Year in Review 2020: Firstpost’s sports writers pick their favourite sporting moment of 2020, what they hope for 2021

Firstpost's sports writers weighed in with their favourite sporting moment of 2020, and what they're looking forward to in 2021:

FP Sports December 30, 2020 16:19:39 IST
Year in Review 2020: Firstpost’s sports writers pick their favourite sporting moment of 2020, what they hope for 2021

Jimmy Butler, Alyssa Healy and Rafael Nadal.

This year has seen the usual and the unusual. In the world of sports, the usual was with regard to the likes of Rafael Nadal, Bayern Munich, Ben Stokes and Mumbai Indians becoming champions and winning titles.

The unusual? Of course the pandemic and its consequences. No sports at all for a few months followed by behind-closed-door matches. Lionel Messi wanting to leave his beloved Barcelona and Liverpool finally winning the Premier League title after 30 years.

Like every year, sports lovers and journalists had their favourite moments. And as the year shifts to new number, the same set of people also have new hopes.

Here, Firstpost’s sports writers weigh in with their favourite sporting moment of 2020, and their hope from 2021:

Favourite sporting moment of 2020

Jimmy Butler single-handedly dragging Miami Heat to Game 5 win

With 46.7 seconds left on the clock, Jimmy Butler hunches over an advertising board. His team, Miami Heat, are trailing by a point against the LA Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Miami, at this point, have 46.7 seconds to save their season. The league’s already rolled out confetti machines anticipating the Lakers winning their 17th title. By this point, Butler’s running on fumes, having rested for just 49 seconds during the game. “That’s an image of a champion, before you’re a champion,” says Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. It’s a wonder that he’s even standing at this moment, let alone going toe-to-toe against LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both of whom have found a hot scoring streak. Somehow, Butler wills himself up, and drags the Miami to victory with a 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist, and five-steal stat line.  (Amit Kamath)

Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic in one-sided French Open final

Had to be. For a professed Roger Federer tragic to gloat over the success of Swiss’ greatest rival is proof enough of Rafael Nadal’s enduring legacy, as is the small matter of cruising to an insane 13th French Open win that also put him at par with Federer’s 20 Slams. Nadal was unstoppable in the tournament; never breaking a sweat, never dropping a set, never in doubt of his destiny. Under the freshly installed roof at Court Philippe Chatrier, in the cold and wet French capital, amid a raging pandemic, the Spaniard’s searing ace to seal Djokovic’s submission was among the few slivers of sanity. Not always do you find the Serb at the receiving end of a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 scoreline, but then, not always do you witness greatness in all its glory. Sporting moment of the year? Had to be. (Shantanu Srivastava)

The Cummins and Hazlewood nine

It has happened quite recently. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ripping apart India batting, in what was a display of some marvellous seam bowling, in an hour or so, may have crushed hearts of the Indian fans, including this writer, but it remains one of the finest displays from sportsmen at the peak of their skills.

Giving no respite to the Indians — who could not judge the length properly, and failed to manufacture neither the jail-break shots nor defence — Cummins and Hazlewood exposed their weaknesses in the away conditions, one ball at a time.

When Day 3 began, experts gave India 60 percent chance of winning the first Test at Adelaide, but it all changed in matter of about 30 minutes, with one India batsman edging behind after the other. When Team India eventually got bundled out for 36, they had registered their lowest total in Test history.

Hazlewood finished with a five wicket haul and Cummins was rewarded with four wickets for consistently hitting the right areas. The madness was reflected in both how India lost wickets, running into the ground all the good work done in the past two days, making it a memorable sporting moment in 2020, for me (Shubham Pandey).

Naomi Osaka makes a mark at US Open - without her racket

Naomi Osaka won her third major title at the US Open in the first Grand Slam back from the COVID-19 truncated season. Over the course of three weeks she reached the final of the Western & Southern Open (shifted to New York) and lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows. But her run would be remembered less for her tennis and more for what she did without the racket in her hand.

The 23-year-old made each and every foray to the court a talking point by wearing the name of victim of police violence on her face mask. And if that wasn't a fitting and bold statement already, she put it into words as well. "What was the message you wanted to send?" Osaka was asked. "What was the message you got?" she asked back.

And with that, the Japan-born tennis ace, who has a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, spoke up about an issue that has troubled the heart of the country she's called home since a child. (Tanuj Lakhina)

Bayern thrashing Barcelona

It is strangely satisfying when a blockbustre sporting match-up actually lives up to the hype. Over the years, the UEFA Champions League, European football's best club competition, has served quite a few scintillating contests. The pandemic meant no football for months and there were doubts whether the footballing world will see a Champions League winner in 2020. But UEFA took the decision to finish the tournament in Lisbon and remaining matches were played in a knockout format.

Barcelona met Bayern Munich on 14 August for a place in the semi-final. What followed was carnage.

The destruction was not limited to the football field, a football institution fell and world's best player, Lionel Messi, was left disgruntled and pushed hard for a divorce with the club. The cracks were already visible, both on the field and off it. By smashing eight goals past Barcelona, Bayern ensured there was complete dismantling of the club. A week later, Bayern ended up winning the title.

It is strangely satisfying when a behemoth is left to rubbish. (Anish Anand)

Women’s T20 World Cup final at sold-out MCG breaks records

Playing a World Cup final in front of a capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) crowd is a dream for many a cricketer. And while the iconic venue has hosted several big-ticket encounters as far as men’s cricket goes, the same however, cannot be said for the women’s game.

It is in this context that the Women’s T20 World Cup final between Australia and India at ‘The G’ on Women’s Day not only is my pick for favourite sporting memory from the bygone year, but will stand out as an era-defining moment for women’s cricket in hindsight.

An upward trend that began with the ICC Women’s ODI World Cup final at the Lord’s in 2017 was taken to a whole new level in this match, which witnessed Katy Perry enthral fans before the game and the hosts decimate the Indians by 85 runs in front of nearly 90,000 screaming fans — which nearly broke the record for the highest attendance in a women’s sporting event. (Amit Banerjee)

Talisman Ben Stokes pulls off another all-round performance

Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Ben Stokes has fashioned himself as that kind of a man for England. In 2019, the World Cup was on the line against New Zealand and so was the Ashes. But England boasted of Ben Stokes, the talismanic all-rounder who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on both occasions. And then, in an unusual year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Stokes, as usual, dished out a match-winning performance.

England risked losing the Wisden Trophy to Windies after the latter took a 1-0 lead in the three Tests. In the second Test, Stokes was at his versatile best, bringing up his slowest Test ton in the first essay and slamming a 57-ball 78 in the second. He also accounted for three batsmen in the match, two of which were well set.

"Everyone understands that we are watching a player at the peak of his powers, at the peak of world cricket, who is delivering time and time again," Root said about "Mr. Incredible" Stokes after the match. (Sameer Chhabra) 

Sergio Perez wins the Sakhir Grand Prix

What is it about an underdog story that is so captivating? Why do we gravitate towards tales of victory against all odds? Is it the spirit shown by our down and out heroes? Is it the redemption that comes of disproving the naysayers? Is it that they're more relatable than proven winners?

I suppose a little bit of all of this applies to Sergio Perez. Otherwise known as Checo, Perez has been a part of Formula 1 for a decade now, having signed with Sauber way back in 2011. He’s had a few podium finishes, a couple of memorable races, but mostly, he’s known and loved for his personality above all else.

This season was tough for Perez, as he parted ways with Racing Point after having gone to hell and back with the team through their various incarnations. As the penultimate race of the campaign approached, the future began to look bleak for Checo, who, at the time, had failed to secure a spot in another team, and looked set to sit out the 2021 season.

But it was at Sakhir that Sergio Perez would shine. He qualified in fifth place, which was already a good sign, but he was quickly moved into 18th place when a collision with Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen in the opening lap cost him precious time. What followed was a comeback of epic proportions, as the Mexican painstakingly fought his way to his first-ever win in the Formula 1, thanks to some hard work and a little slice of luck. Fast forward a month, and Perez is now signed with Red Bull, in a storybook reversal of fortune that feels like it was stolen straight from a movie. (Aadi Nair)

Shikhar Dhawan's consecutive tons in IPL 

In a tournament where most of their top-order batsmen failed to impress often, Delhi Capitals’ Shikhar Dhawan proved otherwise with back-to-back centuries in IPL 2020. In the 13-season history of the cash-rich league, this was the first-ever time that a batsman scored back-to-back tons. And no DC fan would have asked for a better player than Dhawan to revel in such a fashion.

Those two centuries against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) around mid-October was yet another example of Dhawan being Mr Dependable for DC, or whichever team he plats for, no matter the situation.

What made his centuries all the more special was, in his 13-year IPL career, those were his first-ever tons in the league, making him only the second Indian batsman to score multiple centuries in a season after Virat Kohli (four in 2016).

Dhawan eventually finished as DC’s highest-scorer, with 618 runs, including two hundreds and four fifties. (PN Vishnu)

Hope for 2021

Curry, Durant, Irving at their peak

One game: That’s how many competitive games of Steph Curry the world has seen in 2020, thanks to a injury, and an abbreviated NBA season thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Curry’s former Warriors teammate, Kevin Durant, has not played competitively since rupturing his Achilles tendon in the NBA Finals in 2019.

Durant’s current Brooklyn Nets teammate, Kyrie Irving, has not been in competitive action since undergoing shoulder surgery in February.

The three-point shooting juggernaut Curry, elite attacking phenom Durant, and dribbling wizard Irving are without doubt the most mercurial basketball players in the league at the moment. As the league returns for another strange season, one hopes that these three stay in peak health to light up the league once again. (Amit Kamath)

Indian athletes finding their voice… and spine

Circa 2016. The captain of the Indian cricket team gives a thumbs-up to demonetisation when economists the world over were still deciphering the fine print. Virat Kohli’s hot take was by no means the first instance of a celebrity batting for the ruling government, and certainly won’t be the last. But what has truly unnerved this writer is the stony silence of elite Indian athletes on matters of civil liberties and justice. In recent years, as the government has come down heavily on students, activists, and dissenters, country’s sportspersons – revered and loved across ideologies – could have offered the proverbial balm. By contrast, athletes the world over have spoken up against racism, using their stature to send a message of inclusivity and equality. The ongoing farmers’ protests has drawn some reaction from a section of athletes, but the big guns have simply looked away. One can only hope for our icons to wriggle out of their slumber and speak up. Looks unlikely, but that’s what makes hope such a beautiful beast. (Shantanu Srivastava)

Rohit Sharma as ODI and T20I captain

Harbouring hope in 'New India', that too in the year 2020, is both challenging and comforting. Challenging, because one sees one hope crushed after the other. Comforting, because as one hope dies, another takes birth and that is how we have been surviving really.

So if I have to hope for something good to happen in 2021, I would want many things. In sports, it would be to see Rohit Sharma lead the Men in Blue in coloured clothing, in both the formats. He has stopped 'appearing' as the right candidate today to lead the Indian team, he has surpassed all tests to be the better candidate now. Five-time IPL champion, won the Asia Cup (50-overs), won the Nidahas Trophy and chipped in every now and then in the absence of Virat. This is not a slight on Virat, but one has to give the right man the right job.

I would also like to see Virat focussing only on his batting and extending his career. I don't how long he will last, given the ever-growing pressure of his own consistency, and the added burden of captaining India across formats.

Anyway, I am ready for this hope to be crushed. (Shubham Pandey)

Fans back in numbers

Enough of the empty stadiums and fabricated noise for the TV audience. Enough of the makeshift "support" (cardboard cutouts, robots, stuffed toys!?). Enough of the natural noise of each thud of the football being hit. For 2021, I hope fans are back and back in good numbers. Some sports already have marginal support back, but the decibel level remains low, the atmosphere remains uninspiring. Hope all that changes in 2021. As Ander Herrera put it, "It's s***, horrible. Football without fans is nothing. I hope all the people realise football is for fans." (Tanuj Lakhina)

Liverpool winning the Premier League title again

It was clear even before the pandemic-induced break that Liverpool will end their 30-year wait for a league title. It just a matter of few victories. When Premier League resumed, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool sealed the title in June with seven games to spare. It was much-deserved. There were question marks on Liverpool's appetite to be in the race again after agonisingly missing the title by one point in the 2018-19 season. They had won the Champions League the same season so maybe the players will be reeling from factors like fatigue and complacency. But Klopp and his players were more than determined to win their first Premier League title.

Before the start of the current season, Liverpool were favourites to lift the trophy again but then suffered one cruel blow after another. A mauling against Aston Villa followed by injuries to most important players in the squad. Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Thiago Alcantara, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Diogo Jota, James Milner, Joel Matip, Kostas Tsimikas, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all missed matches due to injuries. Van Dijk and Joe Gomez, two world-class starting centre-backs for the club, will probably not feature again this season.

The fixture congestion and injuries have riled Klopp so much that he was involved in an on-camera argument with BT Sport’s Des Kelly. Despite all of it, Liverpool are currently top of the league. The youngsters in the squad have been very impressive. This author is a shameless Liverpool FC fanatic, and there's a desperate need to see Jordan Henderson lifting the trophy again in 2021. This season's title would mean a lot more and hopefully it is done in front of a packed Anfield. (Anish Anand)

Better coverage and overall growth of women’s sport

Female athletes are certainly starting to get their due in recent years. Whether it’s the US Women’s Football team winning trophies on the field and fighting for better wages off it, or cricket witnessing sold out finals in women’s ICC events in 2017 and 2020, things are certainly looking better in the current generation.

However, there’s still a long way to go as far as recognition of women’s sport is concerned with regards to investment and coverage. In cricket, the women’s game could do with an IPL of its own instead of the usual array of exhibition matches that are clubbed with men’s tournament since 2018. And the spark ignited by the USWNT should grow into a wildfire that should purge the sport globally of the problems that had plagued the women’s game over the years.

I, for one, would love to see a full-fledged Women’s IPL this year with a coverage that’s at par with the men’s IPL. If that’s too much for me to ask, well then let’s just start with India’s proposed tour of Australia next month that is currently in a limbo. Hope the richest cricket board sees it fit to show its dedication to the women’s game by investing in that tour. (Amit Banerjee)

Better performance by Indian cricket team in overseas Tests

India has always been a cricketing nation with a modest overseas record. The year 2020, in that sense, has been even worse. One might feel that the sample size is too small as India have so far played only four overseas Tests. But the manner in which Virat Kohli and Co have succumbed to defeat has been disheartening. Two comprehensive Test defeats against New Zealand on their soil followed by the 36-all out horror at Adelaide – it couldn’t have been worse.

As an Indian cricket fan and admirer of the longest format, I want to see the team feature in the World Test Championship final at Lords in June 2021. It’s going to be a packed calendar and plenty of obstacles await India. Even though I have always loved watching legends like Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Laxman, I hope I’m not forced to visualise, time and again, what the outcome could have been in their presence. (Sameer Chhabra) 

Covering an event from a press-box

In March earlier this year, covering an event from a press-box looked like a distant reality due to the deadly pandemic. Nine months down the line, journalists around the world are almost acquainted with the tradition of ‘Zoom press conferences’ and online events.

It is safe to say that while covering a press conference on Zoom, you do not get that exact same feel as compared to interacting with athletes face-to-face.

It was always my dream to cover cricket matches in India. Before the COVID-19 wreaked havoc, I was even fortunate to witness a jam-packed Wankhede Stadium when the legendary Sachin Tendulkar was batting for India Legends against West Indies Legends during the Road Safety World Series T20 tournament. The crowds were roaring, there were endless chit-chats in the press-box, and of course, the thill of watching a match LIVE was a deeply satisfying experience.

Come 2021 and once the situation recedes in India, we can hope that not only the spectators would begin buzzing like old times, but also reporters are back in the press-box, which will somewhat signify the return of normal times for sports journalists. (PN Vishnu)

 Seeing athletes take a stand without fans booing them

It’s strange when people complain about politics in sport. ‘There’s no place for it,’ they say. ‘Sport is an escape from politics,’ is another popular one. I don’t understand these comments that are lobbed with abandon at any and every news story about an athlete taking a stand, as if it’s actually a rational response to someone risking everything to stand up for what they believe in.

Sure, this is hardly a new phenomenon, people have been doing this for years on end. But it felt like maybe 2020 could be different? Take the NFL, for example. They spent years ostracising Colin Kaepernick for his stance on police brutality, but in 2020, for the first time, in the wake of the George Floyd protests, the league admitted that it had made a mistake by not listening to players.

When an organisation as stubborn as the NFL can change their views, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps everyone has realised that the athletes they cheer for are truly human and deserving of basic decency, but you’d be wrong. In early December, just days after fans were let back into stadiums in England, Millwall supporters booed and jeered as players took a knee for Black Lives Matter in a repellent reminder of what the athletes were fighting against.

So this is a manifestation of sorts, an attempt to will into being a safe space for athletes, a world where they can fight for their rights without being booed by some nitwit who thinks they have the right to do whatever they want because they spent five pounds on a ticket. Maybe in 2021, people will realise that sport has always been political. (Aadi Nair)

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