A sport that is often considered a religion by its more die-hard fans, cricket has often inspired millions with its show of class, skill and teamwork. This year has seen moments that have stood out for the effort and dedication the players have put into the game and certain moments shine brighter than the rest. These inspirational moments saw cricketers step beyond the call of duty and delivery truly exceptional performances.
West Indies - WT20 ‘Champions’
The West Indies were the underdogs. Under-funded, under-equipped and apparently, without much backing of their cricket board, no one expected much from the men from the Caribbean. The fifteen men stood on their own with one uniting goal, to defy the odds. They landed in India for the 2016 World T20 without even the money to buy their own jerseys, which an ingenious manager had to procure in Kolkata. One hurdle overcome, they set out to prove the world wrong. Deriving inspiration from their own Under-19 team, who earlier that year won the U-19 World Cup, they were given further incentive to succeed when the West Indian women’s team won WT20 Cup. Against the odds, they kept on winning, defeating favourites India on their home turf and went through to the finals. There they played England and as the match neared its end, needed 19 runs off the last 6 balls. It seemed like their journey was nearing its end but, a hero was born in Carlos Brathwaite who stood tall and smashed four consecutive sixes to win them the tournament in sensational style.
Haseeb Hameed’s brave stand
Pain is a barrier that every sportsperson faces at one time or another. Haseeb Hameed faced it, his finger shattered, but he still picked up the bat and walked out onto the green. England were facing India on their home turf in the third Test of the series, trailing 0-1. Unable to open in the 2nd innings, rookie batsman Haseeb Hameed walked in at the No. 8 spot to try his best to set a competitive target for the hosts. It was a difficult goal and with his broken finger, should have been nigh on impossible but 19-year-old left his teammates in awe as he faced ball after ball. He stood at the crease for three hours, devising a new way of holding the bat to ease the pain from his broken hand. Facing 156 balls with his finger broken in two pieces, he stunned coach and country by scoring a fighting 59. His attitude and willingness to give it all for the country received appreciation from all quarters as he underwent surgery after that knock.
Rise of Afghanistan
In the early stages of the 2016 World T20, the West Indies team suffered a rare defeat to Afghanistan. A defeat that they called a ‘blip’, meant much more to the Afghan team. This was the first time that Afghanistan had beaten a test-playing nation (apart from Zimbabwe) in the T20 and ODI formats, a landmark moment. To understand the magnitude of their achievement, it was necessary to know more about their rapid rise in a war-torn country. Given the unstable political situation, the players, many of whom grew up in refugee camps, were exposed to great hardship. It was even difficult for them to get visas to play in international countries. Afghanistan become the highest ranked Associate nation as per the ICC rankings along with Ireland after just taking to the sport in 2008. This rise is a true testament to the resilience of the people, a people whose home ground is not even in their country but in far-off India! After a string of victories in the group stages, they were eventually knocked out of the World T20 but no one would disagree that it was a win for the nation.
It was the second Test match of the series, with the English side narrowly beating Bangladesh in the first. This time around too, they seemed well on their way to either a win or draw. Their target was a challenging 273 but Ben Duckett and Alastair Cook had already added 100 to the scoreboard. As the day drew on though, something changed. The stadium began to fill up with Bangladesh supporters and the wickets began to fall. The reason was apparent as Mehedi Hasan worked his magic with the ball. The 19-year-old off-spinner claimed his second five-wicket haul of the match as he brought the English side to a grinding halt, crashing for 164. It was a defining moment for the victorious Bangladesh side, who had played their first Test match in 2000. 16 years later and 95 Test matches later, they could finally claim the distinction of defeating England in a Test.
The three-match Test series between Australia and South Africa was a hotly-anticipated affair. The Proteas came into the series without AB de Villiers and lost Dale Steyn to a long-term injury. A bowler short and Australia on song at 160-odd for 1 in reply to the tourists’ modest 242 left them with a mountain to climb. They did just that and more as Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj bowled their hearts out. JP Duminy and Dean Elgar slammed centuries as South Africa’s 539-run target proved too much for the Aussies. In the 2nd Test too, the Proteas played with AB and Steyn for the first time since long as Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma rose to the occasion after the likes of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis failed to fire with the bat as they wrapped up the series.