Super Smash 2021/22. Match 11. Chasing a mere 108, Northern Knights slid from 72/2 to 101/9. The equation came down to 6 runs off the last ball. A grim Ish Sodhi carried the expression of disbelief in the dressing room. However, Trent Boult, one of the most trademark number 11s in world cricket, smashed the last ball for a six to snatch a victory. “I am losing my mind,” exclaimed the commentator. That is a pretty apt way to describe 2021, the cricketing year as a whole.
We live in times when various prediction engines and data sets are built to satiate the fatuous need of cricket fans to know the results before a ball is being bowled. 2021 reminded us that it's cricket on the field which dictates the numbers, not the other way around. It did so by keeping us on our toes, right from the beginning.
After all, no search engine would predict Ravichandran Ashwin to bat out 43 overs with Hanuma Vihari to save the SCG Test. That too when both of them were injured. Ashwin was struggling with back pain. Vihari was troubled by a hamstring injury. Ravindra Jadeja, in the dressing room, was ready to bat with a broken hand. It was certain he would be required to walk out at some point. Except, Ashwin and Vihari kept the Australians waiting for three hours.
It frustrated the opposition skipper, Tim Paine to the extent that he invited the Indians to the Gabba.
The ‘Come to Gabba’ remark did not age well. Without any of their first-choice bowlers, a wounded India hunted down a full-strength Australian unit at a venue where they had not lost for 30 years. Now this is a result for the ages. It accounted for arguably the greatest overseas Test victory ever, beyond the cricketing logic that governs prediction engines.
In a win of similar intensity, Day 5 at Lord’s began with an England victory as the only outcome on cards. A faulty plan, a lower-order partnership, a spirited bowling show and another feeble English batting display later, India pulled off a miraculous win.
Like Gabba, this win also came with a schooling lesson for the opposition. Joe Root had taken things for granted. James Anderson had become personal. He wanted to bounce out Bumrah for what had happened two days earlier. It ended badly. Root admitted his mistake but it was too late. England had lost by 151 runs, after being bowled out under two sessions.
It makes you think if a 160-odd Test veteran can prioritize his feelings over team’s interests. It makes you wonder if a captain with an experience of over 100 Tests can be so off with his field placements. It was absurd to see England lose a Test to a pair of tail-enders.
There were some startling narratives in T20 cricket as well. Australia had a horrible year heading into the T20 World Cup. There were enough evidence suggesting they don’t really understand the format. Meanwhile, New Zealand had plans that can be deemed outdated for the format now. They both lost a T20I series in Bangladesh. None of them were favourites for the title. But when has T20 cricket ever cared about that tag? The Trans-Tasman nations were the finalists. Australia lifted their maiden T20 title, finally.
Finally, Pakistan also defeated India in a World Cup game, after 29 years. And they did it in the most handsome fashion - a 10-wicket win. It was like seeing the most unlike-Pakistan performance from Pakistan.
Moving to T20 leagues, the break in IPL changed the flow of proceedings. But no one expected Kolkata Knight Riders to rise from number seven in the points table to play the final. No one expected Mumbai Indians to miss out on the playoffs. In another such instance, Trinbago Knight Riders crashed out in the semifinal in this year’s CPL season. That’s a double whammy for Kieron Pollard. To add to it, West Indies were poor in the T20 World Cup. All this in a space of four months.
While Pollard had his mixed bag of emotions, there were many who rejuvenated their career. There is Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant in Test cricket. Mitchell Marsh, Aiden Markram, Josh Hazlewood and Tabraiz Shamsi did the same in white-ball cricket. Harshal Patel got his maiden international cap. Mohammad Rizwan jumped 154 spots in the T20I rankings, moving from number 157 to number three.
Joe Root turned the criticism against him into admiration. Scoring 1708 runs, he stormed back in the Fab 4. But he has nothing to show for his efforts with defeats against India, New Zealand and Australia. His bittersweet year is a narrative in its own.
In the build up to what turned out to be England’s last day of cricket in 2021, Root was 96 runs behind the feat of most Test runs in a calendar year. On the other hand, England had every chance to surpass the tally for most Test ducks in a calendar year. The latter was levelled. In a strange year, Root fetched the record for both, most Test wins and Test defeats for an England skipper in a space of four months.
After a sublime unbeaten 180 at Lord’s, Root walked back soaking in the applause from the crowd. Behind him, the focus was on the chatter between Kohli and Anderson.
Honestly, it was awkward to watch on TV. It was also sad that he couldn’t get to that elusive ton in Australia and is still winless Down Under. Root’s year echoes the sentiment in Linkin Park’s In the End.
England missed Jofra Archer big time in Australia. The seamer couldn’t play international cricket post March 2021 because he injured his finger from a broken fish tank at his home. He had a surgery before boarding the plane to India but upon his return home, a small piece of glass was still in there. Yes, the injuries were as bizarre this year. Devon Conway added to the list in the T20 World Cup semifinal. He had punched the bat in frustration engendered from his dismissal which broke his finger.
On more personal setbacks, Tim Paine quit Australia’s Test captaincy at the back of an unprecedented scandal. For the second Australian Test skipper in a row, the stint ended in a misconduct. We hope the same doesn’t happen to Pat Cummins, one of the most likeable blokes in world cricket. He is the first fast bowler since Shaun Pollock to become the Test captain while being ranked the number one Test bowler.
Cummins had a fantastic start to his stint when Mitchell Starc bowled Rory Burns off the first ball. A wicket to kick start the Ashes? It last happened in 1936. Back then, England came back to win that Test. Here, it set the tone for the Aussies.
2021 also showed us Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant relish each other’s company. Two completely opposite batsmen, the gulf between their ideologies is wider than it was between Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag. Why exactly?
Pujara would take the short deliveries on his body rather than playing the pull, as he did at the Gabba. Pant ramps James Anderson bowling with the new ball over the slip cordon, as he did in Ahmedabad. The stroke framed probably the most savage moment of 2021.
Last but not the least, the sweetest moment of 2021. New Zealand’s patient wait of 90 years and the heartbreak of two World Cup finals ended with the maiden World Test Championship title. When the winning runs were scored, the men in the middle were their top two run-scorers in Test cricket - Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson.
You see the point here? 2021 drained us. With its bizarre and eventful set of affairs, it was a wild crazy roller coaster ride of emotions. But we ain’t complaining. It has set a high benchmark for 2022.