Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Pakistan paramilitary troops stand guard outside the Pindi Cricket Stadium following canceling of 1st one day international cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

  • New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade
  • Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket began confronting its worst fear Saturday, with the national side staring at another era of isolation from hosting international matches after New Zealand abandoned its tour, citing a security threat.
The All Blacks called off their first Pakistan series in 18 years with Wellington’s backing on Friday just before the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The decision has left cricket-crazy Pakistan reeling, with the nation still recovering from the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore that wounded six players.
Already struggling to convince foreign teams to tour, Pakistan were forced to play home matches at neutral venues — primarily in the UAE — following the assault.
The decision left a generation of cricket fans growing up having never attended a live game.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketing hero, and the Pakistan Cricket Board will now have to work overtime to avoid another period of exile.
“With the administration they now have in place at the PCB and how closely linked to the PM it is, there’ll be a real push to ensure they have to play as little as possible in a neutral venue,” cricket writer Osman Samiuddin told AFP.
Their first task will be to convince England, who decide Sunday whether to send their men’s and women’s teams for a scheduled tour to Pakistan next month.
Those tours are to be followed by a series against the West Indies in December and Australia’s first visit since 1998 in February next year.
“England are now likely not to tour. Australia... will also probably not come. So that will be a hit,” Samiuddin said.
“And for fans too, they’ve only just started getting used to going to big games again so for the prospect of that being taken away, it’s going to hurt.”
The newly elected chairman of the PCB Ramiz Raja admitted Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure,” though not for the first time — and that the nation was resilient.
“Your pain and my pain is the same, it’s a shared pain. Whatever happened was not good for Pakistan cricket,” he said.
The PCB bled $200 million in losses during the country’s cricket exile.
Now, alongside the upcoming tours, its bids to host six international events — including the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy between 2024-31 — could also be in jeopardy.
Former players say keeping international cricket in Pakistan is the key priority.
“All cricketers are with the PCB and we have to find ways to avoid further isolation, for the sake of our next generations,” former captain Rashid Latif told AFP.
New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade.
Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
Ex-player Naushad Ali said his country needs to restore the confidence of the cricketing world.
“Pakistan will have to prove that New Zealand’s decision was wrong and I think only that will earn them sympathy,” said Ali.
“We should not give up our hosting rights and should lobby with other countries.”
But former captain Shahid Afridi believes they have sacrificed a lot over the years and deserve “a better deal.”
“We have done more than enough for them,” he said.
“We toured England and New Zealand (last year) despite fears of pandemic and we want them to reciprocate.”


India’s Kohli says Pakistan ‘very strong’ ahead of T20 blockbuster in Dubai

Updated 23 October 2021

India’s Kohli says Pakistan ‘very strong’ ahead of T20 blockbuster in Dubai

  • India have beaten Pakistan in all 12 T20, 50-over World Cup matches
  • Babar Azam’s Pakistan are now looking to break their World Cup jinx

DUBAI: India skipper Virat Kohli on Saturday said they will take on a “very strong” Pakistan team in their Twenty20 World Cup opener and downplayed their unbeaten record against their opponents. 
India have beaten Pakistan in all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups. 
“We never discussed these things, about our record and past performance,” Kohli told reporters on the eve of the much-anticipated clash in Dubai on Sunday. 
“These things create distractions. What matters is how we prepare and execute on that particular day, regardless of the opposition.” 
Kohli said regardless of their past dominance Pakistan is and always has been packed with talented players. 
“Pakistan, according to me is a very strong team and always has been a strong side,” he said. 
“You have to play your best cricket against them, because they have lots of talent and players who can change the game.” 
Babar Azam’s Pakistan will look to break their World Cup jinx against India, who have won all five clashes in T20’s showpiece event. 
Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman hold the team’s batting key while quicks Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali lead a potent bowling attack. 
Kohli backed his team’s match winners including Hardik Pandya to come good in the tournament despite the all-rounder struggling with his bowling. 
“He is getting better in terms of getting prepared to bowl two overs for us,” said Kohli. 
“What he brings at that number six spot is something that you cannot create overnight and hence I was always in favor of backing him in Australia as a batter purely. 
“He can take the game away from the opposition when he is in full flow.” 
Pandya emerged as India’s top all-rounder after his white-ball debut in 2016 but a spate of back injuries affected his career and he underwent back surgery two years ago. 
The pace bowler did not bowl in the second leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the United Arab Emirates for his side Mumbai Indians. 
But Kohli says the attacking batsman is an asset to the team in the shortest format. 
“We understand the value he brings to the team as a number six batter,“said Kohli. 
“In world cricket if you look around there are specialists who do that job and it is very important to have that guy specially in T20 cricket. 
“He is motivated and keen to start giving us a couple of overs and when that happens obviously the balance becomes even better. 
“But we are pretty confident how we are heading into the start of this tournament.” 
The tournament is Kohli’s last as captain of the national T20 side, but he refused to speak more on the issue. 
“Our focus is to play well in this World Cup and do what we need to do as a team,” he said. 
“I have explained myself very honestly (on Twitter). If people feel there is more to it, then I feel sorry for them.” 


Forget the past in India match, Babar tells Pakistan team before faceoff in Dubai

Updated 23 October 2021

Forget the past in India match, Babar tells Pakistan team before faceoff in Dubai

  • Pakistan have lost all seven World Cup clashes against India as well as five T20 World Cup games 
  • South Asian giants will play against each other in Sunday's T20 World Cup opener in Dubai

DUBAI: Skipper Babar Azam vowed his team will not think about Pakistan’s poor record against arch-rivals India when they meet in a high-octane Twenty20 World Cup match in Dubai on Sunday. 

Pakistan have lost all seven World Cup (50 over) clashes against India as well as five games in the Twenty20 World Cup and start as ‘underdogs’. 

Exuding confidence, Babar stressed that the past is irrelevant to his players. 

“To be honest, what has passed is beyond us,” Babar told a virtual media conference on Saturday, as both nations buzzed in anticipation of a thrilling match. 

“We want to use our ability and confidence on the day of the match so that we can get a better result. 

“Records are meant to be broken.” 

The tickets for the match were sold out within hours of going on sale after the United Arab Emirate government allowed a 70 percent crowd for the Twenty20 World Cup matches in a relaxation of the Covid-19 restrictions. 

The South Asian nuclear rivals have only played in multi-national events like the World Cups and the Champions Trophy as strained relations have stalled bilateral cricket since 2007. 

Pakistan did tour India in 2012 for five limited over matches but ties were not fully resumed as the two nations continued to be at loggerheads over multiple issues, with the disputed region of Kashmir and terrorism heading the list. 

Babar admitted it will be a match full of intensity. 

“The matches between Pakistan and India are always full of intensity so we need to perform well in all three departments of the game,” said Babar. 

The second-round matches — Super 12 Stage — start on Saturday with Australia taking on South Africa in Abu Dhabi while defending champions the West Indies face England in Dubai in the evening match in Group 1. 

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are the other two teams in the Group. 

Former champions India and Pakistan are placed in Group 2 along with New Zealand, Afghanistan and Scotland and Namibia, who both came through the qualifying stage. 

Babar announced 12 for the match with hard-hitters Haider Ali and Asif Ali competing to make the final eleven. 

“The boys are excited to play the World Cup and we have a crucial match on Sunday,” said Babar, who will be leading Pakistan for the first time in a senior World Cup match. 

“A winning impact is necessary and then we will go match by match.” 

Babar said Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan — who led the country to victory in the 1992 World Cup — had shared his experiences with the team. 

“The Prime Minister met us before our departure and shared his experiences of the 1992 win and told us to play aggressive and fearless cricket against India.” 

Earlier this week, India won both their warm-up matches, beating England and Australia while Pakistan beat the West Indies but lost to South Africa. 


Zhang Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds

Updated 22 October 2021

Zhang Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds

  • Zhang became the first Chinese men’s all-around world champion since Xiao Ruoteng in 2017

KITAKYUSHU, Japan: Zhang Boheng of China edged out Olympic champion Daiki Hashimoto on Friday to win the gold medal in the men’s all-around at the Gymnastics World Championships.

Zhang, who did not qualify for China’s team for this summer’s Olympics, held a slim lead over local favorite Hashimoto heading into the final apparatus, the horizontal bar — an event Hashimoto won at the Tokyo Games.

Zhang scored 14.800 points while Hashimoto received 15.133 but it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit and the 21-year-old Zhang finished with 87.981 overall points to 87.964 for Hashimoto.

“This is my first time to take part in the world championships and the first time to win the all-around title for my country,” Zhang said. “I was nervous waiting for the scores to appear because it was so close, such a high-level competition.”

Zhang became the first Chinese men’s all-around world champion since Xiao Ruoteng in 2017.

Illia Kovtun of Ukraine was third with 84.899 points, followed by Yul Moldauer of the US with 84.365.

Hashimoto was aiming to become Japan’s fifth men’s world champion and its first since Kohei Uchimura won the last of his six straight titles in 2015.

Hashimoto’s performance on the horizontal bar was solid but he stepped to his left on the landing which likely cost him the gold medal.

“(Zhang) was great tonight,” Hashimoto said. “There is no question he is world No. 1. I knew I had to put in a perfect performance on the horizontal bar and that was difficult to do.”

Zhang had the top score on the floor exercise, the vault and the parallel bars, while finishing second-best on the rings and horizontal bar, the only apparatus where Hashimoto led the field. Both Hashimoto and Zhang suffered falls on the pommel horse.

At 19, Hashimoto became the youngest man ever to win the Olympic all-around title, at the Tokyo Games.

Defending champion Nikita Nagornyy of Russia did not travel to Japan for the worlds.

The world championships wrap up with individual event finals on Saturday and Sunday. There is no team competition in the world championships immediately after an Olympic Games.

Hashimoto will compete in the floor exercise, pommel horse, parallel bars, and horizontal bar this weekend. Zhang will compete in the finals on still rings and parallel bars.


Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch

Updated 22 October 2021

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch

  • The latest in a series of incidents involving fans in and around Ligue 1 games this season started during the player warm up ahead of the scheduled 9pm kick off
  • Fans unfurled banners, let off a barrage of rockets and smoke bombs and invaded the pitch, damaging the goals.

SAINT-ETIENNE, France: The kick off in the Ligue 1 match between Saint Etienne and visiting Angers was delayed for an hour by protests from home fans angry at their team’s dire form.
The latest in a series of incidents involving fans in and around Ligue 1 games this season started during the player warm up ahead of the scheduled 9pm (1900 GMT) kick off.
Fans unfurled banners, let off a barrage of rockets and smoke bombs and invaded the pitch, damaging the goals.
Fans unfurled banners attacking coach Claude Puel, club leadership and the players.
“We’ve had enough talk, you’re making us crack” said one visible through the smoke.
“Puel resign,” “management resign” and “we want a team worthy of its fans” chanted the fans.
The players left the field and kick off was put back as municipal workers repaired the nets at the city-owned Geoffroy-Guichard stadium.
Saint-Etienne are last in Ligue 1, winless after 11 matches.
On Thursday, fans hung a banner on the gates of the training center which said: “Puel, you have 24 hours to resign.”
The latest incidents come just two days after the league disciplinary committee imposed a two-match suspended closure of the stadium’s south stand after incidents during the derby against Lyon on October 3.
A season of angry fans in France opened with a match between Nice and Marseille abandoned on August 22.
That was followed by a string of incidents in September.
The northern derby between Lens and Lille was overshadowed by a pitch invasion that delayed the start of the second half.
The next weekend, supporters invaded the pitch at the game between Angers and Marseille, while stones were thrown at a bus taking Bordeaux fans to their match in Montpellier, with 16 suffering minor injuries.
Nice were deducted a point. Lens were ordered to play home matches behind closed doors.


Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Updated 22 October 2021

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

  • The launch of Al Thumama stadium comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup
  • Qatar has so far officially inaugurated 5 of the 8 stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East

DOHA: Qatar inaugurated on Friday its fifth stadium for the 2022 World Cup, welcoming thousands of spectators who have either recently recovered from coronavirus or have been vaccinated.
The launch of the Al Thumama stadium, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of the capital Doha, comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup.
The 40,000-seat ground, which will host groups matches during Qatar 2022 up to the quarter-finals, hosted the domestic Emir Cup final between local clubs Al Rayyan and Al Sadd as its inaugural match.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony.
It was designed by Qatari architect Ibrahim M. Jaidah to resemble the ‘gahfiya’ cap, traditionally worn by men in the region.
Energy-rich Qatar has so far officially inaugurated five of the eight stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
In addition to Al Thumama, Qatar has so far inaugurated new-build Ahmad Bin Ali, Al-Janoub and Education City stadiums alongside the refurbished Khalifa ground in the heart of Doha’s Aspire Zone.
Ras Abu Aboud, Al Bayt, Lusail, which will host the final match in December 2022, remain to be opened.
Following the World Cup, Al Thumama’s capacity will be reduced to 20,000, with a sports clinic and a boutique hotel set to open on site.
Fans were able to apply for tickets to Friday’s event if they either tested positive for virus antibodies, or have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Qatar, which says it vaccinated more than three quarters of its 2.75 million population, has recorded more than 238,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.