The last week of 2016 is, not surprisingly, dominated by holiday cheer and at least one big-budget extravaganza at the movies. Various year-end lists in sports have already been compiled, which sort of sum up the season in the most appropriate way possible. This last week has been a fitting one – in the way test cricket has ended this year in a rousing manner. ICC announced their annual awards, which were both surprising and not – given that they only took into account the playing season from last September to this one.
But there have been other ‘aggregations’ too…
Vijender Singh, the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight champion, won his eighth straight pro bout in a row, by defeating 34-year-old Tanzanian journeyman and ex-super intercontinental middleweight champion Francis Cheka in New Delhi. The doughty, talented 30-year-old Indian scored a technical KO in the third round, and remains undefeated since his he turned pro in October last year. The fight was attended by the most fascinating faces of the Indian celebrity landscape – including Baba Ramdev and Sushil Kumar, who entered the ring and thronged Singh as soon as the decision was announced. Singh had broken into the top 10 of the world rankings after his last win over Kerry Hope, which also handed him the title.
Juan Martin Del Potro, perhaps the only tennis player on earth other than Stan Wawrinka who can defeat Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer at their peaks, declared himself unfit to compete in the Australian Open starting next month. Del Potro, who returned to tennis after a third wrist surgery earlier this year, had a spectacular season in which he defeated the top 2 in the world (Djokovic at the Olympics, Murray in Davis Cup play), and won his country their first ever Davis Cup title. It was as if he had never left. But he may also pull out of their first round tie next month against Italy at Beunos Aires.
The Aircel Chennai Open 2017, to be held from Jan 2 to Jan 9, will again be one of the first tournaments of the year. This time, top-10 player Marin Cilic (also an ex Chennai Open champion) and Roberto Bautista Agut, an ex-finalist in 2013, will headline the group competing in singles play. Youngsters like Benoit Paire and Borna Coric will combine with veterans like Mikhail Youzhny and Tommy Robredo this edition to give the city its second major international sporting event in less than three weeks after the memorable fifth Test between India and England.
R. Ashwin became only the third Indian to win the ICC main award – the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the Cricketer of the Year, and only the second after Rahul Dravid in 2004 to win both Test and Cricketer of the Year. The ICC Test Team of the Year selection faced a backlash, with no Virat Kohli and Steve Smith in the line-up, with many forgetting that until September this year (the selection period), India had barely played any Tests and Kohli had scored only his first Test double century in the Caribbean. He exploded during the home season, but England and Australia had already played quite a few Tests in the year, which is why Alastair Cook, Johnny Bairstow, Adam Voges, David Warner, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Mitchell Starc were included – with Ashwin, the only Indian in the line-up. But Kohli, along with Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, made the ODI team of the year, while Quinton de Kock was declared the ODI Player of the Year after a stunning season in which he established himself in the Test side as a lower-order Gilchrist-style attacking option too.
India consolidated their position at the top of the Test rankings by defeating England 4-0, now 15 points ahead of second-placed Australia. They made England the highest-scoring team (477 in the first innings) to lose by an innings in the history of Test cricket, finishing off their season in style with the highest-ever Test score of 757, as well as a record-breaking 14 wins in their last 18 matches. Virat Kohli will be a happy man, ICC awards be damned. Also, one can pen him in for the next year’s award already, given his series against England and New Zealand in the last three months. David Warner could be his closest competitor as 2017 unfolds.
England have now gone home for Christmas, and are due to return in 10 days for the beginning of the T20 and ODI stretch of their long Asian tour. They will play three ODIs and two T20 games, with the tour finally ending on January 29, 2017.