How Saudi national cricket team can benefit from India and Pakistan expertise

With a growing expatriate population from both India and Pakistan, the Saudi Arabian cricket team stands at a unique crossroads of opportunity. (X: @cricketsaudi)
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Updated 15 September 2023

How Saudi national cricket team can benefit from India and Pakistan expertise

  • Saudi Arabia’s participation in the Gulf Cricket Championship can provide a platform to showcase the team’s progress and potential

Cricket, often hailed as a unifying force on the Indian subcontinent, has now transcended borders and found a new home in Saudi Arabia.

With a growing expatriate population from both India and Pakistan, the Saudi Arabian cricket team stands at a unique crossroads of opportunity.

By leveraging the diverse cricketing expertise of Indian and Pakistani expatriates, Saudi Arabia has the potential to forge a formidable team that can compete on the international stage.

Pakistan’s rich cricketing heritage is marked by exceptional bowling talent. The nation has produced world-class fast bowlers known for their raw pace, swing, and unrelenting aggression.

From Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Amir, Pakistan’s bowlers have left an indelible mark on the sport. By incorporating Pakistani expatriates into the Saudi Arabian cricket team, the bowling department can benefit immensely.

India, on the other hand, has a rich tradition of producing world-class batsmen, from the legendary Sachin Tendulkar to the modern-day maestro Virat Kohli. The artistry, technique and ability to construct innings have been ingrained in the Indian cricketing DNA. By tapping into the expertise of Indian expatriates, Saudi Arabia can infuse its batting lineup with finesse and resilience.

Prince Saud Mishal Al-Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, has a keen understanding of the value that Pakistani and Indian cricket brings to the table. Prince Saud has engaged with renowned ex-cricketers, team owners, and diplomats from both Pakistan and India, to foster an environment of collaboration and knowledge-sharing for the growth of Saudi cricket

Prince Saud’s efforts have included meetings with esteemed ex-cricketers including Irfan Pathan and Akram, and team owners Nadeem Omar of the Quetta Gladiators and Manoj Badale of the Rajasthan Royals.

In March 2023, Akram told Arab News he was “optimistic about cricket growth in Saudi Arabia” and “eager to see the sport’s talent from the Kingdom.” Akram was in the Saudi capital for the first time in February where he met Prince Saud to discuss the future of the sport in the Kingdom.

The ongoing Asia Cup further underscores the significance of embracing the collective strength of Indian and Pakistani expatriates in the Saudi Arabian cricket team. The tournament, which brings together cricketing powerhouses from the Asian continent, serves as a catalyst for growth, exposure and recognition.

Saudi Arabia’s participation in the Gulf Cricket Championship starting on Sept. 15 can provide a platform to showcase the team’s progress and potential. By amalgamating the expertise of Indian and Pakistani expatriates, Saudi Arabia can create a balanced team capable of competing against formidable opponents.

How Australia crashed India’s expected 2023 Cricket World Cup party

Updated 23 November 2023

How Australia crashed India’s expected 2023 Cricket World Cup party

  • Host nation were on top form and set for procession toward the title until final act of a tournament of many landmarks

So, it came to pass. As soon as I set foot in India on Oct. 4 in Ahmedabad, I detected an inexorable momentum toward India being crowned ODI World Champions on Nov. 19. It was an orderly procession for the team with few bumps in the road toward what always felt like a coronation. Enrapt, noisy, fervid Indian supporters filled the stands when their heroes played. Other teams were a sideshow, there as a necessary irritant to be swatted aside as quickly as possible.

All of them were, until the final act.

In that moment, it did not come to pass. The coronation was jilted, the stadium quietened and half emptied well before the final’s end, an Australian’s masterly century received in near silence, the trophy presentation ceremony conducted in perfunctory manner. What would one give to have been privy to PM Modi’s inner thoughts as he handed the trophy to Australia’s captain?

Within India, post-mortems abound. In the final reckoning, the overall objective of India’s desire to triumph was not achieved. On the day, Australia planned, riskily it appeared, even rashly, to bowl first. The response from bowlers and fielders was superb. If the objective was to restrict India to anything under 280, it worked so well that 241 was the target. India lost because its innings was bogged down and because it could not break Australia’s fourth wicket partnership.

Yet, what of the tournament itself, the vehicle for India’s anticipated success? It witnessed the breaking of records, too numerous to list. Notable among them was the fastest ODI World Cup century, broken not once but twice, the highest match aggregate, the highest number of sixes hit and the highest innings total. This latter record is now held by South Africa, who amassed 425 for the loss of only five wickets against Sri Lanka in Delhi. The total surpassed Australia’s total of 411 for six against Afghanistan in 2015. Five of the ten highest ODI World Cup totals were scored in the 2023 edition.

Off the field, the International Cricket Council is claiming a record for the highest number of people attending an ODI World Cup. It estimates that an aggregate 1.25 million spectators attended the 48 matches, an average of 26,000. This exceeds the previous record of 1.016 million set in 2015 in Australia and New Zealand, across 49 matches, an average of 20,734. In England and Wales in 2019, 0.75 attended across 48 matches, an average of 15,625.

It should be no surprise that the attendance record was broken in India. What ought to be a surprise is that it was not broken by more. Official figures indicate that 92,500 turned up for the final. If a similar number or more attended the India v Pakistan match at Ahmedabad, then it is reasonable to assume that these two matches accounted for 20 percent of aggregate attendances. If India’s other nine matches attracted, say, 60,000 each, then attendances for the home team’s matches represented more than half of total attendances. As may be deduced from the sea of blue shirts at India’s matches, it is reasonable to assume that almost all of them were supporting India.

If the above assumptions are correct, then 0.6 million people attended the other 37 matches, an average of about 16,000. Matches early in the tournament had swathes of empty seats. This was true of the opening match between England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad, despite the official estimate of a 45,000 attendance. It certainly did not feel that number to your columnist, who was present. If official estimates have been shrouded in mystery from day one, then revenue even more so. If discussions with people around me were any guide, then not everyone had paid for their ticket.

A prime example of this occurred in Delhi. At first, the zone where I was seated was sparsely populated. Uniformed senior police appeared, a prelude to the arrival of dozens of men, women and children, who turned out to be representing a police families welfare society. Cricket was incidental to the display of banners, consumption of freely available food and picture-taking. Their presence swelled the attendance but only a few will know the extent to which it swelled income. This is not meant to be churlish. More spectators heighten the atmosphere and Indians certainly know how to party. Those who turned up to neutral fixtures raised the noise levels.

The tournament also broke multiple broadcast and digital viewership records. Final numbers have yet to be announced but at the halfway stage the ICC reported a 43 percent rise in viewing minutes compared with 2019. Hotstar, India’s digital streaming service, saw its record for the number of concurrent viewers broken four times. 

Emphasis on records deflects from more fundamental issues. One is existential — will the ODI format survive and has this tournament been a help or a hindrance? Second is the relationship between the ICC and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Thirdly, how inclusive was this event? The next ODI World cup is set to be hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2027, followed by India and Bangladesh in 2031, both involving 14 teams. Its medium-term existence appears secure. Whether the demands of broadcasters, for whom matches involving India is the biggest draw, will cause any changes to the format remains to be seen.

This issue is likely to further test the ability of the ICC to withstand the power of the BCCI. This is not a given. On the day after the final, the ICC issued a statement thanking the BCCI for successfully hosting the 2023 World Cup, the biggest ever. This glosses over a number of issues pertaining to the spectator. Your columnist has reported previously about difficulties of access and egress at grounds, about high-handed security checks, pettiness over banned items, all of which detract from the live viewing experience. None of these appear to matter to the authorities. It seems that television and streaming audiences are the golden egg that shall not be broken.

Travis Head breaks India hearts as Australia win sixth Cricket World Cup title

Updated 19 November 2023

Travis Head breaks India hearts as Australia win sixth Cricket World Cup title

  • Head’s knock and his marathon stand of 192 with Marnus Labuschagne, unbeaten on 58, ended India’s dominant run of 10 unbeaten matches

AHMEDABAD: Opener Travis Head hit a sparkling 137 to power Australia to a record-extending sixth World Cup title with a convincing six-wicket win over India in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
Chasing a tricky 241 for victory in the final, Australia slipped to 47-3 before the left-handed Head hit his second century of the tournament to steer the team home with seven overs to spare.
Head’s knock and his marathon stand of 192 with Marnus Labuschagne, unbeaten on 58, ended India’s dominant run of 10 unbeaten matches at the event.
Head fell after his 120-ball knock laced with 15 fours and four sixes before Glenn Maxwell hit the winning runs to trigger wild celebrations in the Aussie camp.
“Just thrilled to be a part of it,” man-of-the-match Head told Star Sports.
“It’s a lot better than seeing the World Cup on the couch at home (on his injury). I was a little bit nervous but Marnus played exceptionally well and soaked all the pressure.”
India’s chances of ending a global trophy drought since their 2013 Champions Trophy win went up in smoke once Head got going with Labuschagne.
Head’s century was the seventh in a World Cup final and third by an Australian after Ricky Ponting (140 not out v India in 2003) and Adam Gilchrist (149 v Sri Lanka in 2007).
The bowlers set up victory for an Australian side that bounced back after two losses to win nine in a row as Mitchell Starc (3-55) and Pat Cummins (2-34) helped bowl out India for 240.
India hit back when Mohammed Shami shared the new ball with Jasprit Bumrah and struck on his second delivery to get David Warner caught behind for seven.
But it was Bumrah’s double strike in quick succession that raised the roof as he had Mitchell Marsh caught behind for 15 and Steve Smith lbw for four.
Head stood firm with Labuschagne for company to thwart the Indian attack despite captain Rohit Sharma rotating his bowlers in a hunt for a breakthrough.
Head, who suffered a fractured hand in South Africa in September, was in danger of missing the World Cup but Australia kept him in the squad until he was fit to play.
He hit a match-winning century against New Zealand in the team’s sixth league game and after a few low scores hit an attacking 62 in his team’s nervy three-wicket semifinal win over South Africa in Kolkata.
He turned India’s nemesis a second time this year after his 163 proved decisive in Australia’s World Test Championship triumph at the Oval in June.
Head reached his 100 in 95 balls and raised his bat to an applauding Australian dressing room.
“What we’ve achieved today is unbelievable,” said Labuschagne.
“It’s the best achievement I’ve ever been part of. India have been the team of the tournament, but you know if you play your best cricket, you have a chance. Our bowlers were sensational and Travis put on one hell of a display.”
Warner said, “Our bowlers were fantastic, they set the tone from ball one. The fielding supported that.”
Australia elected to field first and the players backed up Cummins’ decision with disciplined bowling and impressive fielding.
Virat Kohli and KL Rahul hit 54 and 66 respectively after Rohit’s attacking 47 but the ball dominated the bat on a slow, dry pitch.
Head took a stunning catch while running back from cover point to cut short Rohit’s innings off spinner Maxwell.
Cummins bowled Kohli, who ended as the leading batsman in tournament with 765 runs, to silence the crowd of 92,453 fans, who like the home team in the middle had a forgettable day.

Australia ‘ready for anything India throw at us’

Updated 18 November 2023

Australia ‘ready for anything India throw at us’

  • India have been the form team of the World Cup, winning all 10 games on their way to Sunday’s showpiece match in Ahmedabad

AHMEDABAD, India: Australia are adamant they will be “ready for anything” India throw at them in the Cricket World Cup final after controversy hit the tournament in a “pitch switch” row. 

India have been the form team of the World Cup, winning all 10 games on their way to Sunday’s showpiece match in Ahmedabad. 

But there was controversy in the lead-up to their 70-run semifinal in over New Zealand in Mumbai after it emerged the game was being played on a Wankhede Stadium pitch already used twice before during the tournament rather than a freshly prepared surface. 

“No doubt playing on your own wicket in your own country has some advantages,” Australia captain Pat Cummins told a press conference on Saturday. “But we’ve played a lot of cricket over here.” 

“We’ll be ready in terms of anything they’ll throw at us ... we’ll make sure we have some plans.” 

The pitch will be the same surface as the one on which India cruised to a seven-wicket pool win over Pakistan last month, when they dismissed their arch-rivals for just 191 after winning the toss. 

“My understanding is it’s going to be on the slower side,” said India captain Rohit Sharma later Saturday. 

“But we have to assess what it is like tomorrow,” he added, pointing out that while there had been dew on the ground ahead of the Pakistan game, none appeared during the match itself. 

“That’s why I keep saying the toss is not going to be a factor, you’ve got to play well to win the game regardless of how well you know the conditions.” 

A used pitch had no major bearing on the Mumbai semifinal, with more than 700 runs scored in the game. 

Cummins, asked if he had already seen the pitch for the final, replied: “Yeah, just had a look. It looked pretty firm ... I think Pakistan played someone there!” 

Used pitches generally favor spinners, with slow bowling a key component of a five-man India attack where Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja are expected to bowl 20 of their 50 overs on Sunday. 

Australia have already won the World Cup a record five times and 30-year-old fast bowler Cummins, a member of the victorious 2015 side, was excited by having the opportunity to emulate the likes of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting by leading the team to another triumph. 

“It would be huge,” he said. “We were all kids not too long ago, watching some of those great teams win the 1999, 2003, 2007 World Cups.” 

He added: “To be captain would be an absolute privilege ... it’d be awesome. 

“It (the World Cup) has got the longest history of a world event where all the teams compete. 

“You only get a shot at it every four years. So even if you have a long career, you might only play in two of these events. 2015 is still a career highlight for me, but I think tomorrow, if we win, might pip it.”

Pakhtunkhwa claim title as 2023 Saudi National Cricket Championship concludes in Riyadh

Updated 18 November 2023

Pakhtunkhwa claim title as 2023 Saudi National Cricket Championship concludes in Riyadh

  • Final day’s action saw 5-run victory over Patriots at Nofa Resort in the capital
  • Championship is the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation’s most important program, says chairman Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud

RIYADH: The 2023 National Cricket Championship concluded on Friday in Riyadh with Pakhtunkhwa beating Patriots by five runs in the final.

Pakhtunkhwa had posted a total of 181/8 in 20 overs, before bowling out their opponents for 176 in 19.4 overs.

The championship — which kicked off in January — was organized by the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation in partnership with Sports For All Federation. The final was held at Nofa Resort in the Kingdom’s capital.

SACF Chairman Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud told Arab News that the championship is the federation’s most important program.

“It is in 13 regions around the Kingdom and we had more than 9,000 participants,” he said. “We have finals as well in Dammam for all the east coast, and Yanbu for all the west coast and total participants of 9,000 to 10,000,” he added.

Prince Saud said that the 2023 championship was the second iteration of the competition, which is one of four programs under the umbrella of the federation, which aims to promote the sport in Saudi Arabia.

SACF Vice Chairman Nawaf Al-Otaibi told Arab News that the federation had greater ambitions than just organizing competitions.

“Our main mandate as a federation is to build up the infrastructure of the game and make sure that all communities, expats and citizens are able to enjoy the game and be able to play the game more regularly within a proper infrastructure in terms of grass fields and stadiums,” he said.

He added that the SACF’s target is to make the Kingdom a world-class cricketing destination in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

The SACF was established in 2020 with 12 associations in eight regions, and registered over 6,000 players in its first year.

It now has 21 associations covering 13 regions in the Kingdom, with more than 15,000 registered players and over 12 national programs tasked with growing the sport from its grassroots.

Head to the fore as Australia set up World Cup final against India

Updated 16 November 2023

Head to the fore as Australia set up World Cup final against India

  • The final is on Sunday at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad

KOLKATA: Travis Head starred with bat and ball as Australia set up a World Cup final clash with India after a tense three-wicket win over South Africa in Kolkata
on Thursday.
Chasing a tricky 213 for victory, Australia wobbled after Head hit 62 but Steve Smith (30) and Josh Inglis (28) helped the five-time champions reach their target with 16 balls to spare in the second semifinal in Kolkata.
As Australia reached an eighth World Cup final, South Africa were left to rue a fifth semifinal loss despite David Miller’s 101.
Australia slipped to 137-5 and then 193-7 before Mitchell Starc (16) and skipper Pat Cummins (14) kept their nerve to steer the
team home.
Left-hand batsman and part-time off-spinner Head stood out after taking two wickets and then with his 48-ball innings laced with nine fours and two sixes.
Australia were in trouble when they were five down as spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi struck in quick succession to rattle the middle-order.
Maharaj bowled Head, who was dropped on 40 and 57, and Shamsi, a left-arm wrist spinner, trapped Marnus Labuschagne lbw for 18 and bowled Glenn Maxwell for one in his next over.
Australia started the tournament with two losses but registered their eighth straight win.
Starc led the bowling charge with figures of 3-34 and Cummins also picked three wickets to bowl out South Africa for 212 in 49.4 overs.
Left-arm quick Starc struck in the first over to send back South Africa captain Temba Bavuma, who had said he was not “100 percent fit” at the toss, for a fourth-ball duck.
Josh Hazlewood claimed the wicket of in-form Quinton de Kock for three as Cummins took a stunning catch.
De Kock, who will quit one-day international after the World Cup, ended with 594 runs including four centuries to sit behind the tournament’s leading batsman Virat Kohli (711).
The new-ball bowlers kept up the attack with the wickets of Aiden Markram (10) and Rassie van der Dussen (six) as South Africa slumped to 24-4 and were 44-4 when rain interrupted play.
Klaasen and Miller hit back after the 45-minute rain break as the two put on 95 runs but Head broke through to bowl Klaasen for 47.
Head trapped Marco Jansen lbw on the next delivery to be on a hat trick, which was saved by Gerald Coetzee, who put on a 53-run partnership with Miller.
The left-handed Miller smashed eight fours and five sixes in his 116-ball knock.
The final is on Sunday at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.