Every year brings a massive tide of change in the sport, some that define a way forward for it whilst others, too resistant to change, hijack cricket from expanding its wings.
But 2021 was such a year where, all thanks to massive rounds of the game, one that’s today played in 150 countries would you believe it, furthered Cricket’s all encompassing idea of bringing more to witness a spectacle.
A celebration of sorts!
Which moments, therefore, defined the best of cricket in 2021 and which, in the process, also underlined some glaring realities?
Thailand Women’s team gave it everything in 2021
2021 was the year where Thailand women’s national cricket team continued to rise, going as far as stunning more powerful and experienced sides in the 2022 Women’s 50-over world cup qualifiers, which is when the ICC decided to call off the event in the wake of rising COVID cases.
While Pakistan women were the only side that were able to curtail the Chaiwai-led team’s stormy rise, teams like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and USA were given a raw deal by a band of girls who played passionate, positive cricket. A team that actually went as far as putting the ICC ODI world cup trophy on every member’s phone’s wallpaper in a bid to motivate the unit to give their best in the games.
With the useful off spinners of Boochatham (5 for 26 vs Bangladesh) worked magic in the contest, it were the collective batting efforts of Chanida Sutthiruang, who’ll soon be a prominent all rounder (at the big stage), Natthakan Chantham and Sornnarin Tippoch that elevated Thailand’s batting to a different level.
Something that was evident in their maiden away tour to Zimbabwe,where they thrashed the hosts in T20Is with much glee.
Pakistan men’s side showed they are here to be the best
There’s more to Babar Azam than his gorgeous cover drive. There’s more to left-arm pacer Shaheen than his Afridi surname. And likewise, there’s so much more to the often underrated Mohd. Rizwan.
These three and the others in a powerful and determined unit elevated Pakistan to a new status of sorts in the 2021 T20 world cup, a league where they played like kings and nearly went through before Australia sobered them up in the end.
But for all that Pakistan did in a format where they’ve already won a prized title in the days of Younis Khan’s captaincy, the team came, conquered hearts and made an impression that many mighty maulers failed to replicate.
Think the two time world champions, West Indies. Think the big guns England, also T20 world cup winners.
Had Australia not kept their cool in the big-stage of the ICC T20 2021 world cup, there’s little reason to doubt the fact that Pakistan would so easily have marched on into the finals where, who knows, they could have even bungled out the Kiwis?
But even after the world cup, Babar’s team soldiered on and defeated Bangladesh comprehensively in the Tests, proving that nothing changed about their approach toward playing cricket wholeheartedly, and that what did, after all, was the format. Not the winning edge.
In a few hours from now, they’ll look to clean up the visiting Windies side, just as well as they’d messed up the Calypsonian talents earlier in August, and that too, miles away from a Rawalpindi, Karachi or Peshawar.
It was a year of upsets for an India that still salvaged something from 2021
One of the moments that defined cricket in 2021 was KL Rahul lording at Lord’s (129) in compiling a dogged hundred against the likes of James Anderson. A contest that truly revived a career that had slowed down and perhaps largely due to rising expectations and massive on-job responsibilities of an Indian cricketer who plays copious sums of cricket all year.
Another sight that made 2021 a great year for cricket in India was the coming together of four talents, two each from the New Zealand and Indian camp, to make for a brilliant sight at the conclusion of the Mumbai Test where India won the Test.
In Rachin (Ravindra of NZ), Jadeja (Ravindra of India), Axar (Patel of India) and Patel (Ajaz of New Zealand), Cricket saw a beautiful melange of distinct talents that came together to produce one heck of a series at the back of the 2021 T20 world cup.
While Ajaz Patel’s 10-for turned out to be a massive Kiwi feat on Indian soil, his opponents played a mega brand of cricket built on painstaking consistency, as evident from India’s smashing of the Kiwis in the T20Is and later, through Iyer and Mayank’s vital hundreds.
But were these vital runs something the likes of Pujara and Rahane, both horribly out of form, would quite like against their names in 2022? The world knows the answer. But what could be the chances of the two Test heroes finding several opportunities to score from in the new year?
That said, among the moments that defined cricket in 2021, painting the sport in not-so-bright colours was the way India, a powerhouse of the game, crashes out of the World Cup. The defeat to Pakistan notwithstanding, the meagre surrender to New Zealand showed India were actually far too brittle- and not intimidating- as one may have thought. Yet, all of that seemed bearable when one reminisced and there’ll be many who always will, that enormous moment when India beat Australia in Australia by breaching the fortress called The Gabba.
In an exhibition of brave, fearless batting, one saw Pant hitting the winning runs in a hotly contested fourth inning chase. Though, that wasn’t before Pujara actually putting himself on the line for India’s cause as the visitors sparkled many a mile away from India.
Was the Gabba triumph a win of cricket’s great spirit? And yet, this wasn’t all; there was more to India than just this positive in 2021.
With Kohli no longer the T20I captain and now, Rohit primed to assume the leadership role, it doesn’t take one to be a Scorpion to note that these are “winds of change” in Indian cricket and they’ll probably bring something new to one of the game’s greatest contingents.
The year where the Wall came back to guard his country
Among the finest reasons to watch cricket in 2021, particularly toward the fag end of what had been a long season, was the appointment of “The Wall” Rahul Dravid as the head coach of the men’s senior team.
Forget the 13,228 runs under his belt or the 36 Test tons or even the countless hours spent at the wicket in slaying bowlers’ careers, Dravid epitomises the will a great battle.
Precisely the qualities the present generation of cricketers around him will look to learn from a no-nonsense cricketer who likes conduct himself the way he actually is- simple and uncomplicated.
One certainly hopes that such will be the culture of the dressing room Dravid will successfully help create, negating shenanigans, replacing it with simplicity and harder focus on improving one’s standard of game since the world expects outworldly things from a cricket-obsessed India.
And among the other things Dravid will look to build in his latest albeit mega assignment, one can’t help to see him test the bench strength of the side. Expect some tough calls then?
The rise of the Hundred
The Hundred will continue to remind us of it’s novelty in that it is among cricket’s most enterprising ideas when it comes to increasing the vocation of a cricketer, giving the sport a brand new outlet to express itself and putting in an exciting fast-paced car some very exciting names from around the world.
In doing all of that, it became a fine ride and among the best moments of cricket in 2021. At a time where a string of high profile talents withdrew their names from the participation in the format’s maiden edition, think Alyssa Healy, Beth Mooney, and Meg Lanning, the likes of Jemimah Rodrigues upped the ante of interest in the league at the back of her thunderous batting.
An exhibition of glorious hitting that yielded 241 runs from 5 matches, the most by any cricketer- male or female- in the league. It would also turn out to be an effort that found elite mention by none other than Kevin Pietersen, who at the back of seeing Rodrigues’ adventurous batting, called her his favourite ‘current cricketer.’
The Proteas Women played sensational cricket
In a sport where the troika of Australia, England and India habitually dominate discussion and make headlines, little is reserved to appreciate the deeds of other teams. The others that exist in periphery of a core structure, much like the bees around a beehive.
And in extracting nothing but the best from their craft, the Proteas women played such a wonderful, united and determined style of cricket in 2021 that the audience couldn’t help but feel sweet about it all.
Not losing a single bilateral series it contested this year, the Proteas women were driven by the smashing batting of Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt, both of whom fired runs back in South Africa as well as against sub-continental forces.
Lee sparked a magnificent 132 in an ODI in 2021 whilst the troika of du Preez, Tasmin Brits and Anne Bosch furthered their growing careers.
For the first time in multiple decades did the Proteas women go on to whip India in India and all that the hosts could do was to stand there completely dumbed. But victories and glories had been coming South Africa’s way even before they arrived in Lucknow to please one and all- fans, contemporaries and Nawabs alike as they waged a great assault on Pakistan back home.
When batters did their jobs then the likes of Ayabonga Khaka and Shabnim Ismail along with Marizanne Kapp would deliver the goods, read bamboozle the wickets.
Interestingly, it was one of the most determined and courageous of all Proteas cricketers in Mignon du Preez who brought further pride to the South Africa camp by emerging as the highest run getter in WBBL of 2021. Her 414 runs carting down bowlers left, right and centre for the Hobart Hurricanes.
A Year where Mitch Marsh found lost groove & Warner resurrected himself in some style
The world had and for reasons best known to it, nearly discarded David Warner having never really cared too much about Mitchell Marsh anyway.
In some ways, it could be argued fans too cared ever so less about Mitchell Marsh, specifically speaking, and that could have been down to one’s obsession about a certain Steven Smith.
Moreover, with focus resting on popular players, such as new leader Pat Cummins, there wasn’t much noted about Mitchell Marsh, who starting the series in the West Indies had transformed himself into a dangerous top order batsman (having already proven his worth as a useful medium fast option).
But akin to a thunderstorm that strikes after the clouds have gathered and hovered around a piece of unsuspecting land, Marsh struck gold, much like the jersey colours he proudly wears, in cricket’s elite world cup stage.
And together with David Warner, 289 runs from the T20 world cup, made 2021 the year of his great comeback.
Though the knock that would continue to be hailed alongside veteran Warner’s watchful tempo-giving 53 (off 38) would be Marsh’s 77 not out, which came off just 50 deliveries.
It would turn out to be the perfect antithesis to what was arguably speaking the finest half century in any T20 World Cup in a long time: Williamson’s attacking, and yet, well composed 85 off 48.
Marsh, during his sixth T20I fifty, would revive a run chase that did appear sluggish after Finch departed quickly and later, struck massive blows on an otherwise promising attack that none would take lightly in a white-ball contest, let alone in a world cup final.
On the other hand, those who were found putting idle time into David Warner meme-making post the rough handling he was subjected to by SRH, were perhaps shown the mirror by a magnificent comeback in the world cup stage.
Of all contests, Warner chose a mega ICC series to unleash the beast within, one that may have gone a little drowsy and perhaps even circumspect given the sluggish nature of cricket in the Pandemic-riddled world.
But it was silly, stupid even to have doubted Warner’s potential to fire at the back of one ordinary T20 league-based run. And there he was, firing big shots with much aplomb and quintessential fearlessness as he’d get busy in writing a new chapter in his career that’s anything but over.
And one in reference to which you’d say that it has only just begun hitting runs all over again. This is after 15,000 international runs and 43 hundreds against Warner’s name.
Au Revoir Bravo and maybe, Gayle too?
Gayle’s still got it. He says, not Sir Curtly. But what do you reckon? Meanwhile, Bravo, clearly aware that he had given it his all having even comeback from retirement, took the right call. He made, what you could say was the right call in retiring from the sport at the end of an unbearable-to-watch, horrid West Indian campaign.
A series where two-time world champions Windies, who were also the defending champions at one stage, entered with the objective to win- the end result was a bitter outcome.
More like a fancy honeymoon hotel being razed to the ground at the outbreak of merciless carpet bombing by a rogue state.
The way Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and England mowed down the West Indies, fans- past, current and recent- were left wondering whether the team that was playing was even a world champion side?
A scoreboard that read 55 all out in its first round of taking the ground, then against England, put up a lot of questions that perhaps went unanswered.
What was West Indies’ motivation before entering the big series? Was there any in the first place? What sense did it possibly make to place among the best all-rounders in the game in Jason Holder in a reserve list and have no Rovman Powell, Alzarri Joseph in the playing eleven?
What sense did it make to feature Roston Chase in a T20 world cup when the credentials, if any, were those that belonged to undisputedly decent success in a Caribbean Premier League and not in a serious bilateral series?
One suspects, the coaches and administrators have still not found an answer to the great nadir that’s hurting West Indian cricket- a lack of cohesive planning, laying down of methodical, executable plans to chart the islands’ future growth trajectory!