England's tactical moves paid off in Pakistan — Stokes

England's skipper Ben Stokes reacts to crowd as he walks off the field after winning the third test and series against Pakistan, in Karachi, Pakistan, on December 20, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 20 December 2022
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England's tactical moves paid off in Pakistan — Stokes

  • England signed off on its first test tour to Pakistan in 17 years with an eight-wicket win Tuesday 
  • Joe Root led England to its only other sweep on the subcontinent when it beat Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018

KARACHI: Captain Ben Stokes believes England adapted well to the conditions in Pakistan with its aggressive and bold tactical moves to register the country’s only second 3-0 test series sweep in the subcontinent. 

Stokes’ predecessor Joe Root led England to its only other sweep on the subcontinent when it beat Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018. And England’s ‘Bazball’ approach to test cricket under new coach Brendon McCullum, a long-time star for New Zealand, was the determining factor in Pakistan losing a three-test home series 3-0 for the first time. 

England signed off on its first test tour to Pakistan in 17 years with an emphatic eight-wicket win Tuesday on the fourth day of the final test in the cricket fortress of Pakistan – National Stadium. 

“It won’t really sink in until we get home or in the new year,” Stokes said after scoring an unbeaten 35 in England’s run-chase that was led by Ben Duckett’s powerful 82 not out off 78 balls. “We understand what we’ve done is pretty special … it will be something to be really proud of. 

“Coming into subcontinental conditions … everything we’ve tried has come off. I’ve learned a lot in terms of the tactical side, that’s the best thing to come out of it.” 

McCullum described England’s nine wins in the last 10 test matches as “quite an incredible ride” under Stokes' brand of aggressive cricket. 

“We’re definitely comfortable with nine out of 10,” McCullum told the Pakistan Cricket Board’s digital podcast. “The side is walking in his sort of style now and playing the way that he likes the game to be played, it’s been absolutely fantastic.” 

England set the tone of its dominance when its top four batters – Zak Crawley, Duckett, Ollie Pope and Harry Brook — smashed belligerent centuries on the opening day of the first test on a flat wicket at Rawalpindi which later received a demerit point from the ICC. 

Stokes made a bold declaration on the fourth day at Rawalpindi that saw England registering a 74-run win in dimming light on the last day with Pakistan less than 10 minutes away from forcing a draw. 

Pakistan's batters cracked under Stokes’ umbrella of fielders surrounding them throughout the 343-run chase before eventually falling for 268. 

“The first test pitch was very, very flat and we just said ‘enjoy the flatness boys, let’s just enjoy this challenge and see what we can do.’” 

England blunted the mystery spin of Abrar Ahmed on a slow turning wicket in Multan before registering a thrilling 26-run win – also inside four days. Ahmed did pick up 11 wickets in the game, his test debut, but Brook’s century in the second innings once again gave England enough runs to defend through Mark Wood’s express pace on the fourth day. 

“It is a great time to be in this dressing room and a great time to be playing for England,” Stokes said. “I’m just encouraging everyone to turn up every day and enjoy what you’re doing. Obviously it is easier to do when we are winning the way we are at the moment.” 

The toss didn’t affect England’s dominance in the series when Babar Azam won his first toss of the series and opted to bat in the final test. The left-arm spin of Jack Leach and 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed dismissed Pakistan for 304 before England notched a significant 50-run lead through Brook’s third hundred in the series. 

Rehan Ahmed’s maiden five-wicket haul, which made him the youngest to do so in men’s test cricket, once against cracked through Pakistan’s brittle middle-order as England shot out the home team for 216. 

“It is exactly what you want when you are picking a team, you want to have discussions that are hard on who to pick," Stokes said. "Brooky has been outstanding in this series. The way he has played, the way he has taken the game on, the runs he’s scored, the strike rate he has scored at has been incredible to watch.” 

Brook was elevated to replace the injured Jonny Bairstow, who scored belligerently during the home summer but was ruled out of England’s historic tour to Pakistan. 

“He’ll (Brook) be giving the selectors, and me and (McCullum) a migraine," Stokes said, joking about the next squad selection process, "So yeah thanks Brooky for the sore head.” 


Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

Updated 18 July 2024
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Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

  • Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month

RIYADH: Saudi champions Al-Nassr Women have been drawn against Myawady Women from Myanmar, the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Country Club and Young Elephants FC of Laos in the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month, it was also confirmed on Thursday.

The first edition of the tournament will welcome the 21 domestic champions from AFC member associations, and the preliminary stage in the Kingdom — which will be played Aug. 25 to 31 — will feature 13 teams competing in four round-robin groups.

The winner of each will progress to the group stage, where eight top-seeded clubs await.

The Kingdom’s selection as hosts for the preliminary stage follows the successful hosting of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship and the growth of the Women’s Premier League ahead of its third season.


Cricket’s future path is clear after recent forum

Updated 18 July 2024
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Cricket’s future path is clear after recent forum

  • World Cricket Connects brought together more than 100 influential voices in the game

A focus of this column over the last three years has been the rapidly changing landscape of professional cricket. Some things which may have seemed like straws in the wind in mid-June 2021 are now in full flow, unlikely to be stopped even by hurricane-strength storms.

Cricket’s governing body is the International Cricket Council, tasked with managing the game. In a previous era, this had been the responsibility of the Marylebone Cricket Club. The latter still has influence in the game. Early this year, its current president, Mark Nicholas, an urbane former professional cricketer, initiated the idea of a forum to discuss cricket’s future. This was held on July 5 at Lord’s prior to England’s Test match against the West Indies.

The gathering was called World Cricket Connects. It brought together more than 100 influential voices in the game, including chairs and CEOs from five ICC full members, plus associate nations, Scotland and Oman. Former and current players, both men and women, were present, along with several executives of T20 franchises.

There was one notable omission. Jay Shah, secretary of the Board for Control of Cricket in India, was not there. He had sent his apologies. The need to be pictured with the T20 World Cup Trophy in India prevailed. Why not, especially after an election victory, since his father is Prime Minister Modi’s interior minister. The BCCI’s priorities are clear. They were clear in September 2021 when it pulled its team from a deciding Test match against England, citing mental health issues, only for the players to return immediately to perform in the Indian Premier League.

Without Shah, described by Nicholas as the most powerful person in cricket, the event was an emperor without clothes. Reports of its content took time to emerge. The ICC chair was reported to have said that the ICC is not fit for purpose and that as a “members’ organization,” it falls short of being a global governing body. Whilst not a revelation to many, the fact that it was said in a semi-public forum is a surprise, perhaps reflecting frustration at India’s power. This is not going to decline.

Ravi Shastri, Inda’s representative and a recent former coach, put forward a view that the 12 teams playing Test cricket should have a promotion and relegation system, with two tiers of six, including promotion and relegation. It may well come to that position, hastened by the costs of hosting Test cricket.

In this context, enter the ICC’s long-term ambition for cricket to become the world’s favorite sport. This translates into leading, growing and promoting cricket. The ICC is not really a governing body. It is an organizer and facilitator of global events, a builder of long-term successful commercial partnerships and a catalyst for growth. Almost as an afterthought, it says that “it will continue to make considerable efforts to protect the integrity of the sport.”

On the latter, there remain doubts, Betting is rife in the game. I have been moved by ICC officials from boundary side positions because I may be passing on information obtained from players to gambling companies. This not something that I would do and I am hardly the problem. It is unlikely that betting’s influence on cricket got a mention at Lord’s, which it should have done.

As we all know, T20 is the growth engine of modern-day cricket, like it or not. This fits the ICC’s vision, it is completely in tune with that of the BCCI and it fits with the growth of cricket in countries where growth would not have been possible otherwise. In this context, I was amazed to be appraised of a tournament hosted by Poland, involving teams from Latvia, Lithuania and Montenegro. My amazement centered on the Montenegro Bokaneers team.

It had three players with the surname of Plastics, its base registered as Brighton (England) and had one player with whom I have shared a pitch on more than one occasion. T20 cricket has democratized the game, but at what cost? At the World Cricket Connects event it was reported that there was much talk of money, about levering the consumer and responding to commercial forces. Apparently, those forces are killing Test cricket for all but the major countries. It costs upward of £1 million ($1.3 million) for Ireland and Scotland, for example, to host a Test match, without commensurate return from gate receipts, broadcasting rights and sponsorship. In Pakistan, costs of providing security for a Test match series are estimated to be up to $5 million.

Meanwhile, viewership levels for One Day International cricket have fallen by a quarter since 2019. In that context, discussions about reducing the number of “meaningless” matches surfaced, whatever that means. Some people may regard the recent England vs. West Indies Test match at Lord’s, completed in just over two days, as meaningless. Those who played a Test at Lord’s for the first time, one of whom took 12 wickets, are likely to disagree. In Scotland, the men’s team is hosting Oman and Namibia as part of the ICC Cricket World Cup League Two, part of the qualifying process for the 2027 ODI World Cup. In general, Scotland is desperate to play more cricket, especially against top-quality opposition, in matches that would have real meaning, as it seeks to improve its position in world cricket. Even Latvia vs. Montenegro Bokaneers has meaning for those who achieved an ambition of playing in an “international” match.

The sad truth is that professional cricket has been captured by commercial forces and, in particular, by those in India. Those forces are advertisers, producers of goods and services, broadcasters, betting companies and sponsors. Their most comfortable outlet is T20 cricket, given its short format and adaptability to broadcasting schedules. The COVID-19 pandemic caused substantial financial losses for cricket worldwide that have accelerated the rush to the T20 format, which looks set to dominate the future in its thrall to money. It now seems clear that both Test and ODI cricket will need to shrink to accommodate this new reality of commercialism and measurement of success by income generation.


Professional Fighters League announces extra bouts for August playoffs

Updated 18 July 2024
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Professional Fighters League announces extra bouts for August playoffs

  • 2024 PFL Playoffs will see the return of Biaggio Ali Walsh to the SmartCage

NEW YORK: The Professional Fighters League has announced additional bouts for the 2024 PFL Global Season Playoffs in August.

On Friday, Aug. 2 in Nashville, the heavyweight and women’s flyweight divisions will take center stage.

In a marquee addition to the event, Tyrell Fortune (14-2) will face Sergei Bilostenniy (12-3) in a heavyweight alternate contest. In all, five early bouts have been added to an already stacked night of action.

Two weeks later on Aug.16, the light-heavyweight and lightweight playoffs will take place in Hollywood, Florida.

Biaggio Ali Walsh (1-0) makes his sophomore professional appearance against undefeated Korey Taylor (4-0) during the ESPN main card.

A light-heavyweight alternate bout pitting Antonio Carlos Jr. (16-6) against Karl Albrektsson (14-5) is confirmed, while a lightweight alternate fight between Elvin Espinoza (10-1) and Mads Burnell (19-6) is also official for the early card.

The playoffs will conclude on Aug. 23 in Washington D.C. with the welterweight and featherweight divisions.

A welterweight alternate bout pitting Neiman Gracie (13-5) against Luca Poclit (10-2) is confirmed, while a featherweight alternate fight between Tyler Diamond (14-3) and Enrique Barzola (20-9-2) is also official.

The PFL Regular Season has each winner of the six weight divisions receiving a $1 million purse.


Central Paris locks down for Olympics as athletes arrive

Updated 18 July 2024
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Central Paris locks down for Olympics as athletes arrive

  • The opening parade along six kilometers (four miles) of the river led to the closure of riverside central districts to most vehicles from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Thursday
  • Many central Metro stations will also be closed on Thursday until the day after the opening ceremony, which will see 6,000-7,000 athletes sail down the Seine on around a hundred barges and river boats

PARIS: French security forces began locking down large parts of central Paris on Thursday ahead of the hugely complex Olympics opening ceremony next week on the river Seine.

The opening parade along six kilometers (four miles) of the river led to the closure of riverside central districts to most vehicles from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Thursday.

Anyone wanting to enter the highest-security “grey zone” along both banks of the Seine, such as residents or tourists with hotel reservations in the area, will need a security pass in the form of a QR code.

The City of Light is transforming ahead of the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics when around 10 million spectators are expected.

Temporary sports stadiums have sprung up at popular locations such as the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides or the Place de la Concorde, while new Olympic VIP lanes are the latest traffic-snarling addition.

“It’s true that our concept of having a large number of temporary sites in the heart of the city, obviously with that, there are constraints, but I feel like people are seeing what we’re doing,” Paris 2024 director general Etienne Thobois told AFP last month.

Many central Metro stations will also be closed on Thursday until the day after the opening ceremony, which will see 6,000-7,000 athletes sail down the Seine on around a hundred barges and river boats.

It will be the first time a Summer Olympics has opened outside the main athletics stadium, with up to 500,000 people set to watch in person from stands, on the river banks and from the overlooking apartments.

The vast security operation has been giving senior police officers cold sweats ever since it was announced in 2021 because of the difficulty of securing so many spectators in such a large, densely packed urban area.

Around 45,000 officers are set to be on duty for the July 26 parade, assisted by thousands of soldiers and private security agents.

On Wednesday, police in eastern France announced they had arrested a suspected far-right extremist who had made threats against the Games in a group on the Telegram phone application.

The installation of tens of thousands of metal security barriers all along the opening ceremony route in Paris has outraged some residents, who feel closed in.

“It’s a bit like being in Planet of the Apes,” Aissa Yago, who lives on the Ile Saint Louis in central Paris, told AFP this week from behind a barrier. “All they need to do is throw us some peanuts.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, the first athletes are set to arrive to take up residence in the newly built Olympic Village in a northern suburb of the capital.

Comprising around 40 different low-rise housing blocs, the complex has been built as a showcase of innovative construction techniques using low-carbon concrete, water recycling and reclaimed building materials.

It was intended to be free of air-conditioning, although Olympic delegations have ordered around 2,500 portable cooling units for their athletes out of fear of the impact of high temperatures on their performances.

“The major countries are going to arrive on the first day ... so Great Britain, the US, New Zealand, Brazil, Switzerland,” the deputy head of the French delegation, Andre-Pierre Goubert, told AFP.

At full capacity, the village will host 14,500 people including 9,000 athletes.

The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 28-Sept. 8.


‘Counter-Strike 2’ blasts off week 3 action at Esports World Cup

Updated 18 July 2024
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‘Counter-Strike 2’ blasts off week 3 action at Esports World Cup

  • World’s biggest gaming festival runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup continued its third week of action on Wednesday with several sides starring in the “Counter-Strike 2” tournament at Boulevard Riyadh City.

In the qualification matches MOUZ won 2-1 against Sashi Esports, Team Spirit 1-0 MIBR, Navi 2-0 FURIA Esports, Virtus.pro 1-0 Complexity, Team Vitality 2-0 M80, FaZe Clan 2-0 FlyQuest, and G2 Esports 2-0 The MongolZ.

The winning teams now proceed to the “Counter-Strike 2” playoffs.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the world’s top clubs and players against each other across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games.

The tournament has a prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of esports, and runs until Aug. 25.

More than 1,500 players, representing over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the Esports World Cup.

Week three also features action from the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “PUBG Mobile.”