2011 in Review

Written by  //  December 30, 2011  //  Sport  //  2 Comments

It was only in September, when Critical Twenties turned a year old, that I wrote a piece on the year in sport, and in the months that have followed, while there have been achievements of substantial note – Roger Federer’s stupendous showing at the O2 Arena in London, for instance – not much has occurred for me to write a post on a similar theme. I’ve decided therefore to concentrate on raw moments that I remember from the year. These include moments of virtuosity and failure, and moments that conjured joy and sadness, and often do not fall into any specific category.[1]


Best goals: At the end of the day, regardless of the extent of our connoisseurship, it’s the goals that we remember most, so I’ll start there.[2] Dejan Stankovic’s goal in Inter Milan’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Schalke was my favourite goal of the year. I have a thing for volleys and long-rangers, and Stankovic’s goal fits both of those categories. It was barely 20 seconds into the game when Esteban Cambiasso floated a ball behind the Schalke defense, which their goalkeeper Manuel Neuer came out bravely to sweep up, launching a header towards the halfway line. Stankovic, hanging about in the center circle, spontaneously volleyed the ball back, remarkably sending the ball over the out of position Neuer, and into the empty goal. It was an extraordinary goal, one that had the quality of bringing a neutral observer to his feet.

Staying with volleys, Robin van Persie’s recent pearler against Everton has to surely be up there with the best goals of the year. Just as Alex Song’s ball over the defense was dropping in front of him, van Persie conjured up a strike of astounding technical purity. He hit it so sweetly that I can still hear the unblemished sound of boot on ball.

It would be injudicious of me not to mention Wayne Rooney’s winner in the Manchester Derby in January here. Unlike Stankovic’s and van Persie’s efforts, I have watched this goal over and over again. The beauty of the strike apart, the goal had a sense of occasion to it, making it all the more special.

Berbarotica: Before it gets too late, I want to get my mention of Dimitar Berbatov away. In spite of being the top scorer in the 2010-11 season, Berbatov has found himself dropped from the Manchester United starting line-up – and often even from the squad – with Sir Alex Ferguson preferring to go with either Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck as Rooney’s strike partner. Against Fulham, earlier this month, though, Berbatov came on to score a sublime goal. It wasn’t against the toughest of opponents nor did it have a sense of occasion to it, considering it was the final goal in a 5-0 rout, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Berbatov let Antonio Valencia’s low cross slide past him, deceived a lunging Fulham defender, and then produced a cheeky backheel to find the back of the net. It was deft, languid, imperious and impudent all at once; it was typical Berbatov.

Silkiest skill: Had I seen this goal live, it may well have been my favourite of the year; it comes close nonetheless. Neymar has attracted several comparisons to Lionel Messi already, and this goal against Flamengo provides a microcosm of his unique talents. There were about 15 tricks that he performed in under 20 seconds – first there were a brace of ingenious turns on the left wing, then a one-two to get himself to the edge of the box, followed by an outrageous bit of skill that left the centre backs flummoxed and finally a finish to match the move.

Most elegant player: David Silva has been the most fun player to watch this year. He doesn’t slalom his way past opponents like Messi; he doesn’t have the pace and power that Cristiano Ronaldo possesses; nor does he dictate the tempo of a game in the manner of a Xavi or an Iniesta, but he is certainly the most elegant player going around. Silva doesn’t run past opponents, he glides away from them with a balletic grace. Everything he does on the pitch seems to have a rare beauty to it. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he is left footed.

Best game: My favourite game of the year was Arsenal’s 5-3 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October. Minutes to go, Arsenal have worked their balls off to come back into the game and go 4-3 up – aided no doubt by some abject defending – and just when you think they are going to play sensibly, and defend the lead, they bomb forward, scoring a fifth. It was a game full of thrills and spills, fantastic moves and schoolboy defending, but it was such fun! [I can’t find a video of the game, so you’ll have to make do with reading Scott Murray’s MBM in the Guardian]

Oh Scholesy! I’ve missed Paul Scholes, and unimaginably so. I miss the long-range blasts; the beautiful, precise diagonal balls; the little turns to get away from prying tacklers in the middle of the pitch; the change of pace that allowed him the time and space to dictate play; the late bursts into the penalty box; the cunning short passes that helped Manchester United retain possession; heck I’ve even missed those dirty tackles. [You can read my tribute to Scholes, who retired in May, here]



Favourite Moment: India’s World Cup victory seems such a long time ago after the humiliation in the test series in England and the recent loss at the MCG. But M.S. Dhoni’s six to seal the win against Sri Lanka in the final at the Wankhede, will remain etched in memory forever. I do, however, want to forget Ravi Shastri’s robotic, headache-inducing commentary that accompanied the moment.

Best ball: James Anderson was terrific during India’s tour of England this past summer, and his delivery to snare V.V.S. Laxman in the second innings of the second test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham was, perhaps, the ball of the year. It seemed to move both ways, first swinging into Laxman, before moving, ever so slightly off the pitch, away from the outside edge to hit the top of off-stump. Geoff Boycott reckoned that it was a simple case of Laxman missing the ball: “He played down Bakerloo and it went down Piccadilly,” he said, but Anderson’s skill certainly can’t be discounted.

Best innings: Alastair Cook made oodles of runs this year and Rahul Dravid batted with obstinacy and courage in the series in England, but neither produced an innings of particularly captivating worth. Pakistan had a terrific year, with Misbah Ul-Haq, Younis Khan and Taufeeq Umar, all making lots of runs, but I haven’t watched enough of them to offer a valuable comment. So the honour will have to go to one of Mahela Jayawardene or Ian Bell, the former for his innings of sparkling elegance in the World Cup Final, and the latter for his splendid late-cut riddled century against India at Trent Bridge. I’ll let you take your pick. I enjoyed both these knocks immensely.

Sehwagology: Virender Sehwag transcended a few boundaries in his brutal 219 from 149 balls at Indore against the West Indies. I didn’t name it in the best innings category for a regulation ODI has, in my opinion at any rate, lost significance. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular effort that at many levels defied description and served as a reminder of not only Sehwag’s genius but also of his contribution to the game. He is, at once, a revolutionary and a visionary.

Best contest: Dale Steyn’s two spells to start the first two sessions on day 3 of the Cape Town test between South Africa and India was as nifty a spell of swing bowling that one could have hoped to see. That Sachin Tendulkar faced 48 of the 66 balls bowled in those spells made it that much more of a spectacle. It was marvelous; test cricket at its very best. Second ball of the first over, Steyn beat Tendulkar with a gorgeous away singer that moved at tremendous pace. Three balls later, another outswinger, only this time, Tendulkar got to the pitch of it and drove it gloriously through extra-cover for a boundary. After a luckless first spell, Steyn came back after lunch to snare Pujara LBW with a gem that straightened upon pitching on leg. In his next over, he had Dhoni caught at third slip with another trademark outswinger. It was a glorious, beautiful day of test cricket, an innings in which Steyn picked up five wickets and Tendulkar made 146.



Best match: It was THAT match in which Novak Djokovic produced THAT shot. US Open semifinals, the Serb goes down two sets to love against Federer, then wins sets three and four only to trail 5-3, 40-15 in the decider. Everyone who’s watching it thinks, and knows even, that it’s over. Federer places his first serve wide of Djokovic’s forehand, a little undercooked, and boom, the return is past the Swiss even before he’s seen it. It was all Djokovic from there on. To me, the forehand on match point was a moment of pure inspiration. After the match, Federer called it a lucky stroke, he even seemed to question Djokovic’s moral right to go for that shot. Well, there is no arguing that Djokovic took an all or nothing approach, but what else could one expect?

Best point: Novak Djokovic has produced several remarkable points this year, many of them winners from inconceivable angles, when his whole body was seemingly stretched like rubber. But this honour belongs to Rafael Nadal. In the final of the Madrid Masters against Djokovic, after a rally of astounding interplay, Nadal somehow found himself at the net and produced a touch volley, which in turn brought Djokovic forward. The Serb, with his tremendous foot speed, got there with time to spare, and conjured a superb lob, that Nadal first tried to smash on his backhand side, on the turn, only to find it to be beyond his reach. But not one to give up, he chased after it, and manufactured a tweener – a between the legs effort. Only, this was no ordinary tweener. This wasn’t one of those, let-me-just-try-and-stay-in-the-point efforts. It was a tweener-lob – adroit, imaginative, and simply exquisite.

Quote of the year: “Umpires are like emotional girlfriends — once they make up their minds, there’s no point in arguing”: The incomparable Janko Tipsarevic

Comeback player: Almost bizarrely, in a year in which he didn’t win a Grand Slam for the first time since 2002, Roger Federer has to be considered as the comeback player of the year. Since losing to Djokovic in the US Open semifinals, he went 17-0, winning titles in Basel, Paris and London, regained some of the lost aura and once again looked an imperious, graceful force. Federer’s run of form at the end of the year has set up 2012 beautifully.

Player to watch in 2012: Andy Murray is still the best of the rest as far as the rankings are concerned, but the one who came closest to denting the oligarchy at the top in 2011 was Jo Wilfried Tsonga. The big Frenchman was often imposing and fantastic, particularly in his come-from-behind win in the Wimbledon quarterfinals against Federer. And crucially, unlike Murray, he seems to believe that he is capable of beating the top three at the highest of stages.

Most disappointing player: Richard Gasquet – as has been the case for each of the last five or six years. Anyone who can stroke a backhand as regally as he does has no right to be losing as many matches as he does.

Best parliamentarian: Not sure this category should be called “best” parliamentarian, for I have no clue what work Marat Safin – who was elected to the new Duma after elections in early December – actually does. But I’d imagine – or I’d like to believe, at any rate – that anything Safin does, he does it with panache. And for what it’s worth, Sampras had this to say about Safin’s victory: “Marat is very intelligent, articulate and well-spoken so I think it’s great that he’s getting involved in government in his homeland. In 20 years, Marat will be the President of Russia! Trust me, this guy is going to go a long way.”

[1] I’ve watched a whole lot of sport this year, like most other years, but I’m restricting this piece to football, cricket and tennis, the holy trinity as far as I’m concerned.

[2] It’s likely I have failed to mention a number of quality goals in this post. That would either be because I didn’t find them worthy enough or that I simply don’t remember them (I wanted to list out moments which I can conjure from memory as opposed to watching a YouTube compilation of best goals in 2011 and picking my favourite).

2 Comments on "2011 in Review"

  1. Alok December 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm ·

    Is it heresy to say that I’d trade the World Cup win for a Test series win in England and retention of the Test No. 1 ranking?

  2. Suhrith December 30, 2011 at 11:27 pm ·

    Alok, it certainly isn’t heresy to trade the World Cup win for a test series victory in England, but sadly, that remains the most memorable moment of the year, from the point of view of an Indian fan at any rate.

Comments are now closed for this article.