Covid-19. How crazy to think a virus which coined its name after the year it originated is still ruining sporting fixtures heading into 2022.
Cricket was another sport disrupted due to the pandemic this year. The Indian Premier League (IPL) was cut short in March and was played to a finish in September after being relocated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Australia called off their tour to South Africa in February and missed out on a shot at the World Test Championship final as a result.
Bizarrely, England’s fifth test against India was postponed on the morning of the game with the visitors 2-1 up in the series. Players then jumped on private jets to join bio-secure bubbles for their IPL franchises ahead of the tournament’s restart. England also pulled out of trips to Pakistan and Bangladesh due to Covid-19 protocols.
But there was still plenty of cricket to sink your teeth into over the course of the year. There were plenty of phenomenal performances, controversial stories and funny moments during another 12 months of bumper action. Here are our top five moments from a stellar 2021.
While it was tough to whittle a year’s worth of cricket into just five moments, here are a few honourable mentions:
Sports supremo Barry Hearn, who was recently honoured with a deserved OBE for his services to sport, was picked for Essex Veterans earlier this year. The 73-year-old is now eying up a run in the national side.
New Zealand’s Devon Conway’s debut 200 against England at Lord’s was desperately unlucky to miss out on the top five. Conway became the 12th player from the country to score a ton on Test debut. Kane Williamson’s Kiwis also went on to win the inaugural World Test Championship by beating India by eight wickets in the final at the Ageas Bowl in June.
Axar Patel’s demolition of England was one of the most impressive bowling feats of the calendar year. The IPL ‘specialist’ was a surprise inclusion for the second Test, where he returned match figures of 7/100 on debut. But the left-arm tweaker bamboozled the tourists to finish with an impressive 27 wickets in three Tests as India recovered from 1-0 down to hammer Joe Root’s men 3-1.
Root’s form in England’s first two Tests of the year in Sri Lanka were a sign of the batting burden he would have to shoulder for the rest of the year. The skipper racked up 228 in the first Test and 186 in the second to whitewash the hosts. He also backed up those huge scores with another double hundred in Chennai against India a few weeks later.
We are so used to seeing amazing tandem outfield catches that they are one-a-penny nowadays. But Harleen Deol produced a moment of brilliance in the first T20I against England this summer.
5. Warner and Australia’s redemption
Australia were rank outsiders to win this year’s World T20 in the UAE. But the Aussies secured major honours for the first time since the damning ball-tampering scandal which shook the sport to its core in 2018. Warner, who served a one-year ban for his role in the sorry saga, was written off ahead of the tournament after a poor IPL campaign for Sunrisers Hyderabad. But the opener smashed 289 runs, including 53 in the final, as he was named Player of the Tournament.
4. Burns’ golden duck
Australia struck a huge Ashes blow with the opening ball of the series at the Gabba. Rory Burns looked all at sea as Mitchell Starc bowled a full and swinging thunderbolt to bowl the left-hander around his legs for an embarrassing duck. It was a sign of things to come in the opening two matches as the Aussies head to the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne on the cusp of retaining the sacred urn, with thoughts of another 5-0 whitewash at the forefront of their minds.
3. Patel’s perfect 10
Kiwi left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel made history when he took all 10 wickets to bowl India out at the Wankhede. The Mumbai-born bowler made an emphatic return to his hometown as he became only the third person in history, alongside fellow spin kings Jim Laker and Anil Kumble, to achieve the amazing feat in Test cricket. The magical moment came when Mohammad Siraj skied one to mid-on as Patel roared and pumped his fist in delight on a day he will never forget.
2. Fortress Gabbatoir breached
The Brisbane Cricket Ground, or the Gabba, is widely acknowledged as one of the most raucous sporting arenas to step foot in. It’s been named the ‘Gabbatoir’ for how intimidating the atmosphere is for travelling opposition. But depleted India overcame unimaginable odds to cause a seismic sporting shock as they won at the ground for the first time since 1947-48. More impressively, the Aussies hadn’t lost there since 1988. All four results were still possible heading into the final hour with the visitors chasing 328 on the last day. They needed 69 from 15 overs with six wickets remaining. Devastating Rishabh Pant delivered the final knockout blow for a famous victory.
1. Oh balls… double trouble for Hales
Now for the long-awaited number one. Undoubtedly the funniest cricket moment of the year, for everyone but Alex Hales. Playing for the Trent Rockets against Oval Invincibles in the brand new Hundred Hales was struck in the groin twice in two deliveries by Reece Topley.
The former England opener was left writhing in agony and punching the ground in pain which sparked the famous line from Ebony Rainsford-Brent in the commentary box: “That has nailed him in the gooly wooly woolies”. To add insult to injury there was an action replay the very next ball as he inside edged the next delivery straight into his box. Ouch. Surely even Hales must be able to see the funny side now? Maybe not as he was struck in the nether regions for a third time this year in a Big Bash game against Brisbane Heat last week.