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Clouds hang over England’s tour to Australia as pandemic continues to disrupt cricket calendar

Hard on the heels of the decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to cancel the short tour by both its men’s and women’s teams to Pakistan in mid-October, it is now facing a barrage of tricky issues concerning the imminent men’s Ashes tour to Australia. First is the pressure from the Australian…

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Clouds hang over England’s tour to Australia as pandemic continues to disrupt cricket calendar

Hard on the heels of the decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to cancel the short tour by both its men’s and women’s teams to Pakistan in mid-October, it is now facing a barrage of tricky issues concerning the imminent men’s Ashes tour to Australia.

First is the pressure from the Australian authorities to ensure that the tour goes ahead. At stake is some $144 million in revenue.

The Australian cricket team has not played a Test match overseas since it toured England in 2019, having pulled out of a series against South Africa in April 2020. Over the same time, a team, missing a few players through injury or unavailability, has made short tours of England, New Zealand, the West Indies and Bangladesh, playing mainly T20 cricket, in preparation for next month’s T20 World Cup. In this context, a lack of income for its board and serious playing time for its elite cricketers are all too apparent.

Secondly, there is great uncertainty over the tour conditions that the Australian Government will allow. Some players are reluctant to commit themselves to the two-month long tour unless their families can accompany them. Others are seeking clarification about the strictness of the biosecure bubbles that will be imposed.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked his Australian counterpart if special allowances could be made, only for the latter to say that “there are no special deals there.”

Given the historical scale of cricketing rivalry between England and Australia, this is no surprise, as no favors will be shown to the touring party. In addition, the uncompromising approach adopted by the Australian authorities in dealing with the pandemic, that has seen borders largely closed to foreign visitors since March 2020, means that special treatment for families of visiting cricketers is unlikely to be politically popular.

Nonetheless, there are grounds for optimism. Australia has plans to reopen once 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. At current rates of progress this may be achieved “by Christmas at the latest,” according to one minister.

Thirdly, the schedule is yet to be finalized. This reflects the different approaches adopted by state governments and the different rates of infection. Sydney is expected to emerge from lockdown on Oct. 11, Melbourne on Oct. 26, followed by a gradual easing of restrictions. In Brisbane, where the Test series is scheduled to start on Dec. 8, the National Rugby League Final was due to be played in front of some 50,000 spectators on Sunday but a local outbreak of four COVID-19 cases had raised concerns and caused the Tasmanian cricket team to elect to fly home minutes before its match against Queensland was due to start.

A big doubt centers on the fifth Test scheduled for Perth on Jan. 14. The Western Australian government has a 14-day quarantine policy in place for all arrivals, leaving no scope between the end of the preceding match in Sydney on Jan. 9. In view of this febrile environment, England’s potential tourists remain uneasy. It should not be forgotten that the English players have been involved in more cricket and in-bubble biosecure conditions than most of their counterparts in other countries.

Fourthly, Cricket Australia has now provided the ECB with details of the proposed tour arrangements with the ECB. These will be shared with the players prior to Oct. 4, when they will be asked to clarify their availability. This is an action that was not even conducted in relation to the cancelled tour to Pakistan, according to the Team England Player Partnership that represents centrally contracted players. Already, one experienced player has declared his retirement from Test cricket, ahead of the deadline day.

Other younger or single players have signalled positive attitudes towards involvement. Both boards want the tour to proceed. Depending on the conditions offered by the Australians for quarantine and biosecurity and any yet unforeseen factors, the probability is that the tour will go ahead, but that England may be without some of its most experienced players. Involvement in a series against Australia is the pinnacle of cricket for most players and, for some, this may be their final chance and, for others, their first or only opportunity.

No doubt they will be hoping that the conditions will be different from those experienced by the Indian women’s party, which recently went through two weeks of lockdown in a Brisbane hotel, along with the Australian squad, all of whom were restricted to their rooms and were unable to meet or train.

The enthusiasm shown by the ECB for the tour is in stark contrast to that shown by them for the tour to Pakistan. This has generated much criticism from respected commentators and former players. In particular, the act is seen as a slap in the face of the Pakistanis who, unselfishly, toured England in mid-July, prior to the lifting of many of the pandemic-induced social restrictions, to play three T20 and ODI matches.

It has also generated feelings of a schism between the “Big Three” — India, Australia and England — and the other nine International Cricket Council Full Members, in that the three will prioritize a series between them within the context of a frantic international schedule that has been ravaged by the pandemic and political disturbances.

If these feelings are to be quashed then those holding the power in the game will need to show that they can marry appropriate responsibility to that power. This means acting for the benefit of all participating countries and players and not just for those who are able to enjoy the financial and commercial returns provided in the highest income-generating tournaments. On recent evidence, the omens for reducing this inequality are not good.

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Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of…

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Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of a purple patch at the moment in both club and international football. It was a comfortable win without the drama of some past continental finals.

Only a day later, however, two Saudi teams played to a match that left those who saw it rubbing their eyes in disbelief?

Alex Ferguson was famously exasperated after Manchester United scored twice in the dying moments of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to come from behind to defeat Barcelona 2-1. He stunned the reporters with his direct quip.

But what would the Scot have said if he’d seen the breathtaking 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh on Thursday? Not only was it the highest scoring match in the history of the Saudi Professional League, but it arguably must be ranked among one of the best too. What is for certain is that it is the most exciting match of the season so far.

OK, some of the defending may not be studied in the upper echelons of world football anytime soon, even if the backlines were better than you may expect from looking at the scoreline, but it was a game that showed the strength in depth in the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. It also revealed the range of entertainment on offer in the league. Some of the attacking play was thrilling, plenty of the goals were out of the top drawer.

As a spectacle, it was astonishing. Al-Fateh were a team that had lost the previous three games and were sitting firmly in the bottom half of the table and concerned with not getting sucked into a relegation battle. They came up against a team in second but one that was only in their third ever season in the top tier with the first two being battles against relegation.

But first, let’s look at the game, though this may take some time with all the goals. In just the third minute, Carlos Cueva was given the freedom of the Damac area after a fantastic run and pass from right-back Nawaf Boushal and the Peruvian forward stabbed home the opener for Al-Fateh. Just 13 minutes later, the visitors were ahead thanks to two goals from Hillel Soudani. The Algerian cut in from the right, twisted and turned defenders on the edge of the area and then fired a precise left-footed shot into the corner. Soon after, he shot home a rebound with more power and Damac were ahead.

Within moments however, the hosts had equalised thanks to Ali Al-Zaqan. The initial goal had been ruled offside but VAR rightly overturned the decision. On the stroke of half-time, Damac struck again to go in at the break with a 3-2 advantage. It was another impressive strike. The ball fell to Felipe Augusto about 30 meters away from goal and the Brazilian’s low shot was fired into the bottom corner. Both teams continued to have excellent chances but when Mijo Caktas extended Damac’s lead just after the hour, it looked as if that was that. The Croatian skipped past a challenge outside the area and scored with another long-range shot that perhaps the goalkeeper, who was partially unsighted, should have kept out.

Al-Fateh had always looked dangerous however and pulled a goal back after 69 minutes after another Croatian made the scoresheet. Ivan Santini knew little about his strike as the goalkeeper’s save bounced off his chest and in. With 15 minutes remaining it was 4-4. A Damac hand in the box gave Al-Fateh a penalty and Cueva got his second.

Within seconds, amazingly, Al-Fateh were ahead thanks to Firas Al-Buraikan. The Saudi Arabian international could not miss from close range after a perfect cross from Murad Batna and so the hosts had come back from 4-2 down to be 5-4 ahead. This was surely one of the greatest comebacks and games in the league’s history.

But Damac were not finished. With 11 minutes still on the clock it was 5-5 as Emilio Zelaya scored another goal from outside the area.

“It was a very strange game,” said Al-Fateh president Saad Al-Afaliq. “We even could have won it late on had Firas Al-Buraikan had scored late in the game. We have had a few injuries but are now getting up to the right levels of fitness and condition.”

The point initially put Damac on top of the league but just two hours later, Al-Shabab defeated Al-Raed 3-0 to go into pole position. A first half goal from Moteb Al-Harbi was added to in the second half by Ever Banega and Carlos Carvalho. It is quite a turnaround for a club that won just one of their first six games of the season and were rumored to be thinking about firing coach Pericles Chamusca.

Now they are top and the title race is going to be something special. Al-Ittihad can return to the summit on Sunday and then Al-Hilal have several games in hand but are in fourth place. The season is shaping up to be an exciting one, but whatever happens, there won’t be a more exciting game than the 10-goal thriller witnessed on Thursday.

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Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism. Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in…

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Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism.

Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in the tussle. 

Vaughan has denied claims that he said there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” to Rafiq and three other Asian players before a match in 2009.

But while the allegations and investigations continue, the BBC has jettisoned Vaughan from its upcoming coverage of England’s Ashes tour of Australia due to a potential “conflict of interest.”

In an interview with the BBC following the decision, Vaughan said: “I’m sorry for the hurt (Rafiq has) gone through. Time I don’t think can ever be a healer in the situation that he’s gone through.

“But hopefully time can be a way of us making sure that Yorkshire County Cricket Club never goes through this situation again and never puts themselves in a position of denial that they treated a player so badly.

“It hurts deeply, hurts me that a player has gone through so much (and) been treated so badly at the club that I love.

“I have to take some responsibility for that because I played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club for 18 years and if in any way shape or form I’m responsible for any of his hurt, I apologise for that.”

Rafiq’s testimony to MPs has been supported by former Pakistan bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and England leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who said they heard Vaughan’s “you lot” comment.

When asked by the BBC if they were lying about the allegation, Vaughan said: “The problem with this situation is that we’ve got too much ‘he said, he said, she said, did they say’ and I think we’ve got to move on from accusations of conversations from many years ago. There’s a bigger picture here.”

The 47-year-old added that the alleged incident occurred during “my last few games and I just remember it clearly that I was proud as punch that we had four Asian players representing Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“Nothing but a proud, senior, old pro just about to retire and absolutely delighted that Yorkshire had come so far in my time at the club.”

His apology also included regret for a series of tweets from a similar time, which included comments on the lack of English speakers in London and suggesting that England colleague spin bowler Moeen Ali should ask fellow Muslims that he was not acquainted with if they are terrorists.

“I apologise deeply to anyone that I’ve offended with those tweets,” Vaughan said. “Times have moved on and I regret those tweets. We all make mistakes and in my life I’ve made quite a few mistakes on Twitter, I apologise for that.”

The former England skipper accepted the BBC’s decision to ditch him from the Ashes coverage, which kicks off on Dec. 8. 

“I won’t be doing the Ashes which I understand, the editorial at the moment is all about Azeem Rafiq and racism in the game of cricket. I get that,” he said.

“I just hope in time I get that chance to come back. The one thing I love more than anything since I retired is talking cricket. I love being on Test Match Special and hopefully in time I get that chance to do it again.”

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Eddie Howe to make Newcastle managerial debut against Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is finally set to make his Newcastle United managerial debut at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Saturday after testing negative for COVID-19. The head coach missed last week’s Premier League encounter with Brentford, which ended in a 3-3 draw, having tested positive the previous evening. His assistant Jason Tindall and coach Graeme Jones…

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Eddie Howe to make Newcastle managerial debut against Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is finally set to make his Newcastle United managerial debut at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Saturday after testing negative for COVID-19.

The head coach missed last week’s Premier League encounter with Brentford, which ended in a 3-3 draw, having tested positive the previous evening. His assistant Jason Tindall and coach Graeme Jones took charge of that game.

However, the club have now confirmed on Twitter that ex-Bournemouth boss Howe is ready to take the helm for a competitive game.

“Newcastle United can confirm that Eddie Howe will be in the dugout for tomorrow’s game at the Emirates Stadium after returning a negative COVID test this morning,” the club announced on Friday.

It had been expected Howe would miss the trip in line with UK COVID-19 protocols, which state that anyone who returns a positive test must self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the test or from the date that symptoms first appeared.

Arab News understands that Howe and the club’s medical staff traced the symptoms back to midway through last week, around the time Howe was publicly unveiled as Newcastle’s new manager, and confirmed that he has satisfied all relevant rules for return to work with the relevant governing bodies this week.

Tindall, speaking about Howe at the club’s pre-match press conference, said: “We know COVID impacts people differently. And he is much better now than he was.

“From how Eddie was Sunday, Monday, Tuesday in comparison to how he is feeling now, and the tone of his voice in the latter part of this week, there’s been a big difference. He’s followed all the protocols. It’s down to Eddie and the medical professionals. Everyone that knows Ed wants to be in the dugout (at Arsenal). Even if he was 20 percent, he’d want to be there, that’s for sure. We’re certainly looking forward to having him back.”

Logistically the week has been a challenge for Tindall, also a former manager of Bournemouth, with Howe holed up in his Gateshead Quayside hotel room.

Daily training videos have been sent from the club’s Benton training ground to the hotel and the phone lines have been hot with chatter between Howe and his numerous coaches.

“In terms of dialogue, we have been in constant contact with the manager,” Tindall said. “Maybe four, five, six times a day — before training, after, then in the evening preparing training for the next day.

“The lads have been working extremely hard on the training ground,” he added.

Of his close friend Howe’s struggles this week, Tindall said: “It has been difficult having the virus, having to isolate in a hotel room. We have missed him as a group of staff and I am sure the players will have missed him out on the grass. You want your leader with you and the fans want the manager on the touchline. Eddie is a very ‘hands-on’ coach, and he has played a huge part in the preparation for Arsenal.”

Howe has a near-full squad to choose from for the game, with only Dwight Gayle and Paul Dummett doubts.

“Dwight Gayle was feeling his hamstring slightly so that’s one that will be assessed,” said Tindall. “Other than that there’s been no new injury concerns for us with a training session still to do today.”

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