As 2022 draws to a close, it is worthwhile to look back and review the highlights and low points in the sporting arena during the 12 months that went by.
Greatest sporting spectacle of the year: Without doubt, the finals of the Fifa World Cup 2022 exemplified the best in sports. The game played between the two best sides on the planet went down the wire with fortunes swinging wildly. Finally the fate of this match had to be decided on penalty shootout. But, for once, this unreliable method to find a winner decided to play fair, thus fulfilling the life-long desire of Messi to lift the prized trophy. The championship again demonstrated why football is the most popular sport on Earth. Qatar, its ruler and all persons involved, could take pride in organising one of the best conducted sporting events ever, despite the ban on alcohol and the prescribed dress codes!
Biggest achievement of the year: England cricket team, touring Pakistan after a 17-year hiatus, whitewashed the hosts 3-0 to set up an unbelievable victory. Playing Test matches in Pakistan is not the easiest task in international cricket and very few sides look forward to this unenviable assignment. The weather, nature of pitches, which are either rank turners or tracks where runs flow, and the restrictions brought about due to security concerns all contribute to making a series in that country a nerve- wracking one. More often than not, most teams land in Pakistan with a defensive mindset, keen on getting back without losing the series, with the result that they never strive for victory. England stunned all by playing attacking cricket from the word go and seeking to create opportunities for forcing results. Scoring more than 500 runs on the opening day of the first Test set the tone for the series and Pakistan, despite their best efforts, could not match the visitors in any department of the game. Lady Luck also smiled England’s way as they managed to convert every opening into a winning gambit and romped home as comfortable victors.
Surprise of the year: Indian men shuttlers winning Thomas Cup championship for the first time ever. Despite being seeded a lowly fifth, the side punched way above their weight to defeat star studded sides as Malaysia, Denmark and Indonesia in the knock-out stage to lift the title. This win earned for H S Prannoy, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen a new-found respect in a sport where, in recent years, majority of the achievements were brought home by women athletes.
Best individual performance of the year: A crucial India-Pakistan match in progress in the T20 World Cup. India face a near-impossible target of 28 runs from 8 balls. Over 90,000 spectators screaming their lungs out in Melbourne and millions more following the game with bated breath in various parts of the globe. Life coming to a standstill in most parts of India and Pakistan. The stage cannot get any bigger than that. This was the occasion that Virat Kohli chose to leave his imprint on the game by playing an out-of-the-world, once-in-a-life-time innings to steer India to a victory that few believed was possible. Mbappe’s show in Fifa World Cup final came close to matching Kohli’s heroics. But the Frenchman fell short of bringing his side to the winners' podium.
Adieu of the year: Roger Federer, one of the greatest human beings to to step on a tennis court with the racquet in hand, bid good bye to the game, thus bringing to a close an extraordinary international career spanning 24 years. A score of Grand Slam titles, including winning all of them in a calendar year on two occasions, made him a titan on the court while his grace and dignity made him one of the most popular players of all time. His celebrated on court rivalries with Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic elevated the game to an ethereal art form. A slew of injuries troubled him in his later years and finally forced him to hang up his boots, which he did in style in September 2022.
Woman achiever of the year: Nikhat Sareen, the Indian lady boxer in the 52 kg category, who won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games 2022 and topped this achievement by winning the pole position in the World Boxing Championship in Istanbul. She joins Mary Kom as the only woman to win a gold medal in the championship held outside India.
Loss of the year: The death of Pele, one of the greatest footballers of all time, after a prolonged illness saddened sports lovers across the world. Besides being a magician on the soccer field, Pele was loved and respected world over for being a true sportsman and was its perfect brand ambassador as he understood the ability of sports to bring people together. He contributed considerably towards increasing the popularity of this “beautiful game”, as he called football, and also to improving the stature of Brazil, his home nation, in the international arena. The “Black Pearl” left to meet the Maker in the early hours of 30 December, leaving behind millions of fans distraught.
Abrupt Exit of the year: The demise of Shane Warne in March 2022, at the relatively young age of 53 years, in a health resort in Thailand, shocked followers of cricket. One of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game, a thinker and motivator par excellence and a show man to the hilt, Warne led a colourful life surrounded by glamorous people, where controversies were never afar. The eulogies and tributes that flowed in after his death established his eminence in the game and the impact he had on it. Cricket world would be poorer by his absence.
Rising star of the year: Ishan Kishan grabbed with both hands a chance that came his way in One-Day Internationals and struck a superb double century against Bangladesh. In addition to breaking a slew of records, he also effectively nudged out all competition for the slot of one opening batsman in the national side in this format of the game. His talent had never been in doubt; now he has proved his ability to come good at the highest level. As an attacking left hand opening batsman who can also keep wickets, comparisons with Dhoni and Adam Gilchrist are bound to follow and the expectations will be even higher!
Cruelty of the year: The dropping of Kuldeep Yadav from the playing eleven for the second Test between India and Bangladesh at Mirpur, within a week after the left arm unorthodox spinner bagged the “player of the match” award in the first Test at Chattogram. Team management was at a loss to explain his exclusion as India played two spin bowlers, Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel at Mirpur, neither of who could match Kuldeep with the ball in the first Test. It was cruelty without comparison against Kuldeep.
New entrant of the year: The sport “Lawn Bowls” about which little had been heard before the Commonwealth Games 2022. Predictably, there was a huge increase in interest in this event after India managed to win two medals - gold for women and silver for men - in Birmingham.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)