It will be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a strange year. The world has come upside down and the cricket world has not been an exception. Only for the third time in its history, cricket around the world came to a standstill. The previous two instances were during World War I and World War II. This time it was a pandemic and thanks to the ECB the halt did not continue for as long as it did on the previous two occasions. They introduced all other boards to the bio-secure bubbles and we had enough action to cherish the sport we all love amidst testing times of lockdowns and staying indoors.
However, COVID was not the only topic which grabbed the headlines. The death of George Floyd caused a ripple effect all around the globe and when cricket resumed in July with a Test series between England and West Indies, everyone present on the field took a knee to show their support for the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM).
It became a norm in cricket and other sports. Strangely, South Africa opted not to take the knee during the T20I series against England. They are the only cricketing nation with an history of apartheid and constant troubles from the consequences of racism. They received backlash for their decision.
Coming back to cricket, West Indies defeated England in the first Test at Southampton. It might be the most heart-warming outcome of a cricket match this year, except for the England fans. As West Indies came within single digits of chasing down the score, Michael Holding, in the commentary box quipped excitedly, “My phone is buzzing in my pocket. I can feel it vibrating with messages”.
England, however, came back in the 3-match series. Ben Stokes scored an uncharacteristic 176, facing 356 balls, in the second Test. This was the first time he faced 300 balls in a Test innings (he faced 198 in his career best of 258) and said: “I never thought I would be capable of facing 300 balls in an innings.”
He celebrated with the bent middle-finger gesture, as a tribute to his father who was battling brain cancer. Unfortunately, his father passed away in December but we are likely to see more of this celebration in the upcoming years. It is simple and has a great story behind it.
Moving forward, you get a couple of bowling milestones in the England camp. Stuart Broad became the third fast bowler to amass 500 Test wickets. Interestingly, his last set of 100 wickets (401 wickets onwards) came at an average of 22.6 runs per wicket, the best for his span of 100 wickets. Good enough to suggest that he is in the best bowling form of his life, at 34.
A few Test matches later, his pal, James Anderson notched up his 600th Test wicket, becoming the first pacer to break that barrier. Anderson had to toil hard for his last two victims. He picked five wickets in the first innings but it is hard to forget that four catches were dropped off his bowling. He picked the remaining two wickets in the second innings, completing his summer with exactly 600 Test scalps. Not sure if he included the slip cordon in his thank you speech, Anderson grabbed a stump to keep it as a souvenir when the match ended in a draw.
Moving to IPL, Mumbai Indians restored faith in a year of anomalies. They continued to be the best team in the tournament. They had an unperturbed run to the final, miles ahead of any other side and added another title to their tally.
This was also the year of first time finalists. Delhi Capitals shredded the unwanted tag of being the only side not to have played an IPL final. Similarly, St. Lucia Zouks and Lahore Qalandars also played their first final in their respective leagues.
Rahul Tewatia stretched the boundaries of the ‘never say never’ phrase. Promoted to number 4, he arrived at the crease with the required run-rate above 10 runs per over. His tussle to 17 off 23 balls pushed it to 17 an over and echoed the demand of a provision to retire the struggling batsmen among cricket experts. In a matter of six balls, Tewatia made them all sound stupid. He deposited Sheldon Cottrell for five sixes in the 18th over. He raced to a 30-ball fifty, eventually taking Rajasthan Royals past Kings XI Punjab’s 223, making it the highest successful run chase in IPL history. Comebacks have a new term now - ‘Doing a Tewatia’.
The next entry on the list is a rather forgettable event for one of the stronger cricketing nations. Having worked hard on the first two days of the Adelaide Test to get their nose ahead, India were bundled out for their lowest Test score - 36 - on the third day to concede the Test. Coincidentally, it came exactly four years after they amassed their highest Test total - 759/7, against England in Chennai.
India came back strongly though in the next Test. Against all odds, they defeated Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to level the series 1-1.
Heading further east, New Zealand attained the number 1 Test ranking on the last day of international cricket in 2020. Fawad Alam scored a Test hundred after 11 years which put Pakistan in a position to draw the Test. Pakistan’s last pair batted for eight overs before Mitchell Santner’s terrific one-handed off his own bowling won it for the Kiwis in the last hour of play. New Zealand started the year with a heavy defeat - by 279 runs - against Australia but then won five Tests on a trot to attain the number 1 Test ranking for the first time in their history.
Rewinding the clock to cricket before the Covid uproar, Australia won their fifth Women’s T20 World Cup title. They flattened a spirited Indian side by 85 runs in the final.
India had defeated Australia earlier in the competition but it mattered little in the final. That win, however, helped India to top their group and receive a walkover in an abandoned semi-final (due to rain) over England who came second in their group.
Heather Knight, the captain of the distraught England team stated, “Hope now there is going to be a rule change and moving forward, no other team will have to experience going out of a World Cup purely because of rain.”
There was another World Cup this year. Before the Women’s T20 World Cup, young Indian stars reached the final of the U19 World Cup, staged in South Africa. Firm favorites on this occasion again, they were left startled by the zeal of their Bangladesh counterparts. India pushed for a win but could not break the spirit of Akbar Ali, Bangladesh’s captain, who ensured a maiden U19 World Cup title for his country.