We are at the end of an incredible year in the world of cricket.
Many amazing performances and a few forgettable ones made 2021 a year to remember. Quite a lot happened over the last 12 months. Below is a list of the highs and lows of the year:
New Zealand the champions of cricket
They won the World Test championship in 2021. Came agonisingly close to lifting the 50-over World title in 2019. And lost to Australia in the T20 World Cup final in Dubai this year. The Black Caps are quite simply the best team of the modern generation. No other team has come close to them in terms of consistency at major tournaments. Just enjoy this vintage group of Kiwi cricketers.
Rizwan the star
The year belonged to Pakistan wicketkeeper Mohammed Rizwan. He shattered the record for most T20 runs in a calendar year - his tally of 1326 almost 400 more than the next best Babar Azam, also in 2021 – and became the cog around which Pakistan cricket’s wheel turned. His ever present smile cleverly masked a ruthless batting machine, who is set to dominate all formats.
UAE launches T20 League
The UAE has hosted many top-tier tournaments. It was time to get their very own T20 franchise league. And the Emirates Cricket Board has delivered, in the form of Premier League T20 – a six-team tournament that is scheduled to start early next year. It is indeed a high-profile league, with IPL franchises, Glazer family of Manchester United and other big names involved.
We have T20 and T10. Can’t have T5, so how about The Hundred? England attempted to revamp the game and give a new product to cricket fans who have a number of options to choose from. Southern Brave claimed the inaugural men's title at Lord's, but the response to the innovative 100-ball format was mixed. As every league in the world has realised, having the best players from across the world for the entire tournament is the only formula for success.
Pakistan beat India at World Cup
Records are meant to be broken. This one took a long time though. After losing to India in 12 World Cup matches, Pakistan finally won one against their arch rivals. And what a victory it was in Dubai. A sensational new-ball burst by Shaheen Afridi and then an unbeaten century stand between the irrepressible Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan completed a 10-wicket win.
Depleted India’s miracle win in Australia
By the end of the Border Gavaskar series, India barely had 11 fit players to take field, such was the length of their injury list. And despite getting bowled out for 36 in Adelaide, the India reserve team mounted of the best comebacks to win the series 2-1 against a full strength Aussie side. Washington Sundar, T Natarajan and Shardul Thakur might not end up with hefty Test careers but played their part in one of the greatest Test heists.
Aussies win elusive T20 trophy
Not many backed the Aussies to shine at the World Cup in the UAE, with the men in gold and green making it to the knockouts on net run rate. They seemed down and out in the semi-final against an in-form Pakistan. Then Matthew Wade hit three audacious sixes against pacer of the tournament Shaheen Afridi to clinch a thrilling chase. In the final, Josh Hazlewood’s three-for restricted Black Caps 172, leaving David Warner and Mitchell Marsh to secure the elusive T20 world title.
UAE the place to be
As the world struggled to contain the pandemic effectively, the UAE became a safe destination for sporting events of all disciplines. The Indian Premier League was called off earlier in the year following a surge in cases within the teams. The T20 World Cup also could not be held in India. Both tournaments were moved to the UAE, and held back-to-back towards the end of the year. The ability of the UAE to host world-class events is truly unparalleled.
Ajaz’s perfect 10
Only two players in the century-plus history of Test cricket had picked up 10 wickets in an innings. New Zealand left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel became the third, against India. Even though the Kiwis lost miserably in the Mumbai Test, they now have one of the most coveted records in cricket. Incredibly, Patel was dropped from the squad for the next series against Bangladesh.
Kohli out … almost
He had just guided the Indians to a 2-1 Test series lead in England. But this was a year where Virat Kohli the captain lost considerable ground. He decided to relinquish India’s T20 captaincy at the end of the World Cup and also announced that the IPL in UAE would be his last as skipper of Bangalore. After India failed miserably in the UAE, the writing was on the wall and Kohli was pushed out of the ODI leadership post as well, and quite ruthlessly. He is still the Test captain but not with as firm a grip as before.
When the Taliban took over control of Afghanistan, the fate of its cricketers was not clear. The political upheaval happened very close to the T20 World Cup, which was far from ideal. But the Afghans did play in the UAE, and gave a good account of themselves by thrashing Scotland by a massive 130 runs and coming close to defeating Pakistan. They truly are a tough bunch of cricketers.
End of an era
No one embodies T20 cricket quite like the West Indies do. Two World Cup titles are proof of that. But the sticky surfaces in the UAE made power hitting very difficult, negating the Caribbean team’s strength to a great degree. Even with T20 mega stars Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard, the Windies were blown away – getting dismissed for 55 by England the lowest point.
Trail by spin
England toured India earlier in the year, eyeing a spot in the World Test Championship final at home. They started well, winning emphatically in Chennai. But in the next three Tests, India went for something resembling a scorched earth policy. Out came the rank turners, especially in the last two Tests in Ahmedabad where Joe Root took 5-8 with his off-spin. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel was a nightmare with the skiddy pink ball, taking 27 wickets in six innings at an average of 10 as India won the series 3-1 and qualified for the WTC final. Don’t think it was great cricket, to be honest.
Pandemic going nowhere
Cricket has barely got back on its feet. But a new wave of coronavirus cases is threatening to wreak havoc. Pakistan’s ODI series against the West Indies was postponed as their opponents did not have enough players to take the field after an outbreak in the squad. The Ashes has seen cases in the broadcast crew and media. The next few months could be brutal.
Tim Paine was entrusted with the task of rebuilding Australian cricket’s image in the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal. He did that to the best of his abilities, but a texting scandal on the eve of the Ashes made his position as Australia Test captain – considered the second most important job in the country after that of the prime minister – untenable. And just like that, the man who resurrected Australian cricket was gone.
Pranks go mainstream
It started off as a seemingly innocent pitch invasion by a prankster who goes by the name of Jarvo during the second Test between England and India at Lord’s. Turns out, he is a YouTuber with a decent following, and he did that over the next two Tests, ending up running into Jonny Bairstow and getting arrested. He has moved on to disrupting other sporting events, and is getting more clicks than ever.
Bangladesh’s home strategy
Bangladesh had an utterly forgettable T20 World Cup in the UAE. But the year promised a lot more, with the Tigers hammering Australia 4-1 and then the Kiwis 3-2 on some substandard pitches at home. Watching teams struggle to score 120 in a T20 match made for some remarkable viewing, although it got painful to watch after a point.
Some very big names decided to quit the international game this year. South Africa’s AB De Villiers, Mr Cricket if there ever was one, called time on a remarkable career where absolutely nothing was beyond his reach with the bat or in the field. Caribbean star Dwayne Bravo’s T20 calypso won’t entertain us anymore. Australia quick James Pattinson has called it quits as well. And towards the end of the year, India’s World Cup winner Harbhajan Singh retired from the game. The list is long, and full of nostalgia.
Remembering the greats
Unfortunately, cricket bid the final goodbye to some loyal practitioners in 2021. Australia Test greats Ashley Mallett and Alan Davidson, India’s 1983 World Cup hero Yashpal Sharma and legendary England players Ted Dexter and Ray Illingworth passed away this year. That game will be poorer in their absence.
Even more IPL
If you thought the Indian Premier League leaves a disproportionately large imprint on international cricket, wait for 2022 when there will be 10 teams competing after two new franchises were announced. More matches will mean a bigger slice of the calendar for the T20 league, which is great news for Indian cricket stakeholders, but not so for the rest of the world.
The forever cycle
Get used to having a major ICC tournament every year in the immediate future. There is the T20 World Cup in Australia next year and the 50-over World Cup in India the year after. Then, you get an ICC event every single year – T20 World Cup, 50-over World Cup, Champions Trophy – until 2031. Forget about build-up or planning for a cycle. Cricket and fans are on the hamster wheel now.