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RIYADH: Diplomats from countries where cricket enjoys widespread popularity have expressed their delight at the raft of new programs by the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation’s (SACF) aimed at raising the popularity of the game in the Kingdom, both among locals and members of their own communities. In an exclusive interview with Arab News last week,…

RIYADH: Diplomats from countries where cricket enjoys widespread popularity have expressed their delight at the raft of new programs by the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation’s (SACF) aimed at raising the popularity of the game in the Kingdom, both among locals and members of their own communities.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News last week, Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud, chairman of the SACF, revealed the game-changing plans for cricket in Saudi Arabia, outlining a series of major initiatives that will increase participation among citizens and expatriates at community, club, and international level.

The federation has also signed several deals and MoUs with governmental, semi-governmental, and non-governmental entities setting out plans to raise awareness of the game, increase cricket facilities nationwide, and introduce the sport to Saudi youth through school programs.

For decades, cricket had already enjoyed a significant level of participation at community level in Saudi Arabia, and diplomats from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the UK, and other figures have backed the new plans to increase engagement and to promote integration between different nationalities.

“It is heartening to see the SACF grow and develop this much in just one year,” Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Raja Ali Ejaz told Arab News. “I am personally very happy to see cricket taking root in the society in Saudi Arabia. We Pakistanis are truly sentimental about the game and the onset of cricketing activities in the Kingdom is nothing less than a cherished treat.

“I hope the detailed vision of the SACF chairman materializes triumphantly,” he said, adding: “His layout for the series of tournaments scheduled for 2021 is impressive and a major mood-lifter in an otherwise poignant time of a global pandemic.”

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Cricket is set to take a giant leap across Saudi Arabia with the game’s ruling body in the Kingdom set to introduce a series of competitions and programs that will encourage the nation’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports. Read exclusive interview here.

Among those competitions is the National Cricket Championship, played across 11 cities and part of four programs that SACF signed with the Saudi Sports For All Federation. Launched in February 2021, it is to date the largest cricket tournament held in the history of Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, there will be a corporate cricket tournament launched in October and November, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social cricket program introduced in various cities. Throughout the year, SACF is planning to have 20,000 participants taking part in these programs.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to offer Pakistan’s support and collaboration with the SACF for the establishment of proper cricket-related infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, including cricket academies, talent-hunting campaigns, grounds, and coaching facilities,” Ejaz said. “Pakistan is one of the world’s top cricket nations with the love for cricket running deep in its society. It also has a well-formed institutional framework and expertise in these areas and international cricket. The Pakistan Cricket Board and the SACF have a lot to collaborate on, while attracting business and goodwill in both the countries.”

He added: “I wish my brother Prince Saud bin Mishal the very best for his endeavours and look forward to seeing international cricket flourishing in the Kingdom.”

The established initiatives, as well as those in the pipeline, are part of the Kingdom’s mission to promote a healthy and active lifestyle under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life program, with the SACF, supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.

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Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English language daily, has been selected by the Saudi cricket federation to be the national team’s official media partner. Click here for more.

While Prince Saud is keen to attract Saudi youth to cricket through more school activities and community programs, the SACF is also striving to provide a better quality of life for expatriates working in the Kingdom. The federation is also planning programs involving embassies and corporations that have significant numbers of employees who take part in domestic cricket matches.

“As a cricket fan, I am always pleased to see others play the sport,” British Ambassador Neil Crompton said.

“I know that cricket has always had some fans in the region. We also welcome Prince Saud’s emphasis on the government’s commitment to enhancing the quality of life for expatriates.

“Seif Usher, our consul general in Jeddah, is working on a glossary of cricketing phrases in Arabic,” he added.

The Sri Lankan Embassy’s Charge d’ Affairs Madhuka Wickramarachchi told Arab News that while cricket has always enjoyed reverential levels of popularity in his country and among South Asian communities, it was hugely encouraging to see it spread among Saudis and other Arab nationalities.

“We are delighted to see that Saudi Arabia has taken some forward-looking, long-term steps in popularizing cricket among its citizens and expat community as well,” he said. “We believe that the series of cricket matches and competitions organized by the SACF across the Kingdom and its effort to combine the sport with school activities and community programs would encourage more youths to embrace this sport.”

Prince Saud also revealed that leading international players and coaches would be recruited to unearth Saudi talent, a move applauded by Wickramarachchi.

“We congratulate the SACF for taking this initiative and we are delighted to see that world-class cricketers are emerging from the Kingdom,” he added. “It seems that an international cricket encounter between Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia is possible in the near future.”

Among the established cricketers in the Kingdom who welcomed the changes is Abdul Qadir Khan, a Pakistani who currently plays with the Riyadh Cricket Association and who has represented Saudi Arabia at both junior and senior levels.

“Now that there is government-level patronage to cricket in Saudi Arabia, it will grow by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Cricket has been around for decades. There is also a Saudi national cricket team, but due to the absence of  government-level patronage, cricket has remained incognito. I am sure with these programs cricket will grow in Saudi Arabia and more expatriates and Saudis would be drawn towards this sport.”

Aneesur Rehman, an Indian expta who plays in the Riyadh Cricket League and who is also the manager of the Jamia Millia Alumni Association Cricket Club, said: “As a cricketer in Riyadh I am delighted to read about these plans. I am looking forward to my favourite sport taking a big leap in the Kingdom with the SACF keen to introduce a series of programs and domestic leagues.”

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India-Dubai travellers must get Covid test 48 hrs before flight

Currently, passengers are required to undergo RT-PCR 72 hours before departure. Passengers flying from India to Dubai will now have to follow revised regulations on PCR Covid-19 tests, Indian airlines announced on Monday. Starting April 22, at 12am, all passengers travelling from India to Dubai airports must hold a valid Covid-19 test certificate issued within…

Currently, passengers are required to undergo RT-PCR 72 hours before departure.

Passengers flying from India to Dubai will now have to follow revised regulations on PCR Covid-19 tests, Indian airlines announced on Monday.
Starting April 22, at 12am, all passengers travelling from India to Dubai airports must hold a valid Covid-19 test certificate issued within 48 hours from the time of collecting the sample, budget carrier Air India Express stated. A similar advisory was issued by India’s flag carrier Air India and private airline Spice Jet.
Currently, passengers are required to undergo RT-PCR 72 hours before departure.
Passengers must also ensure that the ‘date and time’ of sample collection and time of reporting (result date and result time) are accurate. “The certificate must indicate a ‘negative’ test result, described either in Arabic or English, issued from a certified lab at the original point of destination where the passenger is travelling from,” read the advisory from the airlines.
Furthermore, it is mandatory that the report includes a QR code which is linked to the original report for verification by the airline. “At arrival, the Dubai Health Authority will verify the same,” said the airlines.
At present, only India’s flag carriers and Spice Jet have issued revisions to the existing pre-departure testing policies, according to travel agents in the UAE. Other Indian airlines and UAE carriers continue to have the PCR test validity at 72 hours before departure.
The Spice Jet advisory said: “The PCR test will be valid no later than 72 hours, 48 hours in case of Dubai, with effect from April 22, 2021, before departure. The stipulated time frame for accepting the negative Covid-19 reports should start from the date of sample or swab collection, and not the issuance date of the report.”
TP Sudheesh, general manager of Deira Travel and Tourist Agency, said: “The change in timing does make travel a little more complicated for the traveller as 48 hours is too less a time in case the passenger has any kind of last-minute emergencies.”
“All passengers must carry the printed copy of their negative Covid-19 reports and the test reports must be in typed form and not hand-written. Handwritten reports will not be accepted,” Spice Jet stated.
Furthermore, all negative Covid-19 reports should have the name and contact details of the providing laboratory or the health institute. “Information should be typed preferably in block letters, so it’s clear and easily understood,” the advisory added.
dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com
Dhanusha Gokulan
Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in…

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.

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Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in…

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.

Continue Reading
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