Cricket’s winners and losers of 2020: West Indies and Pakistan showed true bravery, Stuart Broad put his anger to the best possible use, the ECB showed sport COULD be played safely… and a year to forget for legend Kohli at the crease
- West Indies and Pakistan risked it all for the sport to take part in a world-first
- Stuart Broad’s unwarranted rejection sparked a sensational response
- Has Dawid Malan done enough after a series of record-breaking performances?
- Azeem Rafiq has sparked an uncomfortable but vital conversation at Yorkshire
- Mark Wood’s Test career is under the spotlight after another unlucky year
Rewind to the 30th of May. Devoid of any activity for the best part of three months, the sporting world was desperate to awaken from its Covid-ravaged daze.
Plans were already in place for a number of sports to resume in the United Kingdom by this stage. From pigeon racing to football, the sporting sabbatical was finally coming to a close.
But cricket achieved a world-first. West Indies Chief Executive Johnny Grave announced that they would be taking a squad across the Atlantic to play a three-Test series against England.
Ben Stokes (left) and Jason Holder (right) bump fists before day one of cricket’s return
They would be the first in the world since the pandemic began to travel overseas to play in an international sporting event.
They headline a year in which an imperilled period for the sport saw plenty of others stand out for the right, and wrong, reasons.
West Indies and Pakistan
It was a bold move from Grave that appeared fictitious just weeks before. Risking their health, leaving loved ones and enduring the tedium of bio-secure bubble life – a 25-strong entourage of players spent the best part of two months on English shores.
The fact that they lost the series was a mere subplot to a series that got international cricket back on its feet. For this, they won the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Spirit of Cricket Award.
It’s an award that could’ve been shared with Pakistan, who took a similar plunge just one week later to give the cricketing world another enthralling series that we really had no right to expect in 2020.
The West Indies players take a knee to show their support to the Black Lives Matter movement
In a year of compromises and improvisations, one of the best gimmicks to have emerged from the international cricket bubble was the player zone.
So successful it was, that it might just last beyond the pandemic. Mark Wood caught people’s imagination by likening it to Big Brother, but the flag bearer was Stuart Broad.
The first day of the return of international cricket was supposed to be a joyous occasion, but not for Broad, who was left out of a home England Test for the first time in eight years.
Stuart Broad’s performances earned him a BBC Sports Personality of the Year nomination
When he sat down in that player zone on day three, every sentence that came out of his mouth would’ve been fitting for a back page headline.
‘I’ve been frustrated, angry, gutted because it is a hard decision to understand,’ he said while everyone watching at home was getting out the popcorn.
‘I don’t think I’ve got anything to prove. When I get that opportunity again you can bet that I’ll be on the money.’
A strong sense of unwarranted rejection, then. And of course, he was on the money.
England lost that Test. He played the next two, they won both, and he was named Player of the Series. He became the fourth fast bowler in history to take 500 Test wickets.
Should I carry on? Oh go on then. He’s the leading wicket-taker in the ICC World Test Championship, he’s the number two Test bowler in the world, and just a reminder that he’s four years younger than his enduring abettor James Anderson.
And the cherry on the bat? A BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award nomination. He’ll tell you that he’s just getting started.
Stuart Broad (left) and James Anderson (right) have taken 1114 Test wickets between them
The MCG and SCG
Remember when stadiums were full? I don’t either. But the 86,174 who filled up the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Women’s World T20 final on the 8th of March certainly do.
What some people might not know is it would never have been possible without the sensational work from the ground staff up in Sydney.
Tropical storm Esther swept across Sydney just in time for the semi-finals. England’s match was abandoned, meaning India progressed as group winners. Australia were nine minutes away from suffering the same fate at the hands of South Africa.
Indian fans flocked to the MCG in their thousands to watch the Women’s World T20 final
But the rain cleared just in time for Australia to seal a Duckworth-Lewis victory, on an outfield that drained quickly enough for play to be possible.
It was the final the organisers were hoping for – a successful, Katy Perry-fuelled #FillTheMCG campaign was followed by an Australia vs India final, and it attracted enough people to be the second-highest attendance for a women’s sporting event in history.
Katy Perry headlined a special day for Australia, who won the Women’s World T20 final
Has there ever been a more prolific run-scorer more heavily-scrutinised than Dawid Malan?
After he was publicly lambasted by Eoin Morgan last year for not running a single off the last ball in his epic unbeaten 103 against New Zealand, he knew the size of the task he was up against.
Dawid Malan broke the record for the most ranking points in men’s T20 history, with 915
But in unpredictable times, nothing has changed about his performances in an England T20 shirt. One, agonising run short of a second century to sign off the year, and the highest-ever T20 batting ranking points in the history of the game.
Just get your maths right next time, Dawid. Or perhaps it was a masterstroke of selflessness to keep the skipper happy? An increment contract suggests the faith is still not quite there.
Malan won Player of the Match and Player of the Series for his match-winning unbeaten 99
And speaking of contracts … Mark Wood hasn’t had a Test contract with the ECB since 2016. But there was some feint hope for him this year after a match-winning performance in Johannesburg in January.
Half of his Tests were played in 2015. Five years and three ankle operations later and he’s still struggling to string together back-to-back appearances.
Mark Wood only played one Test throughout England’s series against West Indies and Pakistan
One Test appearance in the last six months is a poor return for a man who’s been pertinacious with his fitness throughout England’s series over the past six months.
He was expected to play a part in the side’s T20 series victory against the Proteas. He was saved for the ODI series, which was cancelled.
All dressed up and nowhere to go. We know the feeling, Woody.
Wood was only offered a white-ball contract for next season, leaving his Test future in doubt
The first Test between England and West Indies came at an emotional and complicated time in the world – not just because of the ongoing distress and frustrations of the pandemic, but because it was a critical period for the Black Lives Matter movement – six weeks after George Floyd’s death.
It was a time for reflection and for change, and before play on day one, both sides took the knee, while Ebony Rainford-Brent and Michael Holding’s impassioned accounts of their experiences reverberated around the Rose Bowl.
Michael Holding’s account of his experience with racism was felt around the world
What came with that was a confidence and belief from others to be able to speak out, and it resonated strongly with Azeem Rafiq, a former England Under 19 captain, who now runs a food business with his family out of a shipping container in Rotherham.
It was a career path met with as much frustration as it was relief for Rafiq, which became easier to understand when he spoke out about institutionalised racism at Yorkshire.
The cricket club say they’re taking the allegations seriously, but this isn’t some whimsical tit for tat – they have an opportunity now to correct it from the youngest age-groups and all the way up.
What is of little doubt is their reputation has taken a battering.
Azeem Rafiq made his debut for Yorkshire in 2009 and played for the county for nine years
There’s a twisted irony in that the man who saved India’s year is the same man who helped prevent Virat Kohli from finishing the year with an international hundred.
It’s a nice problem to have, such is Kohli’s brilliance. But when Ajinkya Rahane ran Kohli out for 74 in the first Test against Australia, he played his part in bringing an end to an achievement that had lasted for 12 years.
Twenty-two innings without a century. Kohli? The world’s gone mad.
Of course, Kohli then scored four in the second innings as India were bowled out for 36 in what was their lowest-ever Test score.
So a whitewash Test series defeat to New Zealand at the beginning of the year, book-ended by defeat against Australia for Kohli.
The 32-year-old went back to India to be on paternity leave, and it was Rahane who stepped in as captain for the second Test – and one of the great Test hundreds inspired India to victory.
A poetic end to 2020 for India in a year that started with Kohli and India at the summit of their respective Test rankings. Kane Williamson and New Zealand had other ideas.
Australia celebrate after bowling India out for just 36 – their lowest Test total in history
Virat Kohli has gone without a century in a calendar year for the first time in 12 years
And finally… they won AND lost
The ECB and County Cricket
Potential losses of £200-plus million, 20% of the workforce budget cut, and close to £100-million spent in support packages – the ECB were up against the ropes this year.
But to go where no cricket board had gone before and successfully facilitate bio-secure Test series’ against West Indies, and then Pakistan, is a massive credit to them.
The 18 counties on the domestic circuit receive differing amounts of funding from the ECB, but they are essentially businesses, and they’ve invariably taken a severe hit this year too.
Jofra Archer missed a Test against West Indies after he broke England’s bio-secure protocol
Several bleak, but necessary, measures were taken to keep the counties financially afloat – sixteen of the 18 counties used the furlough scheme and the minimum wage was reduced from £27,500 to £24,000 in August.
Their collaborative resolve has been admirable throughout. Some counties were able to top the salaries up to 100% – one such county was Warwickshire, who donated Edgbaston to the NHS staff as a Covid-19 testing centre.
The ECB’s rescue package brought light relief to financial models that were expecting to lean quite heavily on commercial successes from The Hundred.
The one-off Bob Willis Trophy got domestic cricket up and running, and without it, we would’ve been deprived of Darren Stevens taking the third-most amount of wickets in the competition … at the age of 44.
The ECB certainly deserve the plaudits for refusing to feel sorry for themselves and instead putting on a feast of domestic and international cricket.
Darren Stevens took the third-most amount of wickets in the Bob Willis Trophy at the age of 44
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