Pakistan drops Shan Masood for ODI series against Afghanistan and Asia Cup

Pakistan's cricketer Shan Masood speaks during a press conference at the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi on September 17, 2022, ahead of their first Twenty20 cricket match against England. (AFP/File)
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Updated 09 August 2023
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Pakistan drops Shan Masood for ODI series against Afghanistan and Asia Cup

  • Masood had below par home season against New Zealand this year, scoring only 52 runs in four ODIs
  • All-rounder Faheem Ashraf has instead been recalled for ODI series against Afghanistan and Asia Cup

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan dropped opening batter Shan Masood and recalled all-rounder Faheem Ashraf for the first time in two years for the ODI series against Afghanistan and the Asia Cup.

The left-handed Masood had a below par home season against New Zealand this year when he scored only 52 runs in four ODIs after the selectors recalled him for the first time in four years.

Ashraf, who has taken 28 wickets and scored 1,060 runs in 31 ODIs, last played in the ODI series against England in 2021 but was recalled to add balance to the side as a fast-bowling allrounder.

The squads were announced by newly appointed chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq on Wednesday after consulting with team director Mickey Arthur, head coach Grant Bradbrun and captain Babar Azam.

Pakistan is due to play a three-match ODI series against Afghanistan in Sri Lanka this month before the Asia Cup begins in Multan from Aug. 30.

After India refused to tour Pakistan for the Asia Cup due to political tensions between the two countries, the Asian Cricket Council has chosen Sri Lanka as the other venue for the Asia Cup, where India will play all its games. Pakistan will host four matches while Sri Lanka will host nine matches, including the final on Sept. 17.

An 18-member squad was announced for the series against Afghanistan while middle-order batter Saud Shakeel has been omitted from the 17-member team for the Asia Cup.

Middle-order batter Tayyab Tahir was also recalled after he impressed during the recent ACC Emerging Cup, where he scored a century against India in the final.

Fast bowler Ihsanullah was left out because he is recovering from an injury to his bowling elbow.
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Squad: Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam (captain), Salman Ali Agha, Iftikhar Ahmed, Tayyab Tahir, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Haris, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Usama Mir, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi.


Ngannou to take on winner of PFL v. Bellator Champions fight between Ferreira and Bader

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Ngannou to take on winner of PFL v. Bellator Champions fight between Ferreira and Bader

  • The 37-year-old is set to challenge Anthony Joshua in the boxing ring on March 8, before making his PFL debut

RIYADH: The Professional Fighters League has announced combat sports superstar Francis “The Predator” Ngannou will make his debut for the world’s second-biggest MMA organization against the winner of the Heavyweight Superfight between Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader in Riyadh on Saturday.

Ngannou shook up the combat sports world by signing with PFL in May, becoming the first active fighter to serve on the league’s Global Advisory Board, and an equity owner and chairman of the coming PFL Africa regional league.

He recently stepped into the boxing ring for the first time, losing a razor-thin split decision to Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion. Ngannou is currently in Riyadh, preparing to fight top heavyweight boxing contender Anthony Joshua on March 8.

Ngannou will then turn his attention back to MMA, where he will make his PFL SmartCage debut against the winner of the Ferreira and Bader, who clash in the main event the PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions at the Kingdom Arena.

“The PFL is excited to announce Francis Ngannou’s return to MMA in the PFL PPV Division will be against the winner of the PFL Champion versus Bellator Champion Heavyweight Superfight between Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader,” said Peter Murray, PFL CEO.

“Francis is a true combat sports icon with a global fan base and appeal. We, along with the rest of the MMA world, will be watching to see who his first opponent will be, Ferreira or Bader.”

Ngannou will also attend the historic event in Riyadh.

Currently, he is preparing for his second professional boxing bout, when he will take on former two-time unified world heavyweight champion and world No.2 heavyweight Joshua in two weeks.

PFL is the only organization in MMA with a sports-season format, where individual fighters compete in a regular season, playoffs, and championship each year.

The combined roster of PFL and Bellator boasts 30 percent of its fighters independently world-ranked in the top 25 of their respective weight class, the same percentage as UFC.

PFL has an expansive global vision for the sport, and is building the “Champions League of MMA” with PFL Europe, PFL MENA, and more international leagues in development.


Czech teenager Mensik stuns top seed Rublev at Qatar Open

Updated 23 February 2024
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Czech teenager Mensik stuns top seed Rublev at Qatar Open

  • The 18-year-old came through 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) against the fifth-ranked Rublev, a day after defeating three-time Grand Slam title winner Andy Murray
  • Mensik will face 2018 champion Gael Monfils for a place in Saturday’s final after the veteran won an all-French affair by beating third seed Ugo Humbert 6-2, 6-4

DOHA: Czech teenager Jakub Mensik stunned top seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets at the Qatar Open on Thursday to reach his maiden ATP semifinal and guarantee a spot in the world’s top 100 for the first time.

The 18-year-old came through 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) against the fifth-ranked Rublev, a day after defeating three-time Grand Slam title winner Andy Murray.

“It’s just been an incredible week. From the beginning I played very well and I knew I could play with the big players. It’s an amazing feeling to reach the semifinals after beating those good players,” said wild card Mensik who arrived in the Gulf ranked at 116.

“But the job is not done yet. Hopefully I can play like this again in the semis and go on to make the final.”

With his one-hour, 38-minute win on Thursday, Mensik became the youngest player to defeat a top-five player since Carlos Alcaraz overcame Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 US Open.

Mensik will face 2018 champion Gael Monfils for a place in Saturday’s final after the veteran won an all-French affair by beating third seed Ugo Humbert 6-2, 6-4.

Monfils is the oldest semifinalist in Qatar tournament history aged 37 years and five months.

The other semifinal will see Australia’s Alexei Popyrin face Russian second seed Karen Khachanov.

Popyrin eased past Kazakh fourth seed Alexander Bublik 6-4, 6-4 while Khachanov went through when Finnish opponent Emil Ruusuvuori retired with a back injury after just three games.


Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Updated 23 February 2024
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Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

  • After a scare when they fell behind to Sepahan of Iran, Al-Hilal rallied to win the game 3-1 and go through 6-2 on aggregate
  • With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition

Al-Hilal defeated Sepahan of Iran 6-2 on aggregate on Thursday to book a mouth-watering Asian Champions League quarter-final tie against Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad.

After winning the first leg 3-1 away from home last week, the four-time winners of the competition survived a scare in the second leg before comfortably clinching victory by the same scoreline.

This was a bit harsh on the visitors, who played their part in an entertaining and open clash during which both sides created plenty of chances. In the end, however, as Neymar watched from the stands, the Saudis progressed comfortably, helped along the way when Sepahan were reduced to 10 men while ahead in the second half.

Salem Al-Dawsari, making his 400th appearance for the club, got the equalizer in the 76th minute, after Farshad Ahmadzadeh put the visitors in front nine minutes after the break. With just seven minutes left on the clock, Ruben Neves came up with a spectacular strike that gave Al-Hilal the lead, and there was still time for Aleksandar Mitrovic to add a third.

In the end, it was a more comfortable result for Al-Hilal than looked likely in the 54th minute, when Ali Aarabi swung over a cross from the left and Ramin Rezaeian headed the ball back across the face of goal for Ahmadzadeh to bundle home from close range.

The sparked plenty of nerves among the home fans in the Kingdom Arena but they were able to breathe a little easier when, with 19 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to 10 men. Siavash Yazadni brought down Malcom as the Brazilian was running through on goal and, after a check with the video assistant referee, he was shown a straight red card.

Al-Hilal quickly took advantage of the one-man advantage when, five minutes later, Ali Al-Bulaihi found Al-Dawsari outside the area and the winger turned to beat two defenders, then stroked the ball home. At that point, the home fans could rest easy in the knowledge that their team were as good as through to the last eight.

It was a fine goal by Al-Dawsari but just six minutes later, Neves pulled something even more special out of the hat. The ball fell to the Portuguese star outside the area, he chested it down and volleyed home a curling shot that flew into the top corner.

In the final moments of added time, Mitrovic scored a goal that might not live as long in the memory but showed his killer instinct as he swept home a smart pass from Malcom to make it 3-1.

With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition. The showdown between Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal is the quarter-final tie that many fans, inside and outside the country, will be most looking forward to. The first leg is scheduled for March 5.


Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Updated 22 February 2024
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Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

  • The Jeddah giants leave it late but progress after a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan

Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad squeezed into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Thursday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week.

The Jeddah giants recovered from a Karim Bemzema own goal midway through the first half to take control of the game, level the score and eventually go through thanks to a late Navbahor own goal. It was no less than the Saudis deserved as they made most of the running and created the bulk of the chances.

Fabinho had the earliest opportunity to open the scoring but the former Liverpool midfielder fired just over the bar from outside the box.

The opening goal came from a familiar source but not in the way fans expected. The home crowd was silenced in the 25th minute when Jamshid Iskanderov floated over a free-kick from the right, and former Real Madrid star Benzema met it on the edge of the six-yard box to send a powerful header into his own net past a startled Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The goal came out of nothing, against the run of play, but Al-Ittihad quickly regrouped, refocused their efforts and continued to dominate the game.

Benzema redeemed himself on the stroke of half-time, nodding down a corner to the near post where Abderrazak Hamdallah was waiting to sweep the ball home from close range.

The second half unfolded in much the same fashion, with Al-Ittihad enjoying most of the possession and creating more of the chances. Midway through the period, however, they were reminded of Navbahor’s goal threat when Filip Ivankovic fired just wide from the right side of the area.

With 15 minutes remaining, Benzema had the ball in the net, the correct one this time, when he fired home after some good work from Ahmed Hegazy. After a lengthy intervention, however, the video assistant referee ruled it out.

This only delayed the celebrations of the home fans, though, as three minutes from time the Tigers took a decisive lead, thanks to another own goal.

Substitute Saleh Al-Amri’s corner from the right failed to clear the first man but, in swinging a boot, Toma Tabatadze sliced his attempted clearance and the ball looped over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Navbahor did their utmost to get back on level terms but time was against them and it was not to be. As a result, Al-Ittihad, back-to-back winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, remain in the hunt for a third continental crown.


Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait

Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait

  • The 50-over competition serves as a preliminary qualifier for the World Cup
  • The Greens went into the opening Group B match full of confidence, having recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s cricketers beat Gulf rivals Kuwait on Thursday in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League play-off in Kuala Lumpur.
The 50-over competition serves as a preliminary qualifier for the World Cup, which is to be held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2027.
The Greens went into the opening Group B match full of confidence, having recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand as well as a quadrangular T20 series in Bangkok against the hosts, Maldives and Bhutan.

Saudi Arabia posted a solid total of 231 all over off the back of valuable contributions from Kashif Siddique, who scored 71 runs, star batter Abdul Waheed (40) and captain Hisham Shaikh (40).
Mohamed Shafeeq was best with the ball for Kuwait, finishing his innings with three wickets for 37 runs from his six overs.
In response, Kuwait’s batting line-up had little to offer in the face of efficient bowling from the Saudi attack.
Kuwaiti captain Mohammad Aslam showed some mettle and grit by batting for a 57-run half-century from 84 balls, but he was the only one to offer any resistance as Kuwait were bowled out for just 134 runs, some 97 runs short of the Saudi total.
Usman Najeeb was the pick of the Saudi bowlers as he picked up three wickets and conceded only 23 runs, while Ishtiaq Ahmad and skipper Shaikh claimed two wickets apiece.
In their next Group B encounter, Saudi Arabia face an Italian side riding high after beating one-time World Cup participants Bermuda by a commanding 157 runs.