What a difference a year can make in cricket – Arab News

As the year closes, it is possible to discern certain themes of the last twelve months that will continue in cricket for the next.
First, is COVID-19. It delayed the 2020 T20 World Cup until Nov. 2021, as well as forcing its move from India to the UAE and Oman. 
At the same time, it disrupted England’s Ashes tour to Australia. A Test scheduled for Perth in January was switched to Tasmania at short notice because of border restrictions in Western Australia. 
All of this seems a long time ago. Since then, England won the T20 World Cup and nine of its last 10 Tests.
Elsewhere, COVID-19’s effects can be seen in other tournaments still awaiting completion. There is regional interest in the 2023 ODI World Cup, scheduled for India in October 2023. Both Oman and the UAE are striving to finish in the top three out of seven in League 2 of the qualifying stages so as to progress to the next level. 

England won the T20 World Cup held in Australia in 2022. (AFP)

Each team has 36 matches to complete. Although Oman has achieved this, the UAE still has another 10 to fit into a crowded schedule.
A second theme is not COVID-19-related. The Asia Men’s Cup is due to be held in Pakistan in September 2023. The secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, who is also president of the Asia Cricket Council, stated in early October that the Indian team would not travel to Pakistan and that it would be played at a neutral venue. 
This incensed Pakistan’s Cricket Board Chair, Ramiz Raja, who was forthright in responding that Pakistan could boycott the 2023 ODI World Cup in India.
Raja was an appointee of Imran Khan, who was removed as prime minister in April after losing a vote of no confidence in Parliament. 
It has been a surprise that Raja has remained in post since that time. However, as the year ends, he has been replaced as PCB’s chairman by Najam Sethi, who resigned from the same post when Khan became PM in 2018. 
The country’s prime minister is patron of the PCB and has ultimate power of suspension. This has extended to the repeal of a new constitution introduced in 2019 and the restoration of a former 2014 constitution that will see reversion to the game’s previous domestic structure.
Quite how much the removal of Raja and his fellow administrators is a result of his increasingly belligerent language towards the BCCI is a matter of conjecture. 
Sethi has made a point of saying the decision to play in India will be taken at government level. 

Ramiz Raja said Pakistan could boycott the 2023 ODI World Cup in India. (AFP)

Unsurprisingly, Raja is incandescent, but it seems that his time has gone. It is unlikely to be any consolation for him that the new chairman has appointed the popular, but enigmatic, former player, Shahid Afridi, as interim chief selector. The next year has the ingredients for another enthralling installment of Indo-Pakistani relations on and off the cricket field.
There is a related ingredient simmering in the background. It is understood that the ICC requests the host nation to secure tax exemptions from its national government for tournaments organized by the ICC. 
However, India’s tax regulations do not allow such exemptions. 
In the 2016 T20 World Cup, held in India, this meant that the BCCI lost around $22 million, as the ICC deducted that amount from the BCCI’s revenue share. A legal battle ensued. 
This is clouding current negotiations relating to the 2023 ODI World Cup. It seems that the Indian government plans to levy a 21.84 percent tax surcharge on ICC’s broadcast revenue from the event. This is what the ICC seeks to gain exemption from, but the BCCI has so far not managed to reach a solution in its discussions with the finance ministry. 
Further brinkmanship is likely, well into 2023.
Although there are signs that cricket in 2023 will be less disrupted by the pandemic than previously, a third theme re-surfaced in 2021 to cast a long shadow over parts of the sport.
The case of Azeem Rafiq and English cricket, specifically Yorkshire County Cricket Club, blew up in spectacular fashion in Nov. 2021. Rafiq’s harrowing testimony to a Parliamentary Select Committee and the English and Wales Cricket Board representative’s supine responses and attitudes laid bare the conflicted and conflicting understanding of what constitutes racism in cricket.

Azeem Rafiq told UK lawmakers he and his family had been subject to levels of abuse sufficient to cause him to leave the country. (AFP)

Almost immediately, the Chair and CEO of Yorkshire resigned, swiftly followed by the departure of coaching and some administrative staff. Major sponsors withdrew support. A new chairman, Lord Patel, was appointed and, in turn, new coaching staff arrived. 
Meanwhile, the ECB seemed traumatized. Its CEO left in June 2022. A new one starts on Jan. 1, while a new chairman joined in August. The report of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket will not be published until early 2023. Individuals charged by the ECB in June have yet to have their cases heard.
Two weeks ago, Rafiq revealed, in a return appearance to the Parliamentary Select Committee that, despite 24/7 security, he and his family had been subject to levels of abuse sufficient to cause him to leave the country. 
In the space of a year, Rafiq’s search for justice has borne little but heartache, frustration and delay. 
It is to be hoped that 2023 heralds positive measures to counter racism in the game. Resolution of the deadlock in Indo-Pakistani relations is also needed if both countries are to participate in two major tournaments. 
Intriguingly, the year will also witness a contrast between a rush of T20 tournaments, an ODI World Cup and, possibly, much rejuvenated Test cricket.
LOS ANGELES: The Brooklyn Nets pushed their NBA winning streak to 10 games in dramatic style on Wednesday, rallying in the second half then hanging on to edge the Hawks 108-107 in Atlanta.
Kyrie Irving scored 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and Kevin Durant added 26 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists for the Nets — whose winning streak is their longest since the 2005-06 season and the longest in the league this season.
The game was just one of the close ones around the league on Wednesday, with Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-118 and the Chicago Bulls downing the Milwaukee Bucks 119-113 in overtime.
In Atlanta, the absence of Hawks leading scorer Trae Young as well as Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter didn’t stop the hosts from taking a 63-56 lead after a first half in which Atlanta made just one turnover to Brooklyn’s eight.
But the Nets clawed their way back in the third and Irving scored eight straight points with a layup and two three-pointers to push the Nets’ lead to 93-82 early in the fourth.
He then fed Yuta Watanabe for a floater that gave the Nets a 13-point lead with 8:40 remaining.
The Hawks, led by Dejounte Murray’s 24 points, responded and knotted the score at 104-104 with 1:48 to go.
Durant made a pair of baskets sandwiched around one for Atlanta’s John Collins and the Nets escaped with the win.
“Sounds pretty good,” Durant said of the 10-game streak, noting the struggles the Nets have endured for a couple of years — including this season’s slow start, the sacking of coach Steve Nash and the anti-Semitism row that engulfed Irving.
“It’s good to get some stability and win a few games along the way and have some fun,” he told an on-court television interviewer, noting the depleted Hawks played “faster and harder without their leader.
“I was glad we were able to play a four-quarter game and understand what we needed to do to get a win,” Durant said.
In New Orleans, Williamson returned after missing three games because of COVID concerns and scored a career-high 43 points to lead the Pelicans.
Williamson scored the Pelicans’ final 14 points and his free throw with four seconds remaining proved the game-winner in a fourth quarter that featured nine lead changes and was tied seven times.
Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell scored 27 points apiece for the Timberwolves, but Edwards missed a potential game winner as the clock ticked down.
In Chicago, DeMar DeRozan scored 42 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Bulls, who withstood a 45-point, 22-rebound performance from Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
DeRozan came up with a steal and fed Ayo Dosunmu for the game-tying dunk in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.
After Nikola Vucevic’s three-pointer put the Bulls up 111-110 with 1:28 left in overtime DeRozan scored Chicago’s last eight points – six of them from the foul line.
The Heat’s Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo spoiled LeBron James’s latest return to Miami, leading the hosts to a 112-98 victory over James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Butler, back after missing one game with a sprained ankle, scored 27 points with five rebounds, four assists and six steals.
Adebayo, sidelined for a game by non-Covid illness, had 23 points and 14 rebounds.
James, who led the Lakers with 27 points, said the discrepancy in shots attempted — Miami’s 92 to the Lakers’ 77 — was a direct result of the Lakers’ 26 turnovers.
“They had 31 points off our turnovers. They had 19 second-chance points off offensive rebounds, and that’s pretty much the game right there,” James said.
Things got heated in Detroit, where Orlando’s Moritz Wagner and the Pistons’ Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo were all ejected after a shoving match that had both benches worked up in the second quarter of the Pistons’ 121-101 victory over the Magic.
The Pistons were up by nine when the incident was sparked by Magic forward Wagner, who shoved Hayes off the court as he chased a loose ball down the sideline.
Diallo raced in and pushed Wagner from behind, then Hayes hit Wagner in the back of the head, sending him sprawling into the Pistons bench.
SYDNEY: Taylor Fritz and Madison Keys have given the US a 2-0 lead over the Czech Republic at the new United Cup mixed teams tennis tournament on Thursday.
Fritz broke Jiri Lehecka’s serve in the ninth game of the second set and went on to beat the Czech player 6-3, 6-4. Keys followed that up with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Marie Bouzkova in the next Group C match at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.
Two singles matches — one men’s and one women’s — will be played over each of two days, with a mixed doubles to conclude the five-match encounter on the second day.
“In a team event, first match of the year, there are always some nerves coming out, so it is great to come out and get the team ahead,” Fritz said. “Hopefully loosen everyone else up. It is a tough position to play if behind, so it is really good for the team.”
Fritz saved both break points he faced in his first head-to-head meeting with the 21-year-old Lehecka.
”When I was down, I felt that I was coming up with big serves when I needed the free points,” Fritz said. “I don’t think from the ground I maybe played my best, but when I was down break point or 0-30, I was coming up with big serves.”
The US are the third-seeded team in the tournament and also features world No. 3 Jessica Pegula and men’s No. 19 Frances Tiafoe.
On Friday in singles against the Czechs, Pegula will take on two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Tiafoe plays Tomas Machac. Pegula and Fritz are scheduled to play mixed doubles for the US.
The inaugural United Cup has teams from 18 countries competing in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney through to Jan. 4. The three city champions and the next-best performing country from the group stage will meet at Ken Rosewall Arena from Jan. 6 to 8 to determine the overall winner.
Top-seeded Greece is led by world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 6-ranked woman Maria Sakkari. World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 11 Hubert Hurkacz will lead second-seeded Poland.
Rafael Nadal will team with world No. 13 Paula Badosa for Spain, while Italy will have world No. 16 Matteo Berrettini and Martina Trevisan.
Each host city will feature two groups of three countries competing in a round-robin format.
LEEDS: Erling Haaland lamented not scoring five times in the city of his birth as the Norwegian struck twice in Manchester City’s 3-1 win at Leeds to lift them back up to second in the Premier League.
Haaland spent his early years in Yorkshire as his father Alfe Inge played for Leeds, but showed no mercy as City got their title challenge back on track.
Pep Guardiola’s men moved to within five points of Arsenal at the top of the table as they bounced back from a shock defeat to Brentford before the World Cup.
Haaland now has 20 Premier League goals in just 14 appearances since joining City, but was still left unsatisfied after failing to beat Illan Meslier with three one-on-ones.
“I could’ve scored five, that’s the truth,” Haaland told Amazon Prime.
“We win, that’s the most important thing. You see Arsenal at the top now, we have to hunt them, but for me as a striker, I could’ve scored a couple more.
“That’s life, I have to practice more.”
Haaland should have made his mark inside 45 seconds as he was denied by a fine save from Meslier when clean through.
That set the tone for a first half of frustration for City as a series of glorious chances came and went.
Meslier won another battle with Haaland, while two glaring misses from Jack Grealish left Guardiola with his head in his hands.
However, Leeds crucially failed to hold out until half-time on level terms as the visitors finally made their dominance count in first half stoppage time.
Kevin De Bruyne opened up the Leeds defense for the opener and when Riyad Mahrez’s shot was parried by Meslier, Rodri swept the rebound into the net.
Grealish made some amends for his earlier misses by creating the second with a smart interception and unselfish pass for Haaland to roll into an empty net.
The City star acknowledged his Leeds past by refusing to celebrate, but it did not stop him adding a second on the night from another Grealish cutback.
“I have to say, it’s a really special moment in my career,” Haaland said of playing at Elland Road.
“It was in my craziest fantasy I could think of to be at Elland Road and score for Manchester City against Leeds.”
Leeds remain perilously poised just two points above the relegation zone, but did at least get a goal to show for their efforts when Pascal Struijk headed in from a corner 17 minutes from time.
Haaland did at least spare the home side his fourth Premier League hat trick with an uncharacteristically weak finish with just Meslier to beat once more.
At the other end Joe Gelhardt’s curling effort was inches away from setting up a grandstand finish.
But a two-goal margin of victory was the very least City’s display deserved as they leapfrogged Newcastle into second in the table.
LONDON: Liverpool completed the signing of Netherlands forward Cody Gakpo from PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.
The 23-year-old Gakpo, who scored three goals at the World Cup, will officially join the Premier League club when the transfer window opens on Sunday.
PSV announced on Monday that it had agreed to the transfer for an undisclosed fee, describing it as a “record” for the Dutch club.
“This is a great club for me to come in and try to show what I can (do) and try to help the team to achieve more beautiful moments that they already did in the past years,” Gakpo told Liverpool’s website.
Gakpo scored 55 goals and provided 50 assists in 159 appearances for PSV.
Chelsea have agreed to sign striker David Datro Fofana from Norwegian club Molde.
The 20-year-old Ivory Coast international will join Chelsea on New Year’s Day, the Premier League club confirmed Wednesday.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Fofana was the leading scorer for Molde, one of Erling Haaland’s former clubs, with 15 league goals last season. He’s made three appearances for his national team.
Molde’s statement noted that Fofana is looking forward to following in the footsteps of his idol, Didier Drogba.
PARIS: An injury-time penalty from Kylian Mbappe sealed a last-gasp 2-1 win for Paris Saint-Germain over modest Strasbourg in Ligue 1 on Wednesday after Neymar had been sent off.
Mbappe bounced back from the heartbreak of losing the World Cup final to Argentina despite scoring a hat trick for France by securing all three points for the French champions.
Captain Marquinhos had put the hosts ahead with an early header but the Brazilian defender scored an own goal after 51 minutes as some of PSG’s stars appeared to be suffering a post-World Cup hangover.
Lionel Messi was absent from the PSG lineup after his World Cup-winning exploits.
The game turned when Neymar picked up a yellow for a petulant flick in the face of a Strasbourg player and then earned another for a blatant dive in the penalty area just after the hour.
Mbappe had been a constant menace for PSG but was unable to find the target with two clear-cut chances.
But deep into second-half injury time the relentless Mbappe was brought down in the penalty area and converted the winner from the spot in the 96th minute.
The victory put PSG eight points ahead of Lens, who must beat Nice on Thursday to keep up.
PSG also announced that their 30-year-old Italian midfielder Marco Verratti has extended his stay at the club until 2026.
In other games, Lille beat 10-man Clermont 2-0 thanks to an Angle Gomes penalty and a late settler from Mohamed Bayo deep in time added on.
Lyon banged four goals past Brest in a 4-2 win away from home as they push for the European places.
France may have had a glimpse of the future earlier on Wednesday when 17-year-old Monaco forward Eliesse Ben Seghir secured all three points in a 3-2 win over Auxerre on his Ligue 1 debut.
Thierry Henry was two months younger when he scored his first double for Monaco against Lens aged 17 years and 8 months back in 1995, but the brilliance of Ben Seghir’s brace on Wednesday brought back memories of the Arsenal and France star.
Ben Seghir, who does not turn 18 until February, came on as a second-half substitute for Wissam Ben Yedder, who had scored from the spot just before half time but was replaced anyway.
The newcomer unleashed his first goal within 12 minutes with an unstoppable shot to put Monaco 2-1 up.
He then delivered a solo effort to savor, delivering a curling winner from outside the box to make it 3-2.
After the final whistle the Monaco players led Ben Seghir to be serenaded by the away fans on a night that will live long in the teenager’s memory.
The win lifts Monaco up to fifth place on 30 points.
Ben Seghir grew up in Saint Tropez but is of Moroccan origin and has yet to decide who he will represent internationally though he has turned out for the France under-18s.


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