Sarfraz proud of Imam and Babar as Pakistan survive Ireland scare

Sarfraz Ahmed during the press conference. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 May 2018
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Sarfraz proud of Imam and Babar as Pakistan survive Ireland scare

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed praised the character of young batsmen Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam after they ensured his decision to enforce the follow-on in Ireland's inaugural Test did not backfire.

Only three times in the 141-year history of Test cricket have a side won after following-on but when Pakistan were 14 for three, chasing a modest 160 to win on Tuesday's final day of this stand-alone match, it seemed Ireland might mark their entry into the format with a stunning success.

But 22-year-old left-handed opener Imam, himself making a Test debut, responded to the pressure of the situation with a composed 74 not out -- his third fifty of the tour following half-centuries in warm-up matches against Kent and Northamptonshire.

Together with the 23-year-old Babar, who made 59 after being dropped on nine shortly after lunch, he shared a stand of 126 that took Pakistan to the brink of an eventual five-wicket win over a competitive Ireland side.

The way Imam in particular coped under grey skies against some lively pace bowling was an especially heartening sign for Pakistan ahead of their upcoming two-Test series in England, where conditions are likely to be similar to those they encountered at Dublin's Malahide.

It also meant Pakistan had not failed in a run chase again.
Their previous Test, against Sri Lanka in the UAE in October, saw them beaten after a target of 136 proved beyond them as left-arm spinner Rangana Herath took six wickets for 43 runs.

"Definitely we were worried when we were down 14 for three," Sarfraz told reporters.

"But it's really good that these two young players in our team, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam, the way they played, they showed their character, they showed their confidence.

"I think the way they played gives great confidence to the team and will help them in the next matches as well," the wicket-keeper added.

Pakistan were reeling after losing three wickets inside five overs and their skipper feared another morale-sapping loss was at hand.

"You know previously it's not happened like this," admitted Sarfraz.

"In the last Test match when we were chasing 136 and we were all out for about 120.

"Yeah we were thinking when we called for the follow-on if we were batting in the fourth innings it would be very difficult," he added.

Pakistan, understandably enough, have been struggling to replace the likes of retired veteran batsmen Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.

But Imam, whose selection for the tour led to allegations of nepotism given he is the nephew of Pakistan selection chief and former Test batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq, didn't just hold his nerve but counter-attacked with a maturity belying his lack of experience."

And with Faheem Ashraf, Pakistan's other debutant, making 83 in the first innings to take the tourists to beyond 300, Sarfraz was in buoyant mood.

"We are very confident. We are a very young side, we had two debutant players, but we were very confident whatever the target will come, we will chase it down.

"At 14 for three there was a little bit of concern but the way Imam and Babar Azam were as a collective, it was very important the way these two young players are batting.

"I think it's very good for Pakistan as a team to chase this on the fifth day."


Saudi Arabian football clubs helped with debts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Updated 22 May 2018
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Saudi Arabian football clubs helped with debts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will cover all external debts owed by Saudi Professional League clubs
  • Crown Prince will provide 1,277,000,000 Saudi riyals (around $340 million)

RIYADH: The General Sports Authority and Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) have announced that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will cover all external debts owed by Saudi Professional League clubs.
According to reports, the Crown Prince will provide 1,277,000,000 Saudi riyals (around $340 million) that will not only clear monies owed but also enable clubs to invest ahead of the 2018-19 season.
The issue of debt had become a major issue in the country’s football scene.
“Some Saudi Arabian clubs are currently experiencing financial problems that require immediate and urgent intervention,” the General Sports Authority, which oversees Saudi Arabian sport, said in a statement released on social media.
The body noted that there are a total of 107 cases under appeal at world governing body FIFA regarding unpaid salaries in Saudi Arabia.
“Failure to intervene urgently to rescue clubs may result in damage to the reputation of the Kingdom in general and Saudi Arabian sport in particular,” added the GSA.
“Some Saudi Arabian clubs may face severe disciplinary sanctions because of the failure to meet financial obligations such as the
denial of the registration of players in general or the deduction of points.”
Unpaid salaries were also a factor in Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr being unable to appear in this year’s AFC Champions League after they were denied AFC club licenses.
Al-Ittihad were the club with the highest debt of 309 million riyals ($82 million) and welcomed the news.
“We are delighted by the generous initiative of His Royal Highness,” Al-Ittihad president Nawaf Al-Muqairn said in an official statement released by the two-time Asian champions.
“This contributes to creating solid ground for all clubs to move toward achieving their goals.”
Legendary Saudi striker Sami Al-Jaber, recently appointed president of champions Al-Hilal, announced his gratitude on social media.
“Great thanks to His Highness the Crown Prince for the great support that the clubs have enjoyed which enables sport in our country to keep pace with the aspirations of our leadership,” Al-Jaber wrote.
The Crown Prince’s move followed the SAFF announcing a new raft of regulations in April that will come into effect next season and are designed to take the league forward. These included restricting club spending on transfers and salaries to 70 percent of revenue. The size of first-team squads has been reduced from 33 to 28, of which five must be homegrown players of 23 or younger.