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Tigress ‘meek and seek’

KUALA LUMPUR — The Tigress have been acquitted with a creditable fourth finishing at the women’s Asian Champions Trophy in Donghae, South Korea, which is a sign of encouragement for women hockey players here.

Despite a lack of overseas exposure, Tigress being the lowest ranked team at No 22, could hold their own against far superior teams and even stole a shock 3-2 win against Japan.

National coach K. Dharmaraj’s plan to blood more youngsters has proved to be a master stroke as they managed to score seven goals in four games.

Hanis Nadiah Oon top scored with two goals, against India and China in the group stages. In the third-fourth playoff match against world No 8 China, they fired blanks to lose 2-0.

“Overall there was marked improvement and I, for one, am glad to see such great fighting spirit,” said Dharmaraj.

“From game to game, they scrutinised their opponents for weaknesses to exploit. Against China, we were unlucky to concede that first goal early.

“All these teams are full World Cup squads and we gave them a run for their money.”

Two identical 3-1 opening losses to South Korea and China did not dampen spirits as Malaysia regrouped to beat Japan 3-2, followed by a narrow 3-2 loss to India in the final group game. 

Malaysia finished fifth at the previous edition in 2016. Since the tournament’s inception in 2010, there have been five editions: 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2018.

Malaysia’s best finish was in 2013, third out of four teams (Japan, India and China).

On this outing, Dharmaraj dropped four seniors — Siti Rahmah Othman, Norbaini Hashim, Fazilla Sylvester Silin and Norazlin Sumantri — for Under-17 stars and part of the 5-a-side bronze medal-winning team at the Youth Olympic qualifiers last month (Nur Maizatulhanim Syafi Sheik Fuad and Nor Asfarina Isahyifika Isahhiddun) while recalling former players Nurul Syafiqa Mat Isa and Nur Zafirah Aziz.

“What I want is to give these girls a chance to play abroad. Give them confidence and motivation to do better. We are not an entirely new team but whenever you have new players, they need some time to assimilate with the rest. I am proud of the girls and now we will focus on the Asian Games,” said the former Olympian.

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Nyuk Fah to the defence

PETALING JAYA — Malaysia coach Lee Nyuk Fah has rested his case that a weak defence is to blame for heavy defeats, as in their last cave-in to South Korea 67-12 at their Asia Rugby Championship in Incheon on Saturday.

Thus, Nyuk Fah’s immediate task is to plug up the department before playing Hong Kong on Saturday.

“Based on my observation against the Koreans, the boys played spiritedly but the weakness was in defence.

“So the South Koreans ran rings easily,” he said when contacted in Incheon.

For the record, world No 45 Malaysia were defeated in both home matches in Kuala Lumpur, losing to South Koreans 35-10 (April 28) and thrashed 67-8 by Hong Kong (May 5).

“We also need to fix fitness too but I don’t think we have time for that.

“So our target now is to avoid unforced errors and buck up in defence,” added Nyuk Fah.

Hong Kong and South Korea have been two of Asia’s strongest teams for years and finished behind Japan in the continental qualification for the 2015 World Cup.

For Malaysia, this is the first time playing in the premier division.

The 2018 champions will face Cook Islands in a home-and-away play-off on June 30 and July 7, with the winners on aggregate joining Canada in the four-team global repechage tournament to provide the 20th and final qualifier for Rugby World Cup 2019 in November.

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Svitolina serves warning

ROME — Elina Svitolina underlined her status as a top favourite for the French Open by sweeping Simona Halep aside 6-0, 6-4 to successfully defend her Italian Open crown yesterday.

In a repeat of last year’s final at the Foro Italico, Ukrainian Svitolina, seeded fourth, was up against Halep a day after the Romanian top seed had ousted Russian Maria Sharapova.

But Halep’s hopes of overturning last year’s defeat to her 23-year-old opponent quickly evaporated in a completely one-sided encounter that saw the Romanian fail to produce a real challenge.

Svitolina, the world No 4, has now successfully defended three career titles, in Baku, Dubai and also Rome; she also won in Brisbane and Dubai this season to take her 2018 title total to three.

The win also marked Svitolina’s 12th career title on what was her eighth final in succession.

“It’s amazing that I could do this here a second time and defend,” said Svitolina. “This is something very, very special.

“Congratulations to Simona, she had a great week of tennis.”

The French Open at Roland Garros starts in just over a week, and Svitolina added: “Roland Garros is still a week away, but this gives me confidence.

“I can’t make any predictions as it’s very tricky in Paris, but I’m sure I will enjoy the next tournament.”

Halep, who was broken four times and lost the opening set in 19 minutes, did not win a game until the start of the second, 24 minutes in.

The world No 1 saved match point before bowing out after 67 minutes.

“Congrats to Elina, she played amazing,” Halep said.

“It’s like this court is now her home. But I didn’t do so badly, reaching the final again. I hope to be back next year.

“Maybe third time lucky for me.”

Halep will take the top seeding for Roland Garros after reaching the final in Rome. — AFP

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Nadal stops angry Djokovic

ROME — Rafa Nadal dismissed old rival Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 on Saturday to reach the Rome Masters final for a record-extending 10th time.

The last-four success will also give the Spanish top seed added confidence ahead of the French Open, where he has won a record 10 titles.

Nadal, still unbeaten in semifinals at the Foro Italico, unleashed a trademark clay-court attack after winning a tight first set lasting well over an hour.

“I’m very happy with my game. It all worked for me, the tactics, the shots,” Nadal said.

“To play against Novak you always have to play at the limit of your game with a high intensity and understand well the tactics you want to play.”

The 31-year-old world No 2 cut the deficit in his head-to-head series with Djokovic to 26-25, after their 51st meeting since first facing off in 2006.

But the Serb complained afterwards about poor scheduling which affected his preparation, playing a late-afternoon quarterfinal on Friday before returning to court on Saturday mid-afternoon.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining about losing the match because of the schedule. But having to end at night and coming back to play early in the day affects a lot,” he said.

“Nobody has ever, ever reached me in my entire career to ask me about what I think would be the best scheduling. I don’t think that is fair, we will address it in the next players’ council.”

Djokovic has rediscovered his form this week after months of elbow injury problems, including an operation earlier this year.

He can also feel his confidence increasing.

“I don’t think there was that much of a difference, which is great news for me. Winning the tie-break was for him a great wind in his back,” said Djokovic.

“Rafa was just better in the important moments, played the better shots. He deserved to win.

“I haven’t had many breaks in the last period, so I’m pleased by how I’ve played in the last days. I hope Roland Garros can be the continuation.”

Nadal now stands 10-8 over Djokovic in semifinals, with the pair having played each other at all four Grand Slam tournaments, the ATP Finals, Davis Cup, the Olympic Games along with eight of the nine Masters events.

Nadal played Alexander Zverev in a late final yesterday. — AFP

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The James phenomenon

CLEVELAND — LeBron James finished with 27 points and 12 assists as the hosts Cleveland Cavaliers sprung to life with a 116-86 win against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday.

Kyle Korver had 14 points and Kevin Love added 13 with 14 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who lost the first two games of the series on the road in Boston.

George Hill totalled 13 points, JR Smith had 11 and Tristan Thompson scored 10.

“I have a huge responsibility for this team,” James told the ABC broadcast after the game. “I have to score, I have to rebound and defend, make sure guys get involved, and I’m OK with that. I’m absolutely OK with that.

“I also have to inspire my teammates to be better. They answered the call tonight, and they need to answer the call at another time (in Game 4).”

Jayson Tatum scored 18 points to lead Boston. Terry Rozier contributed 13 points and both Jaylen Brown and Greg Monroe finished with 10 for the Celtics, who dropped to 1-5 on the road this post-season.

Boston, which is a perfect 9-0 at home in the playoffs, was trying to become the third team ever to take a 3-0 series lead against a James-led squad, which has only been accomplished by the 2007 San Antonio Spurs and the 2017 Golden State Warriors.

“I don’t want to take away from their performance by talking about us,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They deserve all the credit. They deserve to be talked about, because they played great.”

Cleveland shot 48.7 percent (37 of 76) for the game and 50 percent (17 of 34) from three-point range while out-rebounding the visitors 45-34. Boston was limited to 39.2 percent (29 of 74) shooting, going 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) from three.

The Cavaliers led 61-41 at half-time.

Boston, which never led, fell behind by as many as 30 after that. Cleveland’s lead never shrank below 19 in the second half.

Terry Rozier’s layup with 9:26 left in the first quarter had the Celtics within three, but James’ layup at the 9:03 mark sparked a 13-0 run that put Cleveland ahead 20-4. The Cavaliers were up 32-17 after the first.

James improved to 13-0 in the playoffs when his team has led by 15 or more after one quarter. — Reuters

England switch ends Shields’ All Blacks dream

WELLINGTON — Brad Shields’ decision to opt for an England jersey cost him a “probable“ slot in the All Blacks, coach Steve Hansen said yesterday as two new loose forwards were selected for the New Zealand side.

Wellington Hurricanes skipper Shields, whose parents are English, cited constantly being overlooked for the All Blacks as a factor when he switched allegiance to England and won selection for their June tour of South Africa.

Injuries and form forced Hansen to select four inexperienced loose forwards — newcomers Jordan Taufua and Shannon Frizell along with Vaea Fifita and Luke Whitelock who have seven Tests between them.

“It is obviously one of those positions … he (Shields) probably would have made this team this year,” Hansen told Radio Newstalk ZB.

“I wish him all the best. He wants to play Test rugby, he obviously didn’t see a future here.”

With the retirement of Jerome Kaino and injuries to Kieran Read and Liam Squire, Hansen said filling the six and eight jerseys had been a focus for the selectors.

“That’s the thing about the All Blacks — you’ve got to stay resilient because you are always up against someone else as good if not a little better,” added Hansen.

“If you are not prepared to wait for the opportunity and keep working at it you are not going to get it.”

The 33-man squad included three new faces with scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi joining Taufua and Frizell.

Another three players — prop Tim Perry and backs Richie Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue — were involved with the All Blacks on last year’s northern tour but have yet to make their Test debuts.

The 95-Test lock Sam Whitelock will captain the side in the absence of Read who is not expected to start playing again until July following surgery on his spine at the end of last season.

Shields, meanwhile, will continue to live in New Zealand and play Super Rugby for the Hurricanes until the end of the season when he will move to England to join Wasps. — AFP

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The scoop on salt

IT should be a triumphant time for salt in New York. The biggest restaurant opening of the year has been that of Nusr-Et, better known as Salt Bae.

It’s named for chef Nusret Gokçe, who accumulated 13 million Instagram followers — and the nickname Salt Bae — for his theatrical method of seasoning steaks.

Meanwhile, sugar has replaced salt to reign again as the most polarising item in your pantry. (See: New York State Senate Bill S162, which proposes safety warnings for sugar-sweetened drinks.)

Salt even features in the decor at Chefs Club NYC, where a 1300-pound chunk of pink Himalayan salt hangs above the dining room, encased in a glass box.

Yet there’s none on the tables below the display. A recent visit to the SoHo spot made me realise it’s been a long time since I’ve seen salt on a restaurant table in New York.

Salt shakers, once ubiquitous at fancy restaurants, have vanished. That’s deliberate, say top chefs, and there are a few explanations why.

Shakers mostly held cheap salt

The No. 1 reason salt shakers are gone is the quality of the product they held: fine, iodised salt that costs about US$1 (RM3.97) a pound at supermarkets and delivers a harsh blast of saline that can blemish the food it’s supposed to accent.

In this era of elite seasonings, when a restaurant like Estiatorio Milos boasts of hand-harvested sea salt from the Greek islands, an old-school salt shaker isn’t retro — it’s shameful.

“The days of those nasty little salt shakers with the ancient grains of rice are long gone,” declares Josh Capon of Bowery Meat Co.

Chefs don’t like ceding control.

Another reason salt isn’t immediately available to customers: As chefs have gained in fame, they want to be the ones adding it.

“If you go to good restaurants, chefs like to be in charge of the seasoning,” says Capon.

The lack of salt within reach has become more striking as French restaurants have come back into vogue. If salt is missing, it’s more noticeable in an omelette or a roast chicken than in Mission Chinese Food’s spicy Chongqing chicken wings.

“I call it the big Dorito effect,” says chef Andrew Carmellini, whose restaurants include Locanda Verde, Little Park, and Brooklyn’s Leuca.

“There’s been so much umami in foods, so much acid and heat, there’s no room for salt.”

Tables are too crowded

There’s no salt on the tables at Carmellini’s restaurants. He says all the waiter stations have it ready, on request.

“At a restaurant like Locanda, where a lot of dishes like pasta and main courses are shared, and there’s so many plates and platters, it takes clutter off the table,” he says.

I keenly felt the absence of salt at Chefs Club NYC. The new chef-in-residence, Sota Atsumi, who made a name for himself at Paris’s Clown Bar, offers dishes such as “lobster with couscous and 40 spices.”

In spite of the name, it needed seasoning. A modest amount of salt arrived in a small bowl; I almost had to ask for more. “What the chef-in-residence wants, the chef-in-residence gets,” says Aaron Arizpe, the culinary curator at Chefs Club.

“That holds true down to every detail, including whether or not salt is on the table.” He adds that he personally appreciates salt on the table.

“I go out to eat for pleasure, not moderation, and not an education. If I find it pleasurable to add salt to a dish, it should be my prerogative to do so.”

It’s not a good look.

There’s also the style quotient. No one has created an all-purpose replacement for those little shakers. Some chefs favour salt grinders, but that utilitarian aesthetic doesn’t work for every dining room. Others offer photogenic little bowls with flakes of pricey salt, such as Maldon.

Those get expensive, since the salt has to be replaced for each new set of guests. They also get stolen. “Little dishes of salt tend to disappear,” says Capon. “It’s almost as if they have legs. People like small things.”

Chef David Burke concurs. “At a previous restaurant, we had beautiful salt and pepper shakers worth about US$50 (RM199) each at the tables,” he says. “They were almost all stolen within a few months. We learned our lesson.”

One of the few places in New York where salt was waiting when I sat down is the new Simon & the Whale, at the Freehand Hotel. Owner Gabriel Stulman offers it at all his restaurants, including Joseph Leonard and Fairfax.

“If I had to guess why you don’t see salt more often, I would say chef ego: ‘My food is seasoned; you don’t need to season it,’” says Stulman.

He also notes how prohibitively expensive it is to throw out salt. “But you’re not going to keep salt on the table that someone you don’t know touched. That’s gross.”

There’s salt on the table at Eleven Madison Park, currently the world’s No. 1 restaurant. Chef Daniel Humm was so taken with the product he found years ago at the Amagansett Sea Salt Co, he now has a standing weekly order.

Note, however, that this lovely salt is served with EMP’s bread course. And then it’s whisked away. — Bloomberg

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A rare look inside Oman

Oman feels like an oasis of calm in a region afflicted by a deepening sectarian conflict.

Omanis slip into the nearest mosque to pray, not caring whether it’s run by Ibadis, Shiites or Sunnis.

Civil service and military jobs are open for all. And the determination to preserve the country’s strong national identity is evident on the streets of Muscat.

Rather than the glitz of glass and steel towers that define other Gulf metropolises, Muscat has low-rise beige villas with traditional arches and windows enclosed with carved wood latticework.

Being neutral and independent has served the country well over the decades, making it a key conduit for trade and diplomacy in the turbulent Middle East.

The problem is that it looks less viable as Oman succumbs to the all-too-familiar financial strains of countries reliant on petrodollars and the geopolitics of its location. — Bloomberg

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Texas students take solace in baseball after shooting

WASHINGTON — Thirty-six hours after several classmates were gunned down in a massacre, Santa Fe High School athletes took the field on Saturday to partake in a long-standing and, for at least one evening, healing Texas pastime: Baseball.

The setting spring sun cast a golden glow as umpires dusted red dirt off the home plate and the crowd settled in the bleachers, all in preparation for a game that until Friday’s killings was never expected to attract much attention.

Ten people, mostly students, were killed and 13 wounded when a teenage classmate armed with a shotgun and a revolver opened fire in the Santa Fe High School on Friday.

When the announcer introduced the Santa Fe Indians — whose pitcher was shot in the back of the head by the gunman, miraculously survived and joined his team for the opening line-up — the crowd of about 1,000 erupted in cheers.

Despite their star Rome Shubert’s near death, and Santa Fe families preparing to bury loved ones, the team voted to play its Saturday play-off game as a show of strength and a means of catharsis in the face of tragedy.

“This is very, very important,” Andie Martinez, a 16-year-old Santa Fe junior, said of the game before the crowd rose for a moment of silence.

“You can just see how the community came together in this,” she said. The shooter, identified as a 17-year old student, “tried to break us apart but the community stands strong.”

Shubert was among 13 people wounded in the school shooting.

“I’m so greatful (sic) and blessed that god spared me life today,” Shubert wrote on Twitter, barely five hours after he was shot.

“Today I was shot in the back of the head but I am completely okay and stable.”

Trent Beazley, a catcher on the team, was also injured when a bullet grazed his side.

Neither teen played, but both suited up and sat in the dugout to cheer on their teammates.

“We Are With You,” read one sign taped to the bleachers.

The Indians held their own in the first inning, but by the second, they found themselves down 5-0, and the starting pitcher was pulled.

Emma Clark, a Santa Fe senior who is set to graduate in just two weeks, chalked up the tentative play to jitters and the emotional weight of the tragedy.

“These boys sleep, eat and breath baseball. So I feel like yeah, it probably has affected them some, but it’s made them stronger,” she said. — AFP

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Cuba in mourning after worst air crash in 30 years

HAVANA — Cuba observed a weekend of national mourning for victims of its worst crash in nearly three decades that killed 110 passengers and crew.

An investigation has been launched into Friday’s crash of the nearly 40-year-old Boeing 737-200 leased to the national carrier Cubana de Aviacion by a Mexican company.

Three women pulled alive from the mangled wreckage and in hospital in critical condition were the only survivors.

The Boeing crashed shortly after taking off from Havana, coming down in a field near the airport and sending a thick column of acrid smoke into the air.

The circumstances echoed those of Cubana de Aviacion’s worst air disaster nearly 30 years ago, in September 1989, when an Ilyushin 62 plane crashed on take-off from Havana as it was headed to Italy. That disaster killed all 126 people on the plane, mainly Italian tourists, as well as around 45 people on the ground.

In Friday’s crash, most of the 104 passengers were Cuban, with five foreigners, including two Argentines, among them.

Cuba’s Transport Minister Adel Yzquierdo told reporters one of the plane’s two black boxes had been recovered in “good condition” and the other was likely to be found within hours.

Among the dead were 99 Cubans, six Mexican crew members, and five foreign tourists: Two from Western Sahara, a Mexican tourist and an Argentine couple.

Communist Party leader and former president Raul Castro said flags were flown at half-mast throughout the country.

Castro sent his condolences to families bereaved in the “catastrophic accident”, a statement read.

In Mexico City, anguished relatives and colleagues of the crew gathered outside the company’s offices demanding information — some of them hugging and crying.

Global Air had the necessary permits to lease it, and had passed inspections in November last year, according to the company. The crashed aircraft was one of its fleet of three Boeing 737s. — AFP

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