Yearender 2021: Bumrah’s match-winning spell, Ajaz’s rare feat, Rafiq destroying racism, Root’s remarkable year

In sport, as in life, there are events within events. Moments that shape the moment of glory or moments that stay in the mind beyond the runs, wickets, goals and trophies. Moments that are more imperishable than numbers. As a breathless year of sport ends, and another sporting year restless to unfold, The Indian Express looks back at 2021.

Bumrah’s match-winning spell at Oval

Jasprit Bumrah’s post-lunch spell in the fourth Test against England at the Oval is one for ages. Bumrah took two wickets in five balls after lunch; he cleaned up Ollie Pope through the gate for just two before a brilliant yorker clean bowled Jonny Bairstow for a duck.

England were relatively well-placed at 141-2 before their slump started. Bumrah finished with the remarkable innings figures of 2-27 in 22 overs as India went 2-1 up in the series.

Pope’s wicket was also his 100th Test wicket, and he became the fastest Indian pacer to achieve the feat in his 24th game, surpassing the legendary Kapil Dev. However, a more revealing record is that no Indian has a lower average (22.45) to reach the mark than Bumrah.

Ashwin using drift, flight to snare Mark Chapman in Jaipur

In the first T20I in Jaipur, New Zealand, at one stage, were cruising at 106 for 1 in 13 overs. Enter R Ashwin to bowl his final over of the quota. Mark Chapman smashed the first ball for a boundary.

Next ball, Ashwin came wide of the crease and foxed Chapman with drift, flight, and turn; it missed Chapman’s swipe and outside edge to disturb the zing bells. Chapman scored 63 off 50 balls.

It was a classical off-spinner dismissal, bowled at 84kph, his second slowest of the night, and coaxed Chapman.

With the new batter Glenn Phillips in, he followed it up with a slower ball that went away. Another slower ball, this time an off-spinner, followed. Then came the sucker ball – a sharp carrom ball that saw Philips dismissed leg before the wicket. Ashwin finished with 23-2 in 4 overs. New Zealand was pushed back to 110/3 before India got their nose in front of the contest.

Ajaz Patel’s rare feat

Ajaz Patel achieved the rare feat of scalping all 10 batters in an innings at the city of his birth. The 33-year-old Patel claimed all 10 wickets against India on the second day of the second Test in Mumbai.

“The stars have aligned for me to do it in Mumbai,” said the New Zealand spinner after the end of the day’s play.

He even admitted that his heart was beating furiously when Mohammed Siraj tried to clear mid-on only for the ball to land in Rachin Ravindra’s hand.

Patel, who had migrated to New Zealand from Mumbai with his parents back in 1996, ended with figures of 47.5-12-119-10 to equal England great Jim Laker and Indian legend Anil Kumble, who had earlier achieved the rarest of rare feat in Test cricket.

Azeem Rafiq’s post on Twitter

Former Yorkshire off-spinner Azeem Rafiq stood by his allegations that he faced racism during his time at the county club as the investigation into his claims has begun. Rafiq said racism in English cricket was institutional, recalling the ‘humiliating treatment’ he received at the club.

In September last year, Yorkshire CCC announced its own investigation into the allegations. However, in October 2021, Yorkshire said it would not take any disciplinary action against players, staff, or executives, despite acknowledging that Rafiq had been “the victim of inappropriate behaviour” during his time at the club. The panel probing Rafiq’s allegations had reportedly upheld seven of 43 claims made by the player.

He shared an image on Twitter of a man with knives, scissors, and what not stuck on his back. Rafiq wrote, “Seen a lot through the last 16 months. From attempts to create evidence to blackmail me. Lot of sudden memory lapses.”

“Today’s memory laps after providing written evidence tops it all. Truth doesn’t stay hidden no matter how you close ranks.”

Teary Rafiq narrating his story to the parliament panel

Azeem Rafiq first made allegations of racism and bullying against Yorkshire back in August 2020, but his testimony was heard at a parliamentary hearing in 2021.

In an emotional hearing that lasted over three hours, Rafiq laid bare the extent of racial slurs, personal abuse, dressing room bullying, and discriminatory policies that he felt several senior employees and Yorkshire as a whole inflicted on him during his two stints there as a player.

Rafiq also shared a 57-page-long witness statement he had submitted to the Leeds Employment Tribunal court in 2020.

The most prominent names on the list are suspended Yorkshire head coach Andrew Gale, director of cricket Martyn Moxon, former chief executive Mark Arthur, and former England cricketers Gary Ballance, Tim Bresnan, Alex Hales, Matthew Hoggard, and Michael Vaughan.

Kohli’s pied piper celebrations at Oval

Virat Kohli is known for his passionate celebrations on the field whenever his bowlers take a wicket. He sometimes even engages with the crowd when the Indian team dominates the opposition, just like he did on Day 5 of the Oval Test against England.

Kohli joined in the celebrations and also trolled the Barmy Army on one occasion in the second session when Jasprit Bumrah castled Ollie Pope to pick up his 100th Test wicket.

Kohli used his hands to make the shape of a trumpet which he pointed at the Barmy Army and pretended to play it at them.

However, the Barmy Army took the incident in a lighter vein, and maybe with a pinch of salt.

“Yes, we know you want to be in the army Virat. We get the hint,” the Barmy Army tweeted along with a picture of Kohli playing his imaginary trumpet.”

India find Axar-factor at home

Axar Patel has had a dream year since making his Test debut against England on a Chepauk turner.

Axar’s maiden Test wicket was off England captain Joe Root. The England captain is a modern-day great in his own right, and even on the fourth day, standing on the burning deck, he showed top application before getting out to an almost unplayable delivery from Axar.

But overall, Root also, was uncertain in his approach and allowed the conditions to get the better of him. He scored a masterful 62.

Only two bowlers have taken more wickets in their first three Tests than Axar Patel’s 27 – India’s Narendra Hirwani bagging 31 at home to West Indies and New Zealand in 1988 and Australia’s Charlie Turner taking 29 against England across three Tests in Sydney in 1887-1888.

It turned out to be a memorable year for Axar Patel, who has bagged 36 wickets in 10 innings at 11.86 apiece.

Shaheen Afridi opening burst against India in T20 WC opener

Pakistan thrashed India by 10 wickets to record their first-ever World Cup win over arch-rivals in the T20I World Cup opener.

Shaheen Shah Afridi’s spell would have made even the great Wasim Akram proud. The youngster set the tone for Pakistan with the new ball.

Fast and straight, and some late movement into the right-handers. He bowled Rohit Sharma for a golden duck. It was almost an unplayable delivery for an opener, facing his first ball.

KL Rahul was done in by another in-ducker, the ball shaping in and going through the gate. This was a game for Afridi to treasure, returning with the wickets of Rohit, Rahul, and Kohli. He was indeed the showstopper for Pakistan.

Rohit’s straight drive off James Anderson at Oval

In the Oval Test against England, a determined Rohit Sharma showed exceptionally steely temperament to score the eighth century of his Test career.

One of the most elegant among modern-day batsmen, Rohit curbed all his ego throughout the series and presented a solid defence. 127 (256 balls) innings will be the most significant century of his Test career.

It took eight years and 43 Test matches to get an overseas hundred and that too in England in challenging conditions, and there won’t be any second guess about where this knock of Rohit will rank among his eight tons. There was a lot of restraint at the start but between a straight drive at the onset and the first cover drive was brought out of the closet only at the end of the second hour when James Anderson over-pitched one.

There is no doubt that Rohit Sharma is the best classical opener in world cricket now, and Indians will miss his service at the top of the order on bouncy tracks of South Africa.

Remarkable Root

England might be struggling in the ongoing Ashes series in Australia, but their skipper is breaking one batting record after other.

Joe Root, Ashes England’s Joe Root in action. (Reuters)

England skipper Joe Root became only the fourth player to score 1600 Test runs in a calendar year. He achieved the feat in the second Ashes Test against Australia at the Adelaide Oval.

Root (1630 runs) is only behind Mohammad Yousuf (1788 runs in 2006), Viv Richards (1710 in 1976), and Graeme Smith (1656 in 2008) to score the most number of runs in a calendar year. He will have the chance to become the leading run-getters in a calendar year with the third Test, starting on the boxing day at the MCG.

Root went past former skipper Alastair Cook’s tally of 4844 runs to become England’s most-prolific captain with the bat in Test cricket. Cook’s runs came in 59 Tests as captain, which Root has bettered by one; both batters have 12 hundred each. He has also surpassed former captain Michael Vaughan’s (1481 runs in 2002) record for the most runs by an England batsman in a calendar year in Test cricket.

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