By Muhammad Nabeel
Fri, 12, 20

Most international sporting events take place in the summers and unfortunately that was the time the pandemic was at its peak across the globe...

This year seems more like a Test match than 2020. Who would have thought that an organism so infinitesimal that you cannot even see will cause chaos of a magnitude that events like the Olympics will get postponed!

Most international sporting events take place in the summers and unfortunately that was the time the pandemic was at its peak across the globe. Sporting authorities all over the world were working tirelessly to find solutions to bring sports back.

Some conspiracy theorists even believed that the world was conspiring against Liverpool who were close to winning their first league title in 30 long years. Then, there were others who were sympathising with the Lahore Qalandars who had just hit the fifth gear when all sporting activities came to a grinding halt.

The world is not the same!

If the pandemic wasn't enough, 2020 proved to be a year when the world of sports lost some of its biggest names. Sports stars don't come bigger than the likes of Diego Maradona and Kobe Bryant, both of whom regretfully breathed their last this year.

Diego Maradona was the first real megastar of the footballing world. He was a magician on a football field, the man who could do wonders with the ball at his feet and of course, most infamously, with “his hand”.

The FIFA World Cup 1982 saw glimpses of the Argentinian maestro but it was four years later in Mexico 1986 when the world actually saw Diego Maradona at the absolute peak of his powers.

The quarter-final match between Argentina and England will forever have Maradona's name etched on it. He captained his side to a 2-1 victory, scoring both the goals for his team. These two goals scored by Maradona, remembered for contrasting reasons, continue to haunt the English fans to this day. Maradona scored the first goal using his hand when he leapt higher than the goalkeeper and poked the ball into the empty net. Unfortunately for England, the referee couldn’t spot that and the goal stood. Maradona himself - after the match - famously labelled it as "the hand of god" goal. The second goal, however, was a piece of genius, in footballing terms it was like watching Da Vinci paint the famous Mona Lisa. He was literally untouchable and proved to be the difference between the sides. The second Maradona goal was later declared the goal of the 20th century. He captained his country to a well-deserved World Cup triumph.

Maradona's off-field behaviour was not something to be admired, but on the field he was such a legend that he was/is literally worshipped in some parts of Argentina and Napoli; the Iglesia Maradoniana is a religion that has more than hundred thousand followers. Maradona's contribution to Argentina and Napoli's success is undeniable and they therefore consider him divine in that part of the world. At the age of 60, Maradona died on November 25, this year.

What Maradona did for Argentina in 1986, Paolo Rossi did for the Italian National Team four years back in 1982. Rossi was the heartbeat of that World Champion Italian side as he claimed both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball in that edition of the FIFA World Cup. Rossi died on December 9, aged 64.

Two famous managers in the world of football, Gérard Houllier and Jack Charlton, brother of Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton, also lost their lives in 2020.

In the cricketing world, as well, there were some big names that left us this year, most notably Australia's Dean Jones whose death sent shockwaves across the cricketing world on September 24. Jones was 59.

Former Pakistan Test player and selector Waqar Hasan, who was also part of the inaugural Test squad, died in Karachi on February 10 at the age of 87. Another former Pakistan Test player Shahid Mahmood died at the age of 81 in New Jersey, USA. Mohammad Munaf, who played four Tests for Pakistan died on January 28; he was 84.

The great West Indian batsman of the 50s Sir Everton Weekes, part of the famous "The Three Ws" (Frank Worell and Clyde Walcott being the other two), was 95 when he died at Barbados on July 1.

One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant, was involved in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant. The game will never forget the Black Mamba!

The beautiful game!

The 2019-20 season in football was unique for obvious reasons, with several domestic leagues ending prematurely as confusion prevailed worldwide.

Most major European Leagues, however, took a couple of months’ hiatus only to resume with several restrictions put in place to ensure people's safety. Players were required to take COVID tests regularly while fans were barred from attending live matches in the stadiums for safety reasons.

When the games were stopped in the English Premier League, Liverpool were closing in on their first league title in 30 years. It was tough for the fans as they had waited for a very long time only for the league to be halted because of Covid. Finally, when the league resumed, Liverpool were crowned the champions of England.

It was business as usual in Italy and Germany where Juventus and Bayern Munich clinched their 9th and 8th consecutive domestic league titles respectively. Real Madrid won their 34th La Liga title; Barcelona came second five points behind the leaders.

Things were looking very gloomy for Barcelona as tabloids and news outlets across the world started linking their talisman Lionel Messi with Manchester City. It cost the club manager his job and eventually the president also resigned early in the new season to keep Messi at Barcelona for at least one more year.

The domestic leagues in France ended abruptly but PSG were crowned the champions on the basis of Points Per Game. The Dutch football season was abandoned in April and was declared void eventually. Porto won their 29th Primeira Liga title in Portugal.

Bayern Munich won the UEFA Champions League by beating Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in Lisbon. Sevilla, meanwhile, beat Inter Milan 3-2 in Cologne to lift the UEFA Europa League trophy.

Game, set, match

The Tennis season was also impacted severely by Covid 19, so much so that the authorities had to call off the Grand Slam at Wimbledon. Novak Djokovic won the Men's Singles while Sofia Kenin claimed the Women's Singles title at the Australian Open.

Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka won the US Open Singles title, while the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, proved invincible yet again in France as he claimed his 13th title at Roland Garros. Nadal is now tied with the great Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slams, the most in Men's Tennis. Poland's Iga Swiatek won the Women's Singles title at the French Open.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The year 2020 gave Pakistan cricket fans hope as Bangladesh toured Pakistan at the start of the year following in the footsteps of the Sri Lankan team who visited Pakistan last year.

When all cricketing activities stopped in the month of March due to the pandemic, the Pakistan Super League was in its final stages. The play offs and the final were eventually played in November as Karachi Kings won their first ever PSL title.

It was the first time that the Pakistan Super League was entirely organized and held in Pakistan.

In the month of October, Zimbabwe toured Pakistan for limited over matches. Pakistan won both the T20I and ODI series. It can be said perhaps that cricket is finally back in Pakistan. South Africa is all set to tour Pakistan after almost a decade and a half which is a positive sign, and there's a good chance that England will be touring Pakistan next year as well.

The Pakistan Cricket Team toured England in the summer to play three Tests and three T20Is. The hosts won the Test Series 1-0 while the T20Is Series was tied at 1-1.

In the month of November, Pakistan Cricket Board appointed Babar Azam as Captain across all three formats of the game. Pakistan cricket team is currently touring New Zealand for Tests and T20s Series. Babar Azam is currently the only player in Men's cricket who is among the top five batsmen in all three forms of the game.

The ICC Men's T20 World Cup, which was scheduled to take place in Australia, was postponed and will now be played next year in India. The 2020 Asia Cup also met with the same fate; the tournament was scheduled to take place in Pakistan in July 2020, but instead it will now be played in Sri Lanka in June next year.

In the Women's T20 World Cup final Australia beat India by 85 runs at the MCG, Melbourne.

Other sports

The FIA Formula One World Championships were restricted to 17 races instead of 22 due to the pandemic. Lewis Hamilton won the Drivers' Championship for the seventh time and in the process, he equalled the legendary Michael Schumacher. Hamilton broke Schumacher's record for most career wins at the Turkish Grand Prix, which was his 92nd career victory. Mercedes claimed their seventh Constructors' Championship.

Elsewhere, Slovenian Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates became the first man to win the yellow, polka dot and white jersey in the same year at the Tour de France. Bryson DeChambeau won the U.S. Open Golf Tournament while Dustin Johnson emerged victorious at the 2020 Masters Tournament. The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title beating Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals. LeBron James was declared the Finals MVP. Corey Seager was named the World Series MVP as his team Los Angeles Dodgers claimed the World Series title in Major League Baseball.

There was so much to look forward to in 2020, but nature has its ways to show us our place. Sports gives people hope and reason to enjoy and celebrate, and it was only when everything came to a standstill that the true value of these activities became obvious to us all. All of humanity will step into 2021 with renewed hope, for sports fans in particular the next year will bring endless joy with so many events to look forward to.

P.S. Pakistan’s national sport is hockey.