Sports in Pakistan has been in a state of despair for the past several years. However, 2021 brought many smiling moments for the fans who saw national athletes performing beyond expectations at the highest level despite poor standard of infrastructure, poor training facilities, and low investment in sports. Although they did not bring back trophies, Pakistan fans got a more than just a few moments to cherish.
Here is a quick rundown of major sporting events in 2021:
Even though international cricket began to return in 2015 with Zimbabwe’s limited-overs series, Pakistan failed to attract top Test nations until early this year when South Africa visited Pakistan in January.
Here, they played a two-match Test series and were white-washed by Pakistan. Meanwhile, the successful holding of the series set up the platform for staging top-level international cricket in the country and encouraged more countries to tour Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan looked set to host countries like, Australia, England, and New Zealand later.
February brought the sad news that Pakistan’s most iconic mountaineer, Mohammad Ali Sadpara, along with two international climbers had gone missing.
The trio was attempting to reach the 8,611-meter (28,251 foot) Korakarum-2 summit, commonly known as K-2, without supplemental oxygen to make history. They, however, lost contact with the base camp when they were only 411 meters away from the snow-capped top. After considerable search, they were presumed to be dead, while their bodies were found in July.
The bio-secure bubble became the new buzzword for the sports industry, as it began to resume activities after a gap of one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) kept assuring that the arrangements were airtight, the bubble, however, burst in the second week of the league. At least seven players and coaching staff members testing positive for the coronavirus, and the sixth edition of PSL was postponed until May-June.
The incident earned a bad name to the cricket managers of the country. The PCB launched an inquiry and terminated its medical officer Dr Sohail who was in charge of the medical team which was dealing with the Covid-19 SOPs during PSL 6.
Arshad Nadeem brought javelin into the limelight by winning a gold medal at the inaugural Imam Reza Athletics Cup. Nadeem registered his personal best throw and broke the national record for the longest throw. His throw was recorded at 86.38m, booking an automatic place in the Javelin Throw event at the Tokyo Olympics.
In May, 19-year old Shehroze Kashif set two world records as he became the youngest mountaineer in the world to summit the two highest peaks in the world; Mount Everest and K2.
He went on to break another record a few months later as he became the youngest Pakistani mountaineer to summit the 8th tallest peak in the world, Manaslu, which is at a height of 8,163 meters.
Learning from past mistakes, the cricket board went on to complete the remaining matches of the PSL 6 in Abu Dhabi without a hitch. The tournament saw another new winner as Mohammad Rizwan-led Multan Sultans defeated Karachi Kings in the final of the event by 12 runs.
Rizwan, who was warming the bench with Karachi during the first leg of the tournament, was drafted by Multan during the supplementary draft ahead of the second leg and was immediately made captain. The rest is history.
Pakistan sent a 10-member contingent to Tokyo to compete across different events of the Olympics 2020. However, only two performers, Arshad Nadeem and Talha Talib, stood out.
Talha impressed followers in the weightlifting event, and Nadeem won hearts by coming close to a medal in the javelin throw contest.
Talha became an instant sensation after he finished fifth in the 67-kg weightlifting category, narrowly missing the bronze.
After him, Nadeem revived Pakistan’s hopes but fell less than a metre short of the medal, which could have been Pakistan’s first Olympic medal since 1992.
Young prodigy Syed Imaad Ali created a record by winning the World English Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) Youth Cup for the second time. The 15-year old defeated his opponent in 9 out of 13 games in the finals of the tournament, held in Karachi, and helped Pakistan finish as the winners of the tournament.
The month started with good news as Haider Ali made the country proud by winning the first Paralympics gold for Pakistan after a personal-best distance in the discus throw event at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Ali's 55.26-meter throw, in his fifth attempt, was not only his personal best but also the highest distance in the event that earned him the top podium finish.
Soon after, Pakistan were to receive a major shock when New Zealand abandoned their first tour to the country in 18 years on the basis of unspecified security threats.
In an official statement, the PCB said that it was willing to continue matches as the country’s intelligence agencies had ensured that no security threat of any kind exists for the visiting team.
However, it could not convince New Zealand as they departed from Pakistan without playing a ball. Following their withdrawal, the England cricket board also decided against sending their team for two T20Is in October.
Both cricket boards, however, ensured PCB to tour Pakistan in 2022 and play additional matches to compensate for the cancelled games.
After being cornered by world cricket, the national cricket team responded strongly in the T20 World Cup. They first defeated archrivals India by 10 wickets in the opening match of the event on October 24, and then settled scores with New Zealand two days later. The Greenshirts also became the only team to finish the group stages of the world cup unbeaten. They, however, were outperformed by Australia in the decisive moments of the semi-final.
Pakistan’s all-format captain Babar was named the captain of the Team of the Tournament after he finished the T20 World Cup campaign as the highest run-scorer. Babar, who featured in his first-ever T20 WC, scored record 303 runs in 6 innings with the help of four half-centuries.
2021 was a year to remember for Pakistan’s wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan who piled up record after record with his batting display in the shortest format.
In international cricket, Rizwan accumulated 1,326 runs in T20Is in 29 outings, which is the highest ever achieved by any batsman in a calendar year. He stands miles ahead of Chris Gayle’s six-year-old record of 1,165 runs made in 2015.
The month of December brought so many accolades for Pakistan cricket. It started with the PCB successfully hosting West Indies for a three-match T20 series in Karachi. This was the first-ever international series hosted by Pakistan after back-to-back setbacks from New Zealand and England in September.
Rizwan’s golden run in 2021 continued till the final game of the year. Overall, the 29-year-old amassed over 2,000 T20 runs this year, becoming the only cricketer in history to achieve the milestone. n the process, he created the records of most boundaries, most sixes, most half-centuries, and most T20I runs in a calendar year.
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam regained his form and played a brilliant 79-run innings in the final of the three-match T20I series against West Indies to help Pakistan chase down a 208-run target against the West Indies in Karachi to complete a 3-0 clean sweep. In the process, he reclaimed the No.1 spot in the ICC T20I batting rankings.
With 805 points each, Babar and England’s Dawid Malan will end the year as the joint No.1 batters in the shortest format.