Team Falcons have emerged as top contenders for the $1.5 million first prize and are certain to receive incredible home support this week.

Also, two other tournaments make their highly anticipated Esports World Cup debuts. The $1 million “Counter-Strike 2” competition will see some of the world’s best clubs competing.

Working together in five-versus-five format, players must display exemplary tactics to eliminate opponents and reign supreme in this ultra-realistic team-based shooter game.

Also sharing the spotlight is “PUBG Mobile,” with 24 teams battling for the $3 million prize on Friday.


Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick
Updated 17 July 2024
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Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick
  • The Saudi Arabia team have already claimed top places in the ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ and ‘Free Fire’ competitions

RIYADH: Team Falcons remain on course for a historic hat trick of Esports World Cup titles after the hometown heroes reached the semifinals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” competition on Tuesday.

One of the front-runners for the $1.5 million first prize, the Saudi Arabia club entered the knockout stages in scintillating form, topping Group A with four wins and two draws.

This form continued with the support of a capacity crowd inside the SEF Arena.

A 2-1 victory against China’s WBG.XG set up a semifinal showdown with Canadian outfit Gaimin Gladiators.

This moves Team Falcons closer to their dream of winning the competition and adding to Esports World Cup victories in “Call of Duty: Warzone” and “Free Fire.”

The “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” is running throughout week three at the Esports World Cup, concluding on Sunday, July 23.