While we enter the final month of the year, it will be interesting and even amusing to analyze the position of most other cricket teams, tours and sporting heroes. 2011 has, no doubt, been a landmark year for Indian sports- from the dizzy high of the World Cup to the devilish lows of the England Tour, from Saina Nehwal starting the year ranked within the top 3 and ending it just like any other Indian sports athlete, from the Indian Hockey team going through just another year of stops and starts, from Lee-Hesh playing one final ‘good’ year together and Bopanna rising through the ranks only to do a Lee-Hesh on us fans- but greatness is, as always, relative.
The following teams and individuals are ending the year in fascinating ways-
Gone with the Wind:
The Sri Lankan Cricket team has endured probably its darkest year yet. After peaking during the World Cup once again, they have fallen to depths that might stir memories of their pre-96 era, when they were mere minnows. From April to December, Sri Lanka have lost 3 consecutive tours- Tests and One Days- to England, Australia and Pakistan. While losing to England in England is not humiliating for most Asian teams anymore, losing to a young Australian side at home might have raised a few eyebrows (1-0 in tests, and 3-2 in ODIs). Finally, losing to Asian foes Pakistan in the Middle East may have been the final nail in the coffin- not because they refused to win, but because of the manner in which they were thrashed all tour. Dilshan, their new captain, has averaged 17 since the World Cup- and not hit a single six since then. Sangakkara and Jayawardena, both ex captains, have been carrying the middle order on their shoulders for too long now.
Back to the Pavilion
But there is one fact that stands out like a sore thumb: Muttiah Muralitharan retired from Tests in July 2010- that was ALSO the last test match Sri Lanka ever won (against India at Galle). They haven’t won a test since then, not home, not away. Murali then retired from ODIs after the World Cup final, and Sri Lanka have not won an ODI series since then- not in the sub continent and not abroad either- which is more of a worrying factor for them, because they have always possessed a decent limited overs squad. And to top things off, they are now touring a country (South Africa) that has never seen them win a Test match there. Something has to be done, and quickly, because 2012 brings heavier assignments for this ailing team.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have been clawing their way back into contention after a troubled first few months of 2011. Not surprisingly, they put the fear of God in most opposition teams in the World Cup (including themselves)- and sprung more than a few surprises. Then Captain Afridi decided to do what most Pakistan cricketers seem to think is a benchmark for greatness later on- he retired from all forms. Of course, it was only a question of WHEN, and not IF he would come back. Pakistan, though, chugged on- inspite of 2 of the best bowlers in Asia (both from Pakistan) being convinced in a spot-fixing scandal- and proceeded to beat New Zealand, Sri Lanka and have now mauled Bangladesh. Granted- weak teams to face in turmoil- but Pakistan have always lacked consistency especially against the weaker teams, and are most likely to be victim of upset wins. They seem to finally be getting their act together under Misbah, with spinners like Malik (Mr. Mirza to y’all), Hafeez and Sachin-tormentor Ajmal forming the holy trio of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ on flat unresponsive pitches.
Bangladesh- a cricket team known more recently for losing their 23rd consecutive game against Pakistan- need to look down deep into their mental reserves and ask themselves if they deserve to belong at this level. An inept performance at the World Cup, a home-series loss against West Indies and now another home series loss to Pakistan- seems to confirm what most cricket purists believed all along- They do not deserve to be at the top level anymore. Bringing ex-flash-in-the-pans like Ashraful, Kapali back into the squad only disturbs the hard-earned balance, and except for their tailor-made pitches stressing to suit left-arm spinners like Abdur Razzaq and Shakib, there is nothing noteworthy about their strategy or determination to overcome this 10-year old drought.
The Whale Riders:
New Zealand, currently on a tour that could have given rise to a new era for them, are missing their lines once again. Their current tour of neighbours Australia has been labeled as the Kiwis best chance of beating them in 30 years, but the first test was anything but an indication of that. Apart from Ricky Ponting priming himself for possibly his farewell tour against India, Australia are finding a man for every situation once again…and look good to exercise their newly-found ways against an overconfident (rightly so) Indian team on Boxing Day.
New Blood, Old Story
The League of Extraordinary GentleMan:
Far away, in a land not known to many, Tiger Woods has roared- at long last. Finally, the red shirt was back on a Sunday, the swagger was back during that last hole where he sunk a desperate, face-saving putt, and Tiger Woods won his first tournament in two years. Let’s not even talk about the majors yet, but this confidence-booster- even though he had to beat only 17 other players in a tournament hosted by himself (Chevron Invitational)- will serve as a much needed gauntlet while he enters the New Year. Safe to say, he might have sent a few players running and trembling in their shoes after a birdie-birdie finish, and that’s the sight most Golf Enthusiasts will be aching to discover come 2012. His ranking has climbed to 21, a mere statistic, considering the fact that he will- in all certainty- end next year in the top 10.
Back in Business
2012 also brings us the much-awaited Euro-2012- with defending Champions Spain the favorites so far- and a group of Death that involves Holland, Portugal, Germany and Denmark. Days after that, we will see Roger Federer trying to win his (possibly) last Wimbledon crown- followed by his last (for sure) attempt at winning the Gold Medal at the London Olympics- with the tennis tournaments being held at Wimbledon, much to his liking.
We have a cracker of a year in store for you, not to mention the inaugural i1 GP Series, beginning early next year, across Asia- that might just be the Premier League of Motor racing in the coming years. Hold on to your seatbelts!