Outbreak of new controversies continues to plague international cricket

Australia’s captain Matthew Wade plays a Twenty20 international match against India in Bengaluru on Dec. 3, 2023. Australian cricket fans will need to have a Prime Video subscription if they wish to watch Australia’s men’s and women’s teams playing in ICC competitions. (AFP)
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Updated 07 December 2023

Outbreak of new controversies continues to plague international cricket

  • Two recent controversial developments have done little to improve the image of the game in Australia and Pakistan

All of a sudden cricket has been impacted by an outbreak of controversies. Amongst them have been a fierce dispute between former colleagues in the Australian men’s team, the loss of free-to-air viewing rights in Australia and the appointment of a disgraced Pakistani cricketer as an advisor on national selection.

On Dec. 4, the International Cricket Council announced that Amazon Prime had been awarded the broadcast rights in Australia for all ICC tournaments for the next four years, starting on Jan. 1, 2024.

This means that Australian cricket fans will need to have a Prime Video subscription if they wish to watch Australia’s men’s and women’s teams playing in ICC competitions, including Under-19 World Cup events. There are 11 of them up to the end of 2027. None of the tournaments will be held in Australia. This has provided an opportunity for the ICC and Amazon Prime to avoid so-called Australian anti-siphoning rules.

Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a paywall has been greeted with outrage. The CEO of Free TV Australia, the industry body which represents all free-to-air Australian TV networks, condemned the move, saying that “all Australians deserve the right to share our great sporting moments for free, and that right is in serious jeopardy.”

That view seems to be shared by the federal communications minister, Michelle Rowland, who has recently introduced a bill to parliament that updates anti-siphoning laws. Once in law, free-to-air services must be offered first refusal for important sporting events.

This measure may not go far enough. The Broadcasting Services (Events) Notice, as the anti-siphoning legislation is known, was first introduced in 1992 when the concern was related to subscription TV securing sports rights. The protective provisions apply to senior Australian cricket teams playing in Test, one day and T20 matches in Australia, New Zealand and the UK between Australia and England. Discussion has been reawakened as to whether this geographical coverage should or can be expanded.

It is too late for the timescale of the ICC/Prime deal. Social media comments have been quick to blame the minister and Cricket Australia for this to happen. Neither has any involvement or power in the broadcast deals which the ICC arranges. However, the introduction of Prime, as the fourth major broadcaster of cricket in Australia and the first which is entirely on-line, has added to the melange of cricket viewing options for Australian audiences.

They have been used to a 15-year long joint venture for ICC tournaments between Foxtel and Channel Nine, which ended with this years ODI Final. Cricket Australia’s domestic broadcast rights have been held by a partnership between free-to-air broadcaster Seven and pay TV channel Foxtel since 2018, when Channel Nine lost out after forty years of dominance. A new seven-year domestic rights deal was signed in January 2023 by Seven and Foxtel.

They, along with Foxtel’s video streaming subscription service, Kayo, will broadcast Australian men’s Tests and all women’s internationals on home soil. They will also show both the men’s and women’s Big Bash. Fox Cricket and Kayo broadcast Australian men’s limited-overs internationals on home soil, non-Ashes Australian men’s internationals and women’s outside of Australia.

The once dominant Channel Nine has the rights to broadcast the England v Australia Ashes series scheduled to played in England in 2027 and 2031. Domestic men’s and women’s competitions are broadcast by Cricket Australia’s Live app and cricket.com.au, with selected matches shown on Fox and Kayo. At least for the next four years, the broadcasting landscape for Australian audiences looks stable if not wholly acceptable, given the new loss of free-to-air.

This means that audiences will have to pay for all international limited-overs cricket played by Australia’s men’s and women’s teams. The next ICC event scheduled to be hosted in Australia is the T20 World Cup in 2028, after the timeframe of the Amazon deal. The battle is on to preserve an Australian way of life — the opportunity for all to enjoy free TV coverage of iconic sporting events,

Alongside this development, two former colleagues in the Australian men’s team have locked horns. Mitchell Johnson, who retired in November 2015, has criticized the decision of opening batter David Warner to choreograph his retirement. Warner announced his plans on June 3, 2022, targeting the third test against Pakistan in Sydney in January as his Test swansong.

Johnson thinks it wrong that a player can attempt to influence team selectors in this way. He argues that Warner’s recent performances do not justify his selection. Furthermore, Johnson has rekindled the tensions over Warner’s involvement in a ball-tampering incident in South Africa in 2018 over which Johnson feels that Warner displayed insufficient contrition.

Current colleagues have come to Warner’s defense and former players have commented that the affair paints a bad image for Australian cricket. Johnson also criticized the chair of selectors for being too close to the players, implying that this is a contributory factor to Warner’s continuing presence in the team. When Warner made his original announcement, it did appear to be rather presumptuous. Johnson has a point, but he could have expressed it in a less vituperative manner. It seems that he may have been prompted into action by a text which he received from Warner on another issue.

In Pakistan, those who replaced the leaders of the men’s team in the 2023 World Cup caused an embarrassment by appointing a former captain, Salman Butt, as a selection consultant. Butt received a five-year ban from cricket and served a seven-month prison sentence for spot-fixing in Test in 2010. A wave of criticism from commentators, journalists and ex-players, caused the chief selector to reverse his poorly judged appointment after one day.

Two of the three controversies are not good for the image of two countries — Australia and Pakistan. Whether the ICC’s broadcasting rights deal will damage its image will take longer to be emerge. No doubt, the ICC will be happy with the undisclosed funds it has generated, but incurring the wrath of Australians, seemingly without consultation, may have unintended consequences.

Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

Updated 5 min 3 sec ago

Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

  • In low-scoring match, Rilee Rossouw holds his nerve with 34-run inning to guide Quetta to victory
  • Gladiators’ Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Wasim take three wickets each to keep Islamabad at bay

ISLAMABAD: Despite a valiant fightback by Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators continued their impressive run of the tournament by beating the former by three wickets at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Thursday.

“Continuing our winning streak,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after the match ended.

Batting first, United scored a lackluster 138/9 at the end of their 20 overs courtesy of a stellar bowling performance from the Gladiators. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/18 while Mohammad Wasim finished with 3/20. Akeil Hosein finished with 2/32 while pacer Mohammad Hasnain returned figures of 1/35.

United’s only resistance in the batting department came from Agha Salman, who top-scored with a decent 33-run knock from 23 balls while opener Alex Hales scored 21 from nine deliveries.

What should have been an easy chase for the Gladiators turned into a difficult one when United took quick wickets to put the pressure back on Rossouw’s squad. United skipper Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/24 while pacer Naseem Shah finished with 2/34.

Rumman Raees and Hunain Shah took a single wicket each before Rossouw guided United to victory with a composed 34-run innings that came off 38 balls and featured only three boundaries.

Opener Jason Roy provided the Gladiators an impressive start to the game by smashing 37 runs off 18 balls while Sherfane Rutherford held his nerves to score 29 runs from 23 balls before Naseem rattled his stumps.

The Gladiators and table-toppers Multan Sultans both have three wins from the tournament so far. Islamabad, with a single win and two losses, is at number three on the PSL points table.

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

Updated 22 February 2024

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.

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Updated 22 February 2024

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

  • SACF has lined up several programs to promote the sport in KSA
  • Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief

RIYADH: Cricket is a game that has an almost magical ability to unite South Asian expatriates in their second home Saudi Arabia.

On every weekend and whenever there is a time to play, mostly on public holidays, they gather at some grounds, parks and open spaces to play street cricket.

For decades, early-morning gatherings were the only way for the South Asian diaspora to play cricket.

Expatriates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had few entertainment options other than cricket in the Kingdom before social reforms in line with Saudi Vision 2030 were unveiled in 2016, so would play friendly matches.

For decades, cricket in Saudi Arabia was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country, with the game’s ruling body in the Kingdom introducing a series of competitions and programs to encourage the nation’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs to promote the game among Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.

With Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud as chairman of the federation, long-term plans have been put in place to ensure that Saudi Arabian national teams can compete with the world’s best in the future.

Arab News, in an exclusive interview, spoke to the diaspora from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who shared their memories and experiences of playing cricket in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Azimooddin Abdul Rahiman Karajagi, who is an ICC-certified curator and umpire, and head coach of the Riyadh Cricket Association, told Arab News: “I have seen cricket being played in this region for almost 25 years now. In the beginning there was very limited opportunity to play the game by expatriate communities from the South Asian countries, they would gather at some open space for a friendly match. Then club cricket started and now the SACF headed by Prince Saud is doing a lot for the development of cricket in the Kingdom, starting with the National Cricket Championship, the biggest ever cricket tournament in the history of Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “As result of the mega-competition a formidable Saudi national cricket team was formed and they went on to lift ACC Men’s Challenger Cup consecutively, last year and this year, taking the game to another level (and) now will play the Premier Cup to qualify for the Asia Cup.

“We, the cricket lovers in the Kingdom, congratulate the SACF for taking initiatives to develop the game; we are delighted to see that world-class cricketers are emerging from the Kingdom, and wish all the best to the Saudi team qualify not only to the Asia cup but also to the Cricket World Cup,” he said.

Arab News caught Syed Salman Hussain from Pakistan, who was busy in net practice at Mark Cricket Academy, which is affiliated to the RCA at its home ground in Al-Sulai Industrial Area, Al-Mashael District in Riyadh.

Hussain enjoys playing cricket whenever he has time off work, and hopes to play one day in the Saudi national cricket team.

On playing cricket in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, he said it is tougher here as the cricket kit is not fully available, and must be brought from his homeland. Moreover, to play on the grassless pitches in Riyadh is tough.

“Here the ground is full of stones and sand, as against green grassy playground in Bangladesh,” said Nojmul Hasan from Dhaka, blaming the sandy area beside a shopping mall’s parking lot for his team’s slow run buildup in a friendly match.

“There are no carefully manicured grass pitches for cricketers in this city carved out of the desert. In Riyadh, there is hardly any grass. But the good thing is, after the formation of the SACF, things are changing, we have heard that there is work in progress for turf wicket here, so that’s great news.”

Obaidullah Zaman from Afghanistan, who is working in Riyadh for several years and plays cricket with the Mark Cricket Academy in Al-Mashael District every Friday, is happy with the pace of change, saying: “We are really excited to see the development around cricket in Saudi Arabia with the federation planning to have professional cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract Saudi as well as the diaspora to the game. I look forward to finding a place in the national team either here or in my Afghan team, so I come religiously to practice at my academy and be prepared to play the matches organized by the RCA.”

Mohamed Sauky, a Sri Lankan expat playing cricket in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are very passionate about cricket. My favorite cricketer is Angelo Mathews from Sri Lanka. One day I aspire to be like him and represent the national team, therefore, I participate in all the training sessions by the RCA and as a result I am the highest wicket taker so far this season. With the coaching facilities, practice sessions on the net and practice matches, we are enhancing our skill. Playing together, we the South Asian diaspora enjoy our diversity and share our experiences to help each other in enhancing the skill to become a better player.”

Kannan K. Gopi, an Indian who has lived here for decades and plays cricket, was selected in the Saudi national cricket team to play the 40 overs tournament, but could not join because of the age factor. He still joins the players in the practice sessions and also coaches new players aspiring to be professional cricketers making it to the national team.

Sharing old memories, Gopi said: “Earlier, expats formed some clubs to play the game, now things are progressing well. We are looking forward to our favorite sport taking a big leap in the Kingdom, with the SACF keen to introduce a series of programs and domestic leagues.”

Speaking to Arab News last year regarding the plans, Prince Saud said: “Saudi Arabia is the biggest country in the region with the biggest number of teams and players. So there will be leagues on all levels. We have developed throughout our time in the federation great relationships with the International Cricket Council, the global governing body of cricket, and the Asian Cricket Council, the organization that promotes and develops the sport of cricket in Asia, as well as some successful international cricket boards and big cricketers globally.”

High-profile figures from the world of cricket have offered their expertise and backing for cricket in the Kingdom.

Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter, Indian pacer Irfan Pathan, and British cricketer Kevin Pietersen have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief to discuss cricket and share expertise on how to develop the game.

Rising attendances, TV viewership reflect popularity of franchise cricket

Updated 22 February 2024

Rising attendances, TV viewership reflect popularity of franchise cricket

  • India’s IPL unquestionably world’s most watched brand, DP World ILT20 claiming 2nd

In the helter-skelter world of international franchise cricket, now is peak time.

Betway SA20’s (South Africa’s Twenty20 cricket league) final was played in front of a full house at Newlands, Cape Town, on Feb. 10.

A week later, the final of DP World ILT20 2024 attracted a packed house to the 25,000 capacity Dubai International Stadium. And on the same day, the first match in the Pakistan Super League took place in Lahore. The final of the Bangladesh Premier League is scheduled for March 1.

A start date and schedule for the Tata Indian Premier League is awaited, as these are dependent on the yet-to-be-announced schedule of the national elections, which are to be held in April.

The most touted start date is March 23, with match locations and dates rolled out in phases once the polling schedule becomes clear. A date for the final is rumored to be May 26, which is barely a week before the International Cricket Council T20I World Cup commences.

While the IPL is unquestionably the most watched cricket franchise league on and off screen, the DP World ILT20 lays fair claim to be the second.

According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council India, the 2023 edition of the IPL registered 505 million television viewers, its biggest ever level. Hindi-speaking markets contributed two-thirds of the audience, an increase of almost half compared with 2022. Some of the increased interest was generated by children, whose propensity to view rose by an astonishing 64 percent.

The DP World ILT20 operates within a four-week window compared with eight weeks for the IPL. Match attendances were up by 300 percent in 2024.

BARC figures revealed that the first 18 matches of ILT20 2024 attracted 161 million views, with 46 percent of the audience women and 56 percent aged under 30. A 12 percent increase was achieved among urban audiences in India compared with the previous year.

In 2023, 255 million fans were reached in India and 367 million worldwide unique viewers via TV and digital channels.

Clearly, ILT20’s appeal is growing, India representing the most significant market. Final audience figures are awaited with anticipation.

The audience profile for SA20 displays different characteristics. Nielsen Sports SA reported a 36 percent rise in viewership within South Africa across the first 19 days of the 2024 edition, compared with the inaugural tournament in 2023. Remarkably, almost two-thirds of the audience was reported to be over the age of 50.

League officials are also looking to tap into the Indian market, given that all six franchises are Indian owned. In 2023, 131 million people were reached there, more than 100 million less than achieved by ILT20. Again, final figures are awaited for SA20 2024 before an assessment of relative appeal can be made.

Any comparison needs to account for the Pakistan Super League, which is also building its brand.

A claim by a former chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board that the 2023 PSL had outperformed the IPL in terms of digital ratings – 150 million viewers on digital platforms compared with 130 million – were not helpful and widely derided.

Nevertheless, the size of Pakistan’s population and the popularity of cricket in the country combine to ensure that viewing figures will compete at the top end of franchise leagues.

Audience figures are not the only criterion to judge the attraction of franchise leagues. Prize money, salary levels, broadcasting revenues, sponsorship, standard of play, strength of competition, and quality of facilities must all feature in any assessment.

The development of local talent is another factor being addressed differently by the franchises. In the case of ILT20 it is an imperative. Each franchise must have at least four UAE players, of whom two must feature in the playing 11.

In 2024, the standout UAE performer was Pakistan-born Muhammad Waseem. He scored 321 runs opening the batting for the MI Emirates, the fourth-highest aggregate in the league. It included 43 in the final that set the MI Emirates on their way to victory. The performance enhanced his credentials which had received a boost in 2023, when he was also the UAE’s leading player in ILT20 2023. In March last year, he was appointed the UAE’s captain.

A further boost was in prospect as, during ILT20 2024, Islamabad United signed him for the PSL. However, because of his involvement in ILT20’s knockout stage, it left only a short gap between the final and the UAE’s Cricket World Cup League 2 matches against Canada and Scotland in Dubai between Feb. 28 and March 9.

This year, the most successful of the players who have grown up in the UAE were 20-year-old Zuhaib Zubair, who claimed 11 wickets for the Gulf Giants, and 21-year-old Alishan Sharafu, who scored 220 runs, including an undefeated 82. At 18 years old, Aayan Afzal Khan already seems like a veteran, having captained the UAE under-19 men’s team, and debuted for the senior side aged 17. This year he claimed six wickets for the Gulf Giants.

In an amendment to the tournament conditions for 2024, franchises were allowed to include players who are serving residential qualifications to be eligible for the UAE.

Haider Ali made an impression, taking seven wickets for the Dubai Capitals, as did the unknown left-arm fast bowler, Mohammed Rohid, with nine wickets. Some of the other locals did not get the chance to play much but will have received a cricket education from the established international players.

More anomalous was the low number of appearances afforded to some overseas players. One example is 22-year-old Englishman, Will Smeed, who played only two matches for the champions, MI Emirates. His career, so far, is an unusual one. After impressing observers as a teenager in white ball cricket, he decided in November 2022 to focus on that format. Effectively he retired from red ball cricket without playing a first-class match.

He is a fully signed-up member of the franchise helter-skelter but surely game time is needed to stay on it to showcase such talent.

Karachi Kings defeat Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest

Updated 21 February 2024

Karachi Kings defeat Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest

  • Karachi bowlers Mir Hamza, Hassan Ali return figures of 3/28, 3/30 to dismiss Zalmi for 154
  • Zalmi skipper Babar Azam’s 72-run knock comes to naught as his team suffers second PSL 9 loss

ISLAMABAD: Backed by impressive bowling performances from Mir Hamza and Hassan Ali, Karachi Kings defeated Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets at Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.

The Kings won the toss and elected to field first against Zalmi in the sixth match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament. The decision proved to be the correct one as Hamza and Ali dealt severe blows to the Zalmi batters, dismissing the “Yellow Storm” for 154 runs.

Skipper Babar Azam scored 72 runs off 51 balls but could not find ample support from the middle order as Ali and Hamza kept picking wickets one by one. Rovman Powell scored 39 from 25 balls while Asif Ali scored 23 off 16 balls to lend some support to Azam.

“I think we scored less, we lost few wickets in power play,” Azam said at the post-match press conference. “You have to build partnerships and that’s what we missed today.”

Kings bowlers Hamza returned figures of 3/28 while Ali finished with 3/30. Daniel Sams returned figures of 2/28 while spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Shoaib Malik took one wicket each.

The Kings chased the target in 16.5 overs at the loss of three wickets. Skipper Shan Masood scored 16 runs while Muhammad Akhlaq made 24 runs. James Vince and Keiron Pollard remained unbeaten on 38 and 49 runs respectively to guide their team to victory.

Zalmi bowlers Luke Wood returned figures of 2/20 while Waqar Salamkheil finished with 1/54 from his four overs.

Peshawar Zalmi remain at the bottom of the table with two losses from as many games while Karachi Kings have moved up to fourth place with a win and a loss from their two matches.