Iran has executed a champion wrestler convicted of murdering a security guard during anti-regime protests in 2018, state media said on Saturday, despite an international campaign to spare his life.
Navid Afkari, 27, was executed “this morning after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim”, the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the head of the justice department in the southern Fars province as saying.
His case had created a global outcry, including from the US president, Donald Trump, and from the World Players Association (WPA), a major athletes’ union representing 85,000 people, which had called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if the execution went ahead.
“The horrific act of executing an athlete can only be regarded as a repudiation of the humanitarian values that underpin sport,” the WPA director, Brendan Schwab, had said in a statement.
Afkari, a Greco-Roman wrestler, was arrested along with his brother Vahid Afkari in September 2018 and accused of stabbing to death a security guard the previous month during protests in the city of Shiraz.
They were charged with murder along with offences such as “waging war against the state” for participating in the demonstrations. Navid Afkari was sentenced to death while Vahid Afkari and another brother, Habib Afkari, were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison respectively.
Navid Afkari filed a complaint with the Iranian judiciary in September 2019, claiming he had confessed to the killing under torture. “The evidence is there if the court wants to investigate [the acts of torture],” Afkari said in a tape obtained by an Iranian human rights group.
“There is not one shred of evidence in this damned case that shows I’m guilty. But they don’t want to listen to us. I realised they are looking for a neck for their rope.”
Iranian state media broadcast Afkari’s recorded confession last week after Trump tweeted about his case. Iran’s judiciary has denied the torture claims.
Hearing that Iran is looking to execute a great and popular wrestling star, 27-year-old Navid Afkarai, whose sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets. They were protesting the “country’s worsening economic situation and inflation”…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2020
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the British minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, also asked the Iranian government to show mercy.
The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of principle. We share global concern at the death sentence given to Navid Afkari and urge the Iranian authorities to show restraint.
— Lord (Tariq)Ahmad of Wimbledon (@tariqahmadbt) September 6, 2020
The International Olympic Committee as well as the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dana White, had also urged that Afkari be spared.
Rights groups had warned in recent days that his execution was feared to be imminent after he was moved from a general ward to an undisclosed location by prison authorities.
Iran executed at least 251 people last year, according to Amnesty International, the second highest in the world after China.
India vs England: India’s Brisbane triumph encourages England coach Chris Silverwood | Cricket News
An injury-ravaged India defied the odds to complete a 2-1 series triumph with a three-wicket victory on Tuesday as they inflicted Australia’s first defeat in a Test match at Brisbane’s Gabba ground since 1988.
“I thought it was brilliant,” Silverwood told reporters in a conference call ahead of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.
“It’s nothing to do with me, (Australia skipper) Tim Paine’s captaincy, but it’s always nice to see people in opposition teams under pressure,” the former England paceman added.
Australia hold the Ashes after the 2019 series in England ended all square at 2-2, but Silverwood said of India’s triumph in Brisbane: “It shows that, if you do the basics well and get stuck in, we can beat them.
“Our boys back in the hotel were taking an interest and I think most of them appeared for lunch after India had won. So they were all staying and watching.”
Before the 2021/22 Ashes, however, England face a resurgent and resilient India in nine consecutive away and home Tests.
“If you look at what we’ve got in front of us, before we get to the Ashes we have nine Tests against India,” said Silverwood. “What a fantastic way to prepare against very strong opposition.
“There’ll be some great cricket and all the guys here are excited to play in those series, just as we are excited to play in this one.”
England will look to complete a 2-0 series clean sweep against Sri Lanka when the second Test starts on Friday.
Given the likely humid conditions, and their upcoming fixture schedule, England could well rotate their bowling attack, with record wicket-taker James Anderson giving way to Stuart Broad, second on England’s all-time list.
India hailed as ‘Immortals’, Australia under fire after Gabba stunner | Cricket News
India thrillingly achieved their 328 target with just 18 balls left on the final day to win the four-Test series 2-1, the highest successful run chase at Australia’s “Fortress Gabba”, where the hosts had been unbeaten for 32 years.
“It was the day when The Irrepressibles became The Immortals,” declared News Corp’s veteran cricket writer Robert Craddock.
“The day when Fortress Gabba was stormed by a group of cavalier raiders who kicked down the draw bridge, stole the crown jewels and raced off into the late afternoon sunshine towards hysterical fans who will cherish the memory forever.
“Take it all India. You deserve it.”
India’s refusal to play for a draw, which would have been enough for them to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, was lauded.
“The outcome was a revelation: Australia pressed for victory because they had to, India because they wanted to, and the result was a fitting climax to one of the most extraordinary series of all time,” wrote Gideon Haigh in The Australian newspaper.
Most were united in their praise of India, but there was also criticism of Australia.
“I think there’ll be a huge fallout from this,” said leg-spinning great Shane Warne, commentating on TV, noting that India had been without their entire frontline bowling attack through injury.
“There’s not too many times that you lose to the second or third side,” he said.
“Tactics will come into question. Bowlers will come into question. People’s spots in the team will come into question.”
Mitchell Starc, who bowled 16 wicketless overs for 75 on the final day, came in for particular criticism after taking just 11 wickets in the series, with some saying captain Tim Paine had lost faith in the left-arm paceman.
“I know that your impact bowlers are meant to come in and have a little burst, but there just doesn’t seem to have been the trust that Mitchell Starc’s going to do the job,” said former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist.
Former Australian captain Mark Taylor said: “You can have Starc when he’s bowling at his best, but I think we need some subtlety in our bowling.
“We need someone who can swing the ball a bit, someone who can ask questions around lbw or bowled, not always looking to bounce batsmen out or get them caught behind,” Taylor said.
Australia should look to bowlers such as the South Australian fast-medium pair Chadd Sayers and Daniel Worrall, who would add something different to the current three-pronged pace attack, said Taylor.
“There’s a lot of talk about Australia not being aggressive enough, but I don’t agree with that,” Taylor said. “I think we need to find some subtlety in our bowling attack.”
Some said that Australia should be thanking India for their skill and courage in coming to play the series at all during a global coronavirus pandemic.
“We mightn’t be thanking you in five years when you’re still whisking away matches from under our noses, but thanks for now, and take a bow,” said the Sydney Morning Herald’s Greg Baum.
“By series end, few Australians would have begrudged you whatever spoils you took home.”
‘Finisher’ Rishabh Pant redeems himself with ‘natural’ game | Cricket News
“This is the biggest thing in my life right now,” an emotional Rishabh Pant said while receiving the man-of-the-match award on Tuesday. In the last two years, no one in Indian cricket has been subject to the kind of vilification Pant has endured. With the match-winning unbeaten 89, he set the Gabba and world cricket alight. But he also did set a record straight.
His dismissal in the 2019 World Cup semifinal had become a reference point for his critiques. MS Dhoni’s retirement meant he was expected to live up to the lofty standards of finishing games. Every time he failed to do so, the knives would come out. On Tuesday, he finished a game that will go down as one of the best in the history of Test cricket. For all his flamboyance, typical of the T20 generation, Pant has always yearned for success in Test cricket.
“He was a bit depressed because of the way he got out after he got set in the World Cup semifinal. He realized he missed out on an opportunity to do something memorable,” his childhood coach Tarak Sinha told TOI on Tuesday. “Even after his knock in Sydney last week, he said he regretted not carrying on and finishing the job.”
Record-breaking India clinch Australia Test series in Gabba thriller
There was an underlying restlessness in Indian cricket to see him filling the void created by Dhoni. He was panned for sticking to his ‘natural’ game. All of it started playing in his mind. It was as if he had no place in the team if he couldn’t finish games. Then the team management accused him of not knowing the difference between being carefree and careless.
This is when Pant tried to alter his game. “He kept saying he has to become a finisher. He became conscious about getting out. It meant he lost his bat swing and that resulted in him losing his natural ability to hit big,” Sinha said. Last year, Sinha and fellow coach at Sonnet Devendra Sharma arranged hitting sessions for him to rediscover his bat swing. “We kept telling him to take one Test at a time. Set short targets for himself but do not sacrifice your game of hitting big,” Sinha added.
Within two months of the ‘careless’ comment, Pant slowly lost his place in all three formats. It was a lonely walk to redemption for him. The little tip seems to be paying off. Skipper Ajinkya Rahane and head coach Ravi Shastri implied that Pant was always determined to hunt down the target and the team let him be. Perhaps, the team management has come around and taken the leash of expectations off him.
IN PICS: India win Gabba thriller, claim Test series 2-1
<p>Rishabh Pant unleashed a Twenty20-style batting assault to blast India to an incredible three-wicket win in the fourth Test decider on Tuesday. (Getty Images)</p>
On Tuesday, Team India head coach Ravi Shastri described Pant as a ‘good listener’. “He realizes what’s his natural game. But he needs to strike a balance between caution and aggression. Nobody wants to curb his natural game as a coach but you can be reckless sometimes. This game teaches you to learn and he has shown it in both the Test matches. He was disappointed that he got out for 97 in Sydney. He learnt from that and he made sure he was there at the end today,” Shastri said.
It’s not that he didn’t miscue his heaves on Tuesday. He plays a high-risk game but that’s how his game is built. Pant claims he had to discipline himself when it came to shot selection because of the tricks the fifth day pitch played.
It’s a given he will play heart-in-the-mouth, edge-of-your-seat cricket. He is now willing to play the uninhibited brand of cricket irrespective of the consequences. Perhaps, it’s time he is embraced for what he is. Tuesday’s knock is exactly the reason why the legends of the game across the world want to see more of him. It’s time to build trust. This Test series was a small but a significant step towards that.
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