Pakistan sees PSL in Abu Dhabi as precursor to T20 World Cup

Islamabad United's Shadab Khan (2R) fields the ball as Quetta Gladiators' Mohammad Nawaz (R) takes a run during the Pakistan Super League match between Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators in Karachi on March 2, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 June 2021

Pakistan sees PSL in Abu Dhabi as precursor to T20 World Cup

  • The International Cricket Council has lined up the United Arab Emirates as the backup venue for the world tournament if India can’t stage it on home soil
  • The Pakistan Super League Twenty20 contest has been relocated to Abu Dhabi and will restart from June 9

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan organizers view the remainder of the country’s premier limited-overs league being staged in the United Arab Emirates as a perfect rehearsal for the International Cricket Council in case the Twenty20 World Cup has to be moved out of India because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Wasim Khan said the PSL is an ideal precursor in terms of logistics and planning.
The ICC has already lined up the United Arab Emirates as the backup venue for the Twenty20 World Cup if India can’t stage it on home soil starting in mid-October.
India has asked for a month to weigh its options before letting cricket’s international governing body know whether it is viable to host the event in India in less than five months.
The lucrative Indian Premier League had to be suspended last month when players inside the so-called bio-secure bubble started testing positive for COVID-19 and infection rates soared in parts of the country.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India plans to finish off the IPL in the UAE prior to the Twenty20 World Cup, and recently sent top officials to the Emirates to make preparations.
The Pakistan Cricket Board had to overcome logistical and operational obstacles to get the Pakistan Super League’s remaining 20 matches going. The tournament has been relocated to Abu Dhabi and will restart from June 9. The final is scheduled for June 24 before the Pakistan squad flies to England for limited-overs series.
The PSL was postponed in March after several players and support staff tested positive for the coronavirus.
The tournament was scheduled to resume on June 5 but some operational hurdles, including strict quarantines rules in Abu Dhabi and a delay in securing visas for its production crew, mostly flown from India, pushed it back another few days.
But Khan said all those obstacles were overcome after the PCB worked closely with the Emirates Cricket Board, and it could help ICC to plan the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE.
“The logistical challenges that we found will be similar challenges, bringing more countries over from different parts of the world for the World Cup in the UAE,” Khan told the Associated Press. The PSL “is a perfect precursor leading into the ICC decision, which is strongly considering UAE as the venue,” for the T20 World Cup.
The top PCB official said most of the ICC member nations would be comfortable playing the event in the UAE.
“Ultimately it’s a decision for the ICC, but right now, if you ask me, I would say that it’s likely to probably take place in the UAE,” Khan said.
Cricket officials are hopeful the coronavirus situation will improve in Pakistan in coming months ahead of scheduled tours by New Zealand, England and West Indies. Australia is also due to tour Pakistan next February for the first time in 22 years.
“Certainly in 4 or 5 months’ time, we expect everything to be better in Pakistan from a COVID perspective,” Khan said. “We’ve got a huge amount of cricket coming up … and all the countries are relishing the opportunity of coming over.”
Security concerns that prevented foreign teams touring Pakistan have subsided, with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and South Africa playing limited-overs and test matches in Pakistan in recent seasons. Visiting teams are now more focused on secure bio-security bubbles in the pandemic.
“Security is no longer the No. 1 issue that people are asking about,” Khan said. “When South Africa were due to come and Zimbabwe, the question they were asking about was the (coronavirus) protocols — no longer about security.”
While Pakistan successfully hosted South Africa and Zimbabwe during the pandemic, it couldn’t maintain the impenetrable bio-secure bubble in Karachi during the PSL in March.
Khan said a PCB investigation later found “some holes or gaps that were created within the implementation of the actual bio-security that we’d created.”
But he added that similar breaches were found in other international events, including the Australian Open tennis tournament and English Premier League.
“This is a global phenomenon and cricket is not exempt from that,” Khan said.
The Pakistan board has hired an international firm with experience in the IPL and with the English Cricket Board to manage the bio-secure bubble for the remainder of the PSL.
“We know we’re in safe hands with them,” he said. “We are doing everything we can from a bio-bubble perspective, both at the ground and also at the hotels … and make sure that we make this as watertight as possible.”


All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open

Updated 07 July 2022

All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open

  • The crowds do come for these games; in 2018, Summer League set a total attendance record of 139,972 and in 2019, a per-day average record was set of 12,199 fans

LAS VEGAS: In Las Vegas, there’s always a big show happening.

Welcome to the stage, Paolo Banchero. He’s about to have his opening night.

NBA Summer League starts Thursday in Las Vegas, with Banchero — the now-former Duke star forward who was the No. 1 pick last month — set to play in the opening game when the Orlando Magic take on No. 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr. and the Houston Rockets in the first contest of the 11-day showcase.

“It’s great,” Banchero said Wednesday as the Magic wrapped up practice in one of the two UNLV arenas where games will be taking place. “You know, I get to come out here, have all these people come watch, watch me put on a show. I love when big crowds are out, when all the cameras are out, that’s when I play my best. So, I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be fun.”

The crowds do come for these games; in 2018, Summer League set a total attendance record of 139,972 and in 2019, a per-day average record was set of 12,199 fans. That’s all pre-COVID, of course, and the league is hoping this summer league — even with the pandemic still very much happening — is back to those sorts of numbers.

And a glitzy matchup to get things started, two of the top three picks in the first game, seems fitting.

“I want to feel like I played hard all week, no matter how long I’m there, no matter if I’m making shots, missing shots, I want to know that I was out there competing, out there listening, out there learning,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, all this is new to me.”

He’s not alone there. For most players taking part over the next 11 days, this is new. Some have played in Las Vegas before, maybe in AAU games, or high school, or in college. A few have even participated in Summer League before — but there are some who are seeing Las Vegas for the first time as well.

“I’m looking forward to walking around and seeing some things,” Miami rookie Nikola Jovic said. “When I have time.”

Every NBA team has a summer squad in Las Vegas, all set to play five games. The first four games for each team will go into standings that will determine which two will play on July 17 for a title, though the trophy can be viewed as an ancillary part of Summer League.

Sacramento won Summer League last season; probably only the most ardent basketball fans know that. But moments stand out — such as No. 1 pick Zion Williamson of New Orleans ripping the ball away from New York’s Kevin Knox in the 2019 Summer League and getting a dunk.

That play, people remember. Williamson didn’t finish that game because of a knee injury, and the game itself ended eight minutes early because an earthquake struck 150 miles from Las Vegas but left the scoreboards at UNLV shaking to the point where officials weren’t sure if the contest could safely continue. New Orleans won. The outcome didn’t matter.

Same goes for whatever will happen at UNLV starting on Thursday night. A team will end up winning the title and get a trophy and T-shirts and hats on July 17, but it’s the moments — like the debut of a No. 1 pick — that tend to stand out.

“I think Paolo is probably one of the most prepared individuals for that situation that have ever come along in the NBA,” said Orlando assistant Jesse Mermuys, who will coach the summer league team. “His season at Duke, I don’t know if there’s much more pressure than that. And so, he’s already prepared. You can tell. His parents have done a great job with him.”

Banchero has spent the last couple of weeks living out of a suitcase, getting to know new summer teammates — most of whom won’t be on the Magic roster when the real NBA season starts in mid-October — and starting to forge relationships with the Orlando veterans as well.

Whatever happens Thursday night, it’s just a starting point.

“I know who I am,” Banchero said. “I know what I bring. Whether I have a great game or a bad game, I’m never going to get too high, never going to get too low. I hold myself to high standards. So, really, in my head it’s just me vs. me. I’m not worried about what other people are doing. I’m not worried about what other people think. It’s just kind of how I see myself and whether I’m happy with how I played or not.”


Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

Updated 07 July 2022

Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

  • The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short

ARENBERG, France: Simon Clarke of Israel Premier Tech won stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday in a photo finish after a 157km run from Lille to Arenberg featuring 20km of cobbled mining roads.

Belgium’s Wout van Aert of Jumbo retained his overall leader’s yellow jersey despite a nasty fall, but his teammate Primoz Roglic lost around two minutes to defending champion and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.

The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short.

“What a year,” said Clarke, who got a last-minute contract with the IPT team in December after leaving EF. “I’m ever the optimist.

“I just told myself not to panic even when the sprint started almost 1km out,” he said about the finale.

“I sat back in the slipstream, waited and waited and went for the line at the last second,” he said.

Van Aert fell early and hurt a shoulder and was almost run over by his own team car, but rallied to cling on to his overall lead by 13sec from Powless of EF.

The race goes to his native Belgium on Thursday where he can parade through 60km of roads there in the yellow jersey.

“That’s part of why I dug so deep,” he said. “But this wan’t what we had planned this morning.”

Defending champion Pogacar did the best of the pretenders to the 2022 title when he finished seventh, 51sec off the lead, putting a little time into all his rivals after threatening to pulverise them before fading in the final kilometers.

“I like the cobbles,” smiled the 23-year-old UAE leader.

“I had no bad luck, felt good and played it intelligently at the end when I knew I wouldn’t catch the leaders,” he said.

Pogacar retains the best placed under-26’s white jersey.

Ineos trio Adam yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas all hung in and trail Pogacar by 28, 29 and 30sec respectively.

The treacherous stage raced over cobbles was doubly dangerous due to dust billowing from the bone dry surface among the corn, wheat and potato fields making it tough to breath and easy to slip.

Eleven cobbled sections totalling almost 20km of bone shaking mining roads caused much of the chaos but not all of it.

Roglic, runner-up in 2020, was brought down after Caleb Ewan collided with a stray hay bale, the Jumbo man then hitting him and struggling thereafter.

He finished 44th on the day, 2min 36sec off the lead.

Embarking from the chic northern city of Lille, good humored crowds along the roadside thickened as the race hit the cobbles in the finale.

But a grim-faced Mathieu van der Poel, a pre-race favorite, was dropped by the lead group 30km out.

Visible for his polka-dot jersey and handle-bar moustache, Magnus Cort-Nielsen was once again in the thick of the action finishing fifth and retaining the King of the Mountains shirt he took in his native Denmark on stage two.

Thursday’s sixth stage starts in the Belgian town of Binche and returns to France in the Ardennes forest for what should be a splintered finale with two short steep climbs.


Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history

Updated 06 July 2022

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history

  • Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl ‘determined to stand out’ against both female and male peers

HAMMAM SOUSSE, Tunisia: Ons Jabeur will make history on Thursday when she walks on to the Centre Court at Wimbledon as the first Arab woman to compete in a Grand Slam semifinal.

Fifteen years ago, Ons Jabeur’s young tennis sparring partner could see the Tunisian was destined for glory — even if he suffered a broken arm in the process.

Omar Laabidi remembers being repeatedly beaten by a 12-year-old Jabeur.

“We used to call her ‘Roger Federer’,” Laabidi said.

He was talking at the tennis club where it all began, in the North African country’s coastal town of Hammam Sousse.

“One time during a training match she hit a drop shot that I tried so hard to return that I broke my arm,” he said.

Jabeur had started by playing on courts belonging to local hotels but she soon joined the Tennis Club Hammam Sousse, which now bears a huge portrait of its most famous graduate.

Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl “determined to stand out” against both female and male peers.

It is a determination that has taken her all the way to the world No. 2  spot — one place behind Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

But Mlika, who trained a young Jabeur for 10 years, said there was a moment where she almost quit the sport.

“She had great ball control, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” said the 55-year-old.

“Ons thought seriously about switching sports — but decided to stick to tennis.”

The 27-year-old Tunisian’s fighting spirit has been on show throughout her career.

Despite crashing out in the first round of the French Open in May, she surged back to win the Berlin WTA singles title a few weeks later.

Her appearance in the Wimbledon semis — against close friend and ‘barbecue buddy’ Tatjana Maria — comes just two weeks after she was forced to withdraw from the Eastbourne tournament, where she was partnering Serena Williams in the doubles, with a knee injury.

Jabeur, known to many Tunisians as “the minister for happiness,” was born in the southern coastal town of Ksar Hellal, one of four siblings.

She moved to the capital, Tunis, at the age of 12 to train at a highly rated state-backed sports club.

She has been married to her physical trainer, and former fencer, Karim Kamoun, since 2015.

The right-hander is known for her stamina and the variety of her play.

 

 

“She hates playing at one pace,” said Mlika. “She’s always trying to create a spectacle by switching up the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots.

“She’s really the queen of the drop shot.”

Jabeur made a splash on the global scene in 2011, winning the girls’ singles at the French Open at the age of 16.

Laabidi also moved to Tunis around the same time as the adolescent Jabeur and joined the same academy, where they continued sparring.

“She was always fun and quickly got to know strangers,” he said.

“But she was always provocative and competitively debating on all subjects.”

Those who knew her as a teenager say she has changed little despite her growing fame.

“She still runs around gathering up all the balls during training, which she’s been doing since she started playing,” said Mlika.

Unsurprisingly, as her fame has spiralled membership levels have skyrocketed at her home club, from 320 in 2018 to more than 700 today.

For Yousra Koubaa, the mother of eight-year-old student Yasmine, Jabeur is “an example of hope, one we’re always showing to our children.”

Mlika says he uses photos of a young Jabeur to inspire his students today.

“She was a spark of enthusiasm, always moving and wanting to show that she was the best,” he said.

“She always put me in a difficult position because I had to balance between taking the training up a level, or waiting for her peers to catch up with her level and her pace.”


Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

Updated 06 July 2022

Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

  • The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second
  • Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem

LONDON: Rafael Nadal beat Taylor Fritz in a gruelling five-setter on Wednesday to set up a blockbuster Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios, but revealed that an abdomen injury almost forced him to quit mid-match.
The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second but raised his game to win 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/4) in a match lasting four hours and 21 minutes.
Earlier, Australian maverick Kyrgios cruised past Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem, which forced him to leave the court.
“I had to find a way to serve a little bit different,” he said. “For a lot of moments I was thinking I would not be able to finish the match but the crowd, the energy, thanks for that.”
He added: “I honestly enjoy a lot playing these kind of matches in front of you guys. I can’t thank you enough for the support.”
Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, trails Nadal 6-3 in their head-to-head meetings but he beat the Spaniard on his way to the quarter-finals in 2014 and is seen as a major threat to his hopes of reaching a sixth Wimbledon final.

A pumped-up Nadal raced out of the blocks on Center Court to take a 3-1 lead but then lost five straight games to lose the first set.
The players swapped breaks in the second set but Nadal was not moving freely and when leading 4-3 he took a medical time-out.
When he returned, American 11th seed Fritz served out to love, with Nadal’s movement still looking hampered.
But the Spaniard twice held serve comfortably to lead 6-5 and a backhand volley into the open court sealed the second set, to roars from the crowd.
Nadal, 36, was now moving more easily but the pendulum swung again early in the third set when the two-time Wimbledon champion double-faulted to hand his opponent a break, with Fritz repeating the dose to take the third set.
There were five breaks in a topsy-turvy fourth set but Nadal came out on top to level the match.
The first six games of the deciding set went with serve before a break apiece as the pressure mounted.
The set went to a tie-break and Nadal seized control, racing into a 9-3 lead and completing the win on his second match point.
Nadal, who has already won the Australian Open and the French Open this year, is halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver in 1969.
He is also bidding to win his 23rd Grand Slam title and equal Serena Williams in second place on the all-time list for most Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court is the leader on 24 titles.

Kyrgios reached the last four at the All England Club with relative ease.
The 27-year-old was broken just once by Garin and hit 35 winners as he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal.
“I never thought I’d be in the semifinal of a Grand Slam,” said the Australian. “I thought that ship had sailed, that I may have wasted that little window in my career.
“I am really happy I was able to come out here with my team and able to put on a performance.”
Kyrgios is the first Australian man into the semifinals at Wimbledon since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.
But he went into the match under a new cloud of controversy after it emerged he faces an Australian court next month to answer an allegation of assault.
His 2022 Wimbledon has also been a rollercoaster on the court.
Brilliant, crowd-pleasing shot-making has been accompanied by $14,000 in fines and an ugly, bitter spat with third-round rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.


Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Updated 06 July 2022

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

  • The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches
  • “I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back”

WIMBLEDON, England: Simona Halep’s first appearance at Wimbledon since winning the title three years is going just as good as it did the last time.
The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday on Center Court.
Halep missed the chance to defend her title at Wimbledon twice, first in 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and then again in 2021 when she had to sit out with a left calf injury.
“I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back.”
In the semifinals, Halep will face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh, is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal was to play Taylor Fritz on Center Court while Nick Kyrgios was to face Cristian Garin on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon and has reached the semifinals for the third time. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament.
“I’m very emotional right now, because it means a lot to be back in the semis,” Halep said.
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“She could crush the ball in the end, and I didn’t know, actually, what to do,” Halep said. “But I just believed in myself. I said that I have to stay there, strong on my legs.”
Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams, in April.