'War minus shooting': partition created fierce cricket rivalry 

In this file photo taken on October 24, 2021, fans of Pakistan's and Indian cricket teams cheer before the start of the ICC men’s T20 World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan in Dubai. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 August 2022

'War minus shooting': partition created fierce cricket rivalry 

  • Any cricket match between Pakistan and India is one of the most watched events on global sporting calendar
  • 50-over World Cup clash in 2019 between India and Pakistan drew 273 million viewers while 167 million watched last year's T20 World Cup

KARACHI: When India and Pakistan were forged out of violent partition 75 years ago, the split also created one of sport's greatest rivalries.

Today, any cricket match between the two nations is one of the most watched events on the global sporting calendar -- and victory used to promote their respective nationalism.

So strong is the rivalry between the countries that they can't even share the date of the partition which gave them independence, with Pakistan celebrating it on August 14 and India a day later.

"India playing Pakistan involves the sentiments of millions," said Wasim Akram, one of cricket's all-time greats and now a commentator.

"You become a hero if you perform well... you are portrayed as a villain if your team loses," said the former Pakistan skipper.

Matches ignite great fervour but they have also defused military tensions between the two nations, which have fought four wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

During one period of sabre rattling in 1987, as troops massed along their frontier, Pakistan's military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq showed up unannounced in New Delhi -- ostensibly to watch a match between the two.

The move, as crafty as any a cricket captain could conjure up on the field, led to a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and tensions eased.\

Still, the on-field rivalry has spilled off the cricket pitch for now.

The neighbours have not played a Test since 2007, instead meeting only in the shorter versions of the game and at multi-team competitions on foreign soil, rather than head-to-head series at home.

When they do play -- as they will at the Asia Cup later this month in the United Arab Emirates -- cricket fans around the world are glued to their TV screens, a multibillion-dollar bonanza for broadcasters.

The 2019 50-over World Cup clash between India and Pakistan drew 273 million viewers, while 167 million watched them in last year's Twenty20 World Cup.

"Nothing can match an Indo-Pakistan bilateral series because it is played in a different league," former prime minister and cricket captain Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to World Cup glory in 1992, said in a Sky Sports documentary.
"The atmosphere is filled with tension, pressure and enjoyment."

Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Faisal Hasnain called games against India the "mother of all cricket matches".

"Fans want these two countries to play each other on a regular basis but resumption is only likely when there is a thaw in relations," he told AFP.

"We can only wait and hope that happens."

Introduced to the sub-continent in the 18th century, cricket was played mostly by its white colonial rulers, but locals learned the game by being used as bowling or batting fodder in the practice nets.

India won Test status in 1932, but after partition most Muslim players -- including three who had played for the national team -- migrated to Pakistan, who had to build from scratch.

Pakistan's first Test, appropriately, was against India, in 1952 -- and they were led by Abdul Hafeez Kardar, one of the three double internationals.

Since then Pakistan and India have played 59 Tests, with Pakistan winning 12, India nine, and the rest drawn.

In ODIs Pakistan also have the edge, but India have won seven of their nine T20 encounters.

In the women's game, India have won all 11 of their ODIs and 10 of their 12 Twenty20s since first meeting in 2005.

The advent of one-day cricket has only boosted the rivalry with one commentator calling their clashes "war minus shooting".

In 1991, Aaqib Javed's seven-wicket haul, including a hat-trick, helped Pakistan win the Wills Trophy in Sharjah in a match that ended in near-darkness, sparking outrage from the losing Indian side and fans.

"They whinged about it for months," Aaqib said drily.

But Pakistan fans have also shown their bile, sending death threats to Wasim Akram after he withdrew from a key final against India because of injury.

"At times the fans' reaction is intolerable," Akram said.

Former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar said he misses regular clashes against Pakistan.

"It was my favourite opposition for all the entertainment they provided on the field with their banter," he told AFP.

"Plus the fact that they were a damn good side." 


Rizwan the man again as Pakistan beat Bangladesh in T20 opener

Updated 9 sec ago

Rizwan the man again as Pakistan beat Bangladesh in T20 opener

  • Rizwan maintained his rich vein of form with an unbeaten 78 as Pakistan posted 167-5
  • It was the opening match of a week-long tournament, which also includes hosts New Zealand

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Mohammad Rizwan underlined why he will be a key weapon for Pakistan at the Twenty20 World Cup, top-scoring in a 21-run win over Bangladesh in Christchurch on Friday.

Rizwan maintained his rich vein of form with an unbeaten 78 as Pakistan posted 167-5, before restricting their opponents to 146-8.

It was the opening match of a week-long tournament, which also includes hosts New Zealand. All three teams are using it to prepare for the T20 World Cup in Australia.

The world’s top-ranked T20 batsman, Rizwan batted through the innings in cold conditions at Hagley Oval, tallying seven fours and two sixes in a chanceless 50-ball knock.

It was the 30-year-old’s 21st half-century in the format, continuing his form from last month’s T20 series against England, when he compiled a series-leading 316 runs.

His average in the format of 54.34 stands alone among the top 150 run-scorers. The next best is India’s Virat Kohli (50.84).

Rizwan’s best support on a tricky, two-paced wicket came from Shan Masood (31 off 22 balls), following an opening stand of 52 with captain Babar Azam (22 off 25) while Taskin Ahmed (2-25) was Bangladesh’s best bowler.

Rizwan said being patient after being sent in laid the foundation for a winning score.

“Early on the ball was a little bit grippy but me and the skipper decided to keep things simple,” he said.

“We did very well but I thought we were 10 to 15 runs short on this kind of pitch.

“After that, the bowlers bowled very well to the plan.”

Bangladesh’s chase tailed off after Liton Das (35) and Afif Hossain (25) put on a slick 50 for the third wicket from 34 balls.

Some late hitting from Yasir Ali (42 not out) restored respectability while speedster Mohammad Wasim (3-24) enjoyed late success with the yorker.

Players from both teams regularly slipped on a surface made hard by unexpected weather conditions earlier in the week.

A cold blast left ground staff sweeping snow from the covers and outfield on Thursday morning.

Temperatures hovered around a relatively warm 12 degrees Celsius (54F) throughout the match, the earliest ever staged in a New Zealand home season.

New Zealand will play Pakistan on Saturday and Bangladesh on Sunday, both at the same venue.


Rizwan the man once again as Pakistan post 167-5 against Bangladesh 

Updated 24 min 34 sec ago

Rizwan the man once again as Pakistan post 167-5 against Bangladesh 

  • The 30-year-old wicketkeeper-opener is coming off prolific form in the T20 home series loss to England 
  • Players from both teams regularly slipped on a surface made hard by unexpected weather conditions earlier in the week 

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: Mohammad Rizwan maintained his rich vein of batting form on Friday with an unbeaten 78 as Pakistan made 167-5 against Bangladesh in a tri-series Twenty20 match in Christchurch.
Rizwan batted through the innings in cold, difficult conditions at Hagley Oval, tallying seven fours and two sixes in his 21st half-century.
His 50-ball knock dominated the start of a series, also involving hosts New Zealand, which the three teams are using to prepare for the T20 World Cup in Australia.
The world’s top-ranked T20 batsman, Rizwan didn’t offer a chance as he lifted his career average in the shortest international format to 54.34.
The 30-year-old wicketkeeper-opener is coming off prolific form in the T20 home series loss to England, when he compiled a series-leading 316 runs.
After being asked to bat, Rizwan negotiated an awkward-paced wicket which caused several team-mates to miscue shots.
All five wickets to fall were via outfield catches, including two off Bangladesh’s best bowler, paceman Taskin Ahmed, who took 2-25.
Rizwan’s best support came from Shan Masood (31 off 22 balls) following an opening stand of 52 with captain Babar Azam (22 off 25).
Players from both teams regularly slipped on a surface made hard by unexpected weather conditions earlier in the week.
A cold blast left ground staff sweeping snow from the covers and outfield on Thursday morning.
Temperatures had climbed to a relatively warm 12 degrees Celsius (54F) for the start of the match.
 


Bellingham, Musiala headline new-look Dortmund-Bayern rivalry

Updated 07 October 2022

Bellingham, Musiala headline new-look Dortmund-Bayern rivalry

  • The now 19-year-olds played together in multiple England youth teams growing up before Musiala opted to play senior international football for Germany

BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund host Bayern Munich on Saturday with arguably the two sides’ most important players, Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala, boasting a combined age of only 38.

Recent meetings of Germany’s two most successful clubs have often been billed as clashes between since-departed strikers Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

Instead this weekend, Bellingham, who has captained Dortmund in their last two matches, will go up against good friend and former teammate Musiala at Signal Iduna Park.

The now 19-year-olds played together in multiple England youth teams growing up before Musiala opted to play senior international football for Germany, making his debut last year.

Musiala has nailed down a place in Bayern’s starting XI this season, repaying coach Julian Nagelsmann’s faith with team-leading tallies in the Bundesliga of five goals and three assists.

Bellingham’s rise, to the extent he has worn Dortmund’s captain’s armband, has maybe been even more impressive — and more crucial to his team.

The England international netted for a third straight Champions League match in midweek during a 4-1 thumping of Sevilla in Spain.

The youthful complexion of the teams goes beyond Bellingham and Musiala, however, with Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi and Giovanni Reyna and Bayern pair Mathys Tel and Ryan Gravenberch also nominated for this year’s Golden Boy award, won two years ago by Haaland while he was at Dortmund.

On Thursday, Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl suggested 17-year-old striker Youssoufa Moukoko could start on Saturday ahead of the struggling Anthony Modeste.

“He was very agile, very energetic (and) very dedicated. He played a really good game,” Kehl said on Thursday of Moukoko’s performance against Sevilla.

The teams go into the game level on points, two points behind early leaders Union Berlin and Freiburg.

Questions were being asked about Bayern’s chances of winning an 11th straight Bundesliga title after a four-game winless run in the league.

But they bounced back with a 4-0 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen last weekend before putting five past Viktoria Plzen in Europe.

“It’s a special game in Germany and a special game for us,” said Dortmund coach Edin Terzic.

“You all know what has happened in Germany in the last 10 years.”

Bayern coach Nagelsmann faces concerns about two of the most experienced players, with both Thomas Mueller and Joshua Kimmich in COVID isolation.

Speaking on Tuesday, Nagelsmann said the duo were “basically doing well” and “should be there if their health doesn’t deteriorate.”

A decision on the pair’s availability will be made late on Friday.

The Suriname international has been a driving force behind Union’s surprise charge to the Bundesliga summit, scoring six goals in eight league appearances, having previously mustered only seven in 59 in the German top flight.

Becker also got off the mark in the Europa League on Thursday, scoring the winner as Union got their first points in Group D by beating Malmo 1-0 in a game which was marred by crowd trouble in Sweden.

Union will be hoping Becker can continue his red-hot streak at Stuttgart on Sunday, by when they could have been passed by Dortmund or Bayern and Freiburg in the table.

8 — Successive victories over Dortmund for Bayern.

27 — The number of goals Robert Lewandowski scored for Bayern against Dortmund before leaving for Barcelona.

60 years — New Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso took Real Sociedad B to the Spanish second division in 2021-22 for the first time in six decades.

4 — Dortmund have won 1-0 four times in eight Bundesliga matches this season. They only won by that scoreline twice in the league last term.

 

Fixtures (1330 GMT unless stated)

Friday

Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen (1830)

Saturday

Augsburg vs. Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen vs. Schalke, Bochum vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz vs. RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich (1630)

Sunday

Borussia Moenchengladbach vs. Cologne, Hertha Berlin vs. Freiburg (1530), Stuttgart vs. Union Berlin (1730)


Brazil coach Tite will stick to attack at World Cup

Updated 07 October 2022

Brazil coach Tite will stick to attack at World Cup

  • The Selecao may need plenty of goals in Qatar as Tite doesn’t have nearly as many options in defense

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil coach Tite has so many attacking options for the World Cup that he can hardly fit half of them into his team.

He promises to use as many of his forward as he can in Qatar, though, no matter the opponent.

“There will be opportunities for all (Brazil’s forward),” Tite said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Whoever is in will be deciding the match, all have to be prepared. Every match might require a different characteristic.”

Tite and his coaching assistants Cleber Xavier and Cesar Sampaio spoke to the AP for about one hour at the headquarters of the Brazilian soccer confederation on Thursday, taking a break from their heated private discussions about how to put the final touches on their squad for the tournament. Their final team announcement is scheduled for Nov. 7.

The only Brazil forward who may be sure of a starting place in Qatar is Neymar, while the list of Tite’s other options includes the likes of Vinicius Jr., Raphinha, Richarlison, Antony and Gabriel Jesus.

In the team’s most recent games, two friendly wins over African teams Ghana and Tunisia in September, Tite fielded lineups that were so attack-minded that critics back home wondered if that would be a realistic strategy against some of the other title contenders at the World Cup, which starts next month.

Tite, who is leaving his job after the tournament, insisted he won’t shy away from his aggressive playing style in Qatar, regardless of who Brazil is playing. Brazil is in Group G at the World Cup with Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.

“We will make adjustments, we will not change our game plan,” Tite said. “We will impose our way of playing.”

The Selecao may need plenty of goals in Qatar as Tite doesn’t have nearly as many options in defense. Brazil has few top-class fullbacks at the moment, while starting centerback Thiago Silva is 38 years old. Defensive midfielder Casemiro also has yet to fully adjust to his new surroundings at Manchester United after leaving Real Madrid.

Tite doesn’t think his defense will be a problem, though, as long as his players do one thing.

“Play your best at your club,” said Tite, adding he doesn’t pay much attention to criticism his players receive. “We listen very little to any noise coming from outside. What is outside remains outside.”

Neymar, like Argentina’s Lionel Messi, is facing huge pressure to deliver his first World Cup title — especially after being criticized for sub-par performances at the 2018 tournament in Russia.

Tite thinks the 30-year-old Neymar has matured both as a player and a person since then, and the striker has been in top form this season with Paris Saint-Germain.

“When Neymar says that at a given time he made a mistake it is beautiful. What an example. He is no superman, he is telling kids that at some moment they will also make mistakes, feel weak, have a stomachache, a headache. It is only human,” Tite said. “Some people know how to grow and evolve. And they are brave to say it when they make mistakes. That’s his maturity.”

The coach tried to shield his star player from the pressure by downplaying comparisons to Pelé, as Neymar approaches the Brazil great’s record of 77 goals for the national team.

“He must leave that noise for others to speak about. There is no comparison. It is unreal, inhuman to compare different generations,” Tite said. “You can’t compare Pelé to any other. We can argue about who was the second best.”

Tite’s assistant coaches have spent plenty of time over the last few years studying what the last three World Cup winners — France, Germany and Spain — did to prepare for the tournament. Many view Brazil and Argentina among the biggest favorites this time, as France is struggling with injuries while Germany and Spain are going through a rebuilding phase.

But Xavier said Brazil can’t worry too much about their rivals.

“We are spending most of our energy on our work, our process,” Xavier said. “We know Argentina has a somewhat finalized team, and Brazil too. We see England, France, Germany and Spain with some changes. We will only know for sure what those look like after the World Cup’s group stage.”

As the World Cup nears and reports pile up on his desk, Tite’s schedule is dominated by meetings with assistants while media requests come by the minute. The 61-year-old coach is doing his best to carry on without much anticipation, as if these were just normal working days.

“I only get anxious when people ask me how many days are still left for our first match,” Tite said. “That happens every day.”


Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

Updated 07 October 2022

Potential NBA top draft pick Wembanyama dazzles in two-game Las Vegas exhibition 

  • The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety

HENDERSON, Nevada: Victor Wembanyama blocked a shot Thursday afternoon, ran to the other end of the court, went airborne from just inside the foul line, corralled an alley-oop pass with one hand and slammed home a dunk.

The entire sequence lasted eight seconds.

It may have been the signature moment — and there were a lot of candidates — from Wembanyama’s two-game trip to the US, which ended Thursday with the French phenom’s Metropolitans 92 team rallying from 16 points down to top the G League Ignite 112-106. He led the way, of course, with 36 points and 11 rebounds.

“As a first impression of the American game, that was really great,” Wembanyama said.

So was he.

His final numbers from two exhibitions: 73 points on 22-for-44 shooting, nine 3-pointers, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots. He flies back to France on Saturday, and the next time he plays in the US there likely will be an NBA logo on his jersey, presumably after he becomes the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

“It’s very, very special for France,” Metropolitans 92 coach Vincent Collet said. “Not only for France. He has huge potential. He’s a huge talent.”

The reviews are in from this two-game Vegas residency for Wembanyama, who stands 7-foot-3 in bare feet, and they were of the raving variety. The best of the bunch may have come from Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, who suggested that calling Wembanyama a unicorn might not fully indicate how unique he is.

Instead, James went with an out-of-this-world comparison.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, but he’s more like an alien,” James said. “No one has ever seen anyone as tall as he is but as fluid and as graceful as he is out on the floor ... He’s, for sure, a generational talent.”

Added Golden State guard Stephen Curry: “He’s like the (NBA) 2K create-a-player, every point guard that wants to be 7-foot. Cheat-code type vibes, man. He’s a solid talent. It’s great to watch.”

Sure enough, when Wembanyama’s around, a viral moment can happen at any time. It might be a dunk. It might be a block. It might be a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner while his momentum has him drifting toward the baseline. It might be a 28-foot 3-pointer from the wing. It might be him kicking a ball into a monitor and narrowly missing fellow French center Rudy Gobert.

Yes, all those things happened.

The scene: Gobert and fellow Minnesota Timberwolves standout D’Angelo Russell, in town to play the Lakers in a preseason game later Thursday, decided to postpone their afternoon nap — a staple of the NBA gameday routine — and make the 20-minute ride from Las Vegas to watch the game, arriving at halftime.

Gobert made a quick appearance on the game’s televised broadcast. Wembanyama, standing nearby, stuck one of his massive feet into the path of a pass by Ignite center Eric Mika. The ball ricocheted into the monitor near Gobert’s seat, knocking it over.

Gobert laughed. Wembanyama raised his hand to apologize.

“Hey, he played soccer too,” Gobert said.

Gobert raves about Wembanyama, who almost certainly will be the first top-five draft pick from France. And he doesn’t think there’s any real comparison: Gobert said Wembanyama’s defensive instincts remind him of himself, while his ballhandling and shooting remind him of Kevin Durant.

“What strikes me the most about him is his maturity,” Gobert said. “Obviously, he’s a very unique talent and he has a very unique physique. But his maturity and his confidence ... he’s very unique.”

Thursday’s game had a bit of a scare, and the other top NBA draft headliner in this showcase got the worst of that moment.

Scoot Henderson, the guard whose 28 points led the Ignite to a 122-115 victory on Tuesday night in the exhibition opener, left Thursday’s game after less than five minutes. The reason: He banged knees with Wembanyama.

Henderson switched onto Wembanyama, who was dribbling on the wing. Wembanyama made a move, collided into Henderson and tumbled to the court, looking initially like he got the worst of that exchange. But Henderson, who was called for a foul on the play, wound up limping off for evaluation and the Ignite quickly said he wouldn’t be returning.

“Scoot’s fine,” G League coach Jason Hart said. “It was precautionary.”

There are 31 games left on Metropolitans’ 34-game schedule in the French league, and the plan — as of now — is for Wembanyama to finish his season, which is slated to go through mid-May. The NBA Draft is June 22.

Bouna Ndiaye, one of Wembanyama’s agents, said some NBA teams might not understand why he’s playing. The reason, he says, is because nobody can get Wembanyama out of the gym.

“He wants to live on the court,” Ndiaye said.

What these two games showed, in many ways, was just that the tapes of Wembanyama that have been coming out of Europe over the last few years weren’t lying. He needs to get stronger. There’s much he can still polish. He is, by all accounts, exceptional already.

“Just before we came in last Saturday, we had a meeting with our doctor and we are going to prepare to plan the next two months to increase what he is doing, besides the court, to strengthen the body,” Collet said. “We’re always careful also with how much time he is practicing, not to go too far. ... We plan so that we limit the risk.”

When Thursday was over, when the comeback was complete, Wembanyama briefly lifted his arms skyward in celebration, then shook a lot of hands, partook in a lot of hugs and posed for a lot of pictures.

With that, the draft hype continued on.

“I’m still excited and so happy about it,” Wembanyama said. “I know I’m so lucky to have this chance.”