2020 was really a strange year for all of us - a year that gave us some of the toughest moments in life yet told us to stand up and walk again. Sport, in the process, forced its way back and became the light of hope to carry on, making us forget the bigger problems in place.
As the year draws to a close, we, at SportsCafe, are reminiscing our favourite matches from the year and dwell in its intricacies. Let’s go back and live it again.
ABD-Kohli vs Bumrah, an all-time RCB-MI classic to savor
RCB vs MI, Dubai, IPL 2020
By - Harshit Anand
Two contrasting worlds collide when Virat Kohli's RCB take on Rohit Sharma's MI which leaves the earth trembling as such is the rivalry between the two. And for the fans, who wait all year long to witness the two modern masters clash against each other. And Dubai played host to an all-time classic between RCB and MI when after an ABDv epic, which generally breaks the back of opposition, Kishan and Pollard rose like a phoenix from the Ashes. From 3/39 and needing 90 from the last five overs in the chase of 202, both the batsmen unleashed some of the meatiest blows amid mind-numbing pressure and improbability of a win when no one could even take a breather as each delivery turned into the biggest batting festival. The match ended in a tie, adding startling layers of exhilaration.
That kick-started a super over full of global superstars, ready to take down each other. Navdeep Saini vs Pollard-Hardik. And Saini turned into a hero in an instant with a seven-run-over against two best hitters of the game. That took us to the box-office, mouth-watering Bumrah vs ABDv-Kohli full-blown war. Two geniuses of the modern era wrestling with the greatest death bowler of present times. Can he defend eight? Two runs from the first three balls, DRS saving AB's life, and the fight was on in the late hours of the night. However, AB and Kohli against a world-class Bumrah delivered an epic win but most importantly, a thriller to savor for a lifetime.
Mohammed Shami’s ‘brilliance’ pulls off an impossible heist for India
India vs New Zealand, 2020
With two to win off four deliveries and two set batsmen at the crease, New Zealand were in a dominant position to overturn the result in their favour. After going down 2-0 in the series, it was a perfect opportunity for them to stage a comeback, with Williamson on 95 and Taylor on 17. However, that’s where the calamity hit hard; New Zealand were broken and shredded in pieces out of nowhere. In the span of four deliveries, they lost two wickets, failed to connect the ball in the remaining two as the scores remained level. Talk about a thriller, this one was of the highest order - as both sides crumbled under pressure only for India to pick themselves up later.
Remember, it was New Zealand’s nth super-over in the span of one year, they were equally sick and tired of chasing and defending totals in overtime. For India, it was a challenge of the highest order, to beat the dominant Kiwis at their own home. While Williamson and Guptill outclassed Bumrah, India knew that 18 wasn’t a big score to chase with their batting unit. After a nervy two deliveries, Rohit Sharma ensured that New Zealand’s ‘rotten’ luck with super-overs continued as he landed the sucker punch to take India to a unique series win against the hosts, who until that point were considered India’s only ‘nemesis’ in the shortest format.
India vs Belgium, FIH Pro League 2020, Bhubaneswar
By - Sounak Mullick
For long, Hockey had been India’s claim to fame in the Olympics, with us still standing firmly with the record with eight Gold medals, even though the last triumph was way back in 1980. Apart from a few flukes here and there - 2018-19 Hockey Series Finals being one, the Indians have misfired in International tournaments. Even in the 2018 World Cup, the hosts succumbed to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals of the meet, settling for a sixth place finish with Belgium crowned as the champions for the first time ever. The European side has been a constant force in recent years, with them reaping the results of their own hard work.
Cut to 2020, the Belgian side was in Bhubaneswar, in February this year, for the Men’s FIH Pro League and they were up against the hosts in their fifth match at the Kalinga Stadium. Forward Mandeep Singh drew first blood as early as in the second minute of the game, much to the delight of the 15,000 spectators over there. What was so inspiring? The way India never let Belgium get a hold of the game, even though the visitors did level the scores in the 33rd minute. The 46th-minute strike from Ramandeep Singh meant India were on their way to register a historic win over the reigning World Champions. Undoubtedly, one of the best matches India played in recent years.
The choke that never happened
England vs Australia - 3rd ODI at Old Trafford
“Will Australia choke again?” was the question that flooded the newspapers and social media ahead of the 3rd ODI. Twice they had done so in the tour already, and one more would mean that they would exit enemy territory empty-handed - three intra-squad warm-up matches and a dissociation from the outside world, all for nothing. And in the game twice they teased to do so. First, they let England score 302 after reducing them for 0/2 and then they threatened to implode with the finish line within touching distance. Eventually, they got home, but the match will not be remembered because Australia did not choke.
It will be because it was witness to two of the finest and greatest ODI centuries in modern history - by Bairstow and Maxwell - and because 22 men fought tooth and nail and refused to give up till the very last ball and because two proud nations, in the midst of a pandemic, in front of empty stands, provided an intense and dramatic finale that wouldn’t have been out of place in a World Cup. It was tragically poetic that Morgan, who’d stolen the second ODI and the T20I series right under the nose of the Aussies through astute captaincy and tactical nous, gifted the enemy the series with his first - and only - miscalculated punt. Rashid, who’d suffocated the Aussies for no less than an entire fortnight, unintentionally ended up liberating them. The month-long dissociation was finally worth it.
Kevin O’Brien and a rub of Green
Ireland vs England, Southampton, 2020
Not all underdog victories have the kind of romance that we strive in them. Not all Ireland victories make the cricket fan go berserk. But there was something fundamentally unique about Ireland’s England heist in Southampton - joining dots of two ends of the story in dramatic fashion. Kevin O’ Brien, Ireland’s star in that famous Bangalore night in 2011, hit the winning run after centuries from Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie set up what was a special run-chase. But the biggest flex - the target this time was exactly the same as that of 2011: 329.
The way Balbirnie struck with his youngsters after two complete implosions, the way seniors tackled a dangerous-looking David Willey and the way youngster Harry Tector batted in the last five overs, it all made Ireland look like a group of world-beaters. Not always you see that kind of dominance from the Irish side but as cricket was forcing its way back after a pandemic-induced break, you see hope emerging. For me, that captured the pulse and showed the way forward.
"That" Champions League quarter-final
Barcelona 2-8 Bayern Munich, 2020
By - Siddhant Anush Lazar
I know I'm not the only one - especially in a year when days, weeks, and months have merged into one - for whom football games have long since begun to blur into one. Especially when you watch well over 450 games a year, so for something to actually stand out it needs to be great. Or at least historic or even something that nobody would have ever expected would happen and this one stands out like a bright light in a pitch black tunnel.
After all, it is not every day that Bayern Munich - a ruthless, clinical Bayern for whom everything had come together - rips apart a hapless Barcelona who could do nothing but stop and stare. From Phonzie Davies rip-roaring up and down the flanks, to Joshua Kimmich running the midfield. To former Barca man Thiago Alcantara playing the Barcelona way in front of Barcelona and doing it the way fans would have loved to see Barcelona do it to Thomas Muller's ever grinning renaissance.
Every single moment has been burnt into my brain and that includes Barcelona's two club-record signings coming off the bench and one of the two, walking out for Bayern. But the real kicker? The fact that Coutinho not only scored twice but that he celebrated with a wry smile on his face. Moments like that just aren't supposed to happen in a game between two “elite” teams and I for one never thought that I would ever see an 8-2 scoreline in a game like this, at this level in my life-time or ever for that matter. Unheard of stuff but that’s 2020 for you.