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.


Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS
Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS
Updated 24 July 2024
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Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS

PARIS: The presence of Palestinian athletes at the Paris Olympic Games is already a major victory for the team amid the conflict in the Middle East, they said on Saturday, less than a week before the start of the Olympics.
The Palestinian team for the Games starting on Friday consists of six athletes who will be competing in boxing, judo, taekwondo, shooting and swimming, with slim hopes of a medal.”Whether a medal or not, we already win,” swimmer Yazan Al Bawwab told Reuters.
“The fact that we’re here. The fact that people don’t want us to be here, they don’t want us to play sports. They don’t want us to exist.”
“People don’t want Palestinians to exist. They look at the flag and they don’t want it. So to be here is a win,” said Al Bawwab, who will be the team’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony.
About 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were seized and taken as hostages to Gaza in an attack on southern Israel led by the Palestinian militant group Hamas last Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli military offensive launched in response in Hamas-governed Gaza has killed almost 39,000 Palestinians, health officials in the Palestinian enclave say. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
In the run-up to the Paris Olympics, Palestinian athletes had been given support by Arab states, including Kuwait, Qatar, Libya and Egypt, to allow training in those countries.
Palestinian sports officials have said that since the start of the conflict in October 2023 more than 300 athletes, referees and sports officials have been killed and all sports facilities in Gaza demolished.
“I said it before but I’m one of the luckiest people in the world,” swimmer Valerie Tarazi said. “I have the opportunity to compete for my country, to raise the flag for my country.”
“My heart is with them. Every time I swim, every time I jump in the pool, I’m thinking about the people of Palestine, their struggles. And I just want to represent them in the best way possible.”


‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on
Updated 24 July 2024
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‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on
  • Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia
  • In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble

JABALIA, Palestinian Territories: On an improvised pitch in war-ravaged Gaza, a young player and goalkeeper block out the boisterous crowd and focus solely on the football as they square off.
The referee blows the whistle and the penalty-taker fires the ball into the makeshift goal, sparking wild celebrations as spectators swarm him.
For fans and players, Tuesday’s match in the Jabalia refugee camp was a welcome distraction from the pangs of hunger and exhaustion endured over nearly 300 days of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia, devastated by Israeli bombardments and fighting which have laid waste to schools, stadiums and homes, and uprooted families many times over.
In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble.
The game created a festive atmosphere, with spectators pulling out chairs and leaning over the railings of the three-story compound to cheer.
A group of boys packed onto an empty lorry bed for a better view.
“We will play despite hunger and thirst, we will compete because we love life,” read one child’s sign in both English and Arabic.
Jabalia was hit particularly hard in an Israeli offensive launched in May, part of a fierce campaign sweeping northern Gaza — an area the military had previously said was out of the control of Hamas militants.
As fighting rages, humanitarian agencies struggle to deliver aid and warn of a looming famine.
Residents have told AFP there is barely any food left in the north, and what little reaches them comes at an astronomical cost.
For the footballers, the match offered a rare escape from concerns about food and water shortages.
They have been unable to play since the October 7 outbreak of the war triggered by Hamas’s attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 44 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,145 Palestinians, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
“Since the war on the Gaza Strip, we’ve stayed away from sports because all the clubs were destroyed, all the playgrounds were destroyed, but today, we made something out of nothing,” said Saif Abu Saif, one of the players.
The Gaza education ministry says 85 percent of educational facilities in the territory are out of service because of the war.
Many have been turned into shelters for war displaced as most of the besieged strip’s 2.4 million people have been uprooted multiple times.
Coach Wael Abu Saif said he was determined to attend Tuesday’s match despite still experiencing pain from wounds sustained in a February attack. Now in a wheelchair, he said he lost the use of both his legs.
“I’ve loved football since I was a child, I love tournaments, I love playing,” he told AFP.
“I want to prove to the whole world... that we continue to move forward with the most basic of our rights, which is to play football.”


Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur

Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur
Updated 24 July 2024
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Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur

Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur
  • Indeed the 28-year-old arrives at the Games as champion of Austria, the country where she sought asylum in 2022
  • “There’s an artistic swimming camp in Spain, and because of the security reason, I couldn’t go back anymore to Iran,” she told AFP

PARIS: Refugee Olympic team canoeist Saman Soltani told AFP that being unable to return to Iran two years ago could have either “broken you down” — or become, as it was for her, “an opportunity to improve.”
Indeed the 28-year-old arrives at the Games as champion of Austria, the country where she sought asylum in 2022 when she realized returning to her family in Iran was out of the question following an artistic swimming training camp in Spain.
She was provided safe haven there after a desperate call for help to Uwe Schlokat, whom she had met when he visited Iran five years previously. He was the only person she knew in Europe.
“There’s an artistic swimming camp in Spain, and because of the security reason, I couldn’t go back anymore to Iran,” she told AFP.
“So I only knew one person in Europe, and he was living in Austria. He is like my second father, and he helped me a lot.
“I go to Austria, and I asked for asylum. I integrated into this culture. And I have good friends and good people around me.”
Soltani is remarkably self-assured given she has not seen her family for a couple of years and is unlikely to see them in the forseeable future.
“Everything that happens to you has two sides, and it depends on you how do you look at the things,” said Soltani.
“So, you can see them as an opportunity to improve, or you can see them as something that breaks you down.
“Everything is about how you think about the things. Of course, it’s hard at first because we are all human with emotions, but I think the biggest achievement in my life is I always try to find a solution and keep going, and that’s why I’m here.”
She says that along with her fellow Refugee Team members — there are 36 in all — they are not just competing for personal glory but for a far greater cause.
“We represent more than 100 million displaced people, which I wanted to be a role model for them, to tell them, like, when the things look really bad, you just have to keep going,” she said.
“You should not get disappointed, and you should never give up.”
Soltani, who competes in the 500-meter Sprint on August 7, had already shown her prowess for Iran in both artistic swimming and then kayaking, winning silver in the latter at the 2018 Asian Under-23 championships.
Soltani — who has a degree in accountancy — showed her stubborn side when she was told she would never make it in kayaking.
“I was just watching the Iranian national canoe/kayak team that day and I just love it.
“I decided to start and everyone told me it’s too late, you cannot.
“Because everyone who do like professional sport, they started at a really early age.
“But what they didn’t think about was that I was a swimmer, an artistic swimmer. And I was multiple champion.
“So I started kayaking and this is another thing that maybe it looks impossible for other people but doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you — so give yourself a chance in any situation.”
Yet she says her ambitions lie on a far higher plane — Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 2028, whether for Austria she does not know as despite being their national champion she has yet to be given Austrian nationality.
“I know I’m special, and I knew it from when I was a child, because I always liked to do big things,” she said.
“And so I knew it, and I’m excited to see what I will do in the future. Because I know I want to be world famous.”


Egypt sends biggest team ever to Paris Olympics

Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy. credit: Egyptian Olympic Committee
Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy. credit: Egyptian Olympic Committee
Updated 24 July 2024
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Egypt sends biggest team ever to Paris Olympics

Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy. credit: Egyptian Olympic Committee
  • A total of 148 athletes will compete across 22 sports

Riyadh: Egypt is set to field its largest ever team at the Paris Olympics, which get underway on Friday.

Speaking at a press event on Tuesday, Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy said Egypt had spared no effort in providing its athletes with the resources they needed to qualify for the Games and as a result it had the biggest team of any Arab or African nation.

A total of 148 athletes will compete across 22 sports. The team also features 16 reserves.

Sobhy said he was hoping for a record medals haul “to crown the efforts of the country in providing full support to our sports champions.”


Saudi athlete Mohammed Tolo prepares to make mark at Paris Olympics

Mohammed Daouda Tolo. supplied
Mohammed Daouda Tolo. supplied
Updated 24 July 2024
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Saudi athlete Mohammed Tolo prepares to make mark at Paris Olympics

Mohammed Daouda Tolo. supplied
  • Tolo began his athletics journey at the Green Sports Hall as a member of Al-Hala Fitness Center in 2020
  • His rise to prominence culminated in a silver medal at the Asian Games in October 2023

Jeddah: Mohammed Daouda Tolo, hailing from Riyadh’s Al-Uraija district, has secured a spot at the Paris Olympics following a stellar shot put performance that shattered the Asian record.

Tolo’s performance at the World Athletics Continental Tour Madrid Meeting in June met the Olympic qualifying standard with a throw of 21.80 meters.

Now, the formidable Saudi athlete, known affectionately as the “Big Man,” is set to compete among the world’s elite in the men’s shot put event on Aug. 2, aiming to advance to the Olympic final on Aug. 3.

Emerging as one of Saudi Arabia’s most promising talents, Tolo began his athletics journey at the Green Sports Hall as a member of Al-Hala Fitness Center in 2020. He  now represents Al-Hilal club.

His rise to prominence culminated in a silver medal at the Asian Games in October 2023, where he not only secured victory, but also established a new Asian record, surpassing India’s Tajinderpal Singh Toor by 3 cm.

The 23-year-old has competed in various tournaments, including the Gulf Games, Islamic Games, Arab Championship and the Asian Championship in Thailand, with each competition contributing to his growth and development.

Speaking to Arab News from the Saudi athletes training camp in Normandy, France, ahead of his Olympic debut, Tolo expressed his determination to triumph at the Paris Olympics.

“I have to prove to myself that I deserve to be at such an international event and face off against big names,” he said. Although this will be his first time at the Olympics, Tolo is eager and prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead.

For athletes worldwide, taking part in the Olympics represents a pinnacle achievement.

“I am honored to be a part of the Saudi team (on this global stage),” Tolo added. “I’m happy that my hard work has paid off and I made it to the Saudi squad for the Paris Olympics. This opportunity makes me work even harder to contribute to our team’s success. I look forward to making my country proud.”

Reflecting proudly on his national identity, Tolo highlighted his gratitude for the support from the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, led by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and his deputy, Prince Fahd bin Jalawi.

As preparations intensify, Tolo acknowledges the challenges ahead but remains undeterred in his pursuit of Olympic glory.

Securing a medal will not be easy, he said, adding that challenges are what drive him. “I’m going to put my hand up again and challenge for a medal.”

With unwavering determination and the support of the Kingdom behind him, Tolo is poised to leave his mark on the Paris Olympics, embodying the spirit of Saudi athletics on the world stage.