Looking ahead, what 2022 can potentially unveil in sport

Just as we thought sport could return to its days of relaxed intensity, the virus has crept back into reckoning and wrecking of schedules. Express reporters list out their wishes for what 2022 can potentially unveil in sport, while keeping fingers crossed, hoping matters of life and health don’t again get calamitous.

Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

Bill Murray’s hyperbole in Ghostbusters may very well have been about the uneasy marriage of video games and ‘Big Sport’. Esports makes its debut at Asian Games this September. And many are expecting sparks to fly between the perceived monoliths of ‘get-off-my-lawn boomers’ and ‘I’m-allergic-to-grass-anyway zoomers’. Realistically, it will come, and pass.

Esports is an established industry with no need for legitimacy. And expecting the Twitch-watching crowd to magically switch to the Asian Games (and, in future, the Olympics) is expecting the bustling pizzeria to go bankrupt because the buffet next door has thrown slices of Margherita in the mix.

Not what or why, the intrigue is in the who. The historic first batch of Asiad gamers. The Asian stars who left their homes to live in cyber cafes, ingesting chips and soda and racking up kills all through the night. Closer home, the gamers who are still confused for online gamblers, who have had tournaments spoilt by power cuts. A few of them will suddenly find themselves atop a podium, adding to the country’s tally, doing their best medal bites. How cool would that be?

(Gaurav Bhatt)


Wanted: Air fresheners with freshly-cut grass scent

One of my unforgettable days at cricket was at Newlands in Cape Town on the 2019 tour. Watching Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara face Steyn and Philander sitting square of the wicket on the hill with the Amla Army – the laughing, singing boys and girls with fake beards and floppy hats – was a riot. You could see bowlers bending their backs, batsmen going up on their heels, the balls screaming past their noses, the slip cordon letting out a loud ‘ohh’ and those on the banks lending chorus. Catching live sports from home is a sad substitute for the stadium experience. Don’t trust the broadcaster, television can never give you any idea about the speed of a cricket ball, the urgency of a busy football mid-field, the power of a baseline winner, the brutality of a shuttler’s smash or the fury of an F1 race. You can be a zoom meeting fan and relish WFH but please don’t get used to being a ‘Watch From Home’ fan. Pray the virus gets cornered and killed in 2022 and the beaming fans once again race through the turnstiles. The cricket season will soon start and we will be stuck at home. Do they have air fresheners with freshly cut grass fragrance?

(Sandeep Dwivedi)


Year of the successor?

In May 2019, the morning after he’d led Mumbai Indians to their fourth IPL trophy, I asked Rohit Sharma what he felt about calls for him to get the India white-ball captaincy. He’d just become the country’s most successful T20 franchise captain. “That is not in my hands… that is for you guys to judge, whether I am prepared or not,” he’d said. In his own mind, he has possibly been prepared for a long time. He will certainly bring the rigour of analytical planning to the job, plus that instinctive ‘feel’ for limited-overs cricket. These are givens. What we are going to find out is how he will handle the great batsman who was controversially dumped as ODI captain, and who is still racking up big away wins as Test captain. And whether India will do better at the 2022 T20 World Cup than they did in 2021. And, of course, how Rohit’s iffy fitness will hold up.

(Abhishek Purohit)


BYOB … the Dukes, if you will

BYOB is the wish for the 2022. Not the booze, but the ball. For once, it would be great if bowlers are given the choice at toss on what type of ball they are going to use in the game. If India wants Dukes to be used in Australia – an eternal moan of sorts from R Ashwin and the pacers – they can go with it. Australia can choose Kookaburra. It won’t be a level-playing field on paper but it actually is a better leveller than the norm. James Anderson can try his best – surely he is going to continue to play for another decade- swinging the Dukes in Australia. If Australia find the extra seam on the SG ball though, they can go with Kookaburra in India. Let the captains announce their decision at the toss – it adds to the drama and the spectacle too. BYOB, please!

(Sriram Veera)


Soccer storm hits desert

I have both excitement and apprehension about the World Cup in Qatar late in 2022. Excitement because it’s just the second time in 91 years of the event’s history that it travels to Asia, and the first in the Middle East. Football-crazy as this part of the world is, there would doubtless be glittering quality and competitiveness. Arguably two of the finest-ever, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal is yet to qualify, and I wish they don’t at the expense of Italy), will bid their international farewell.Can one of them wrap up their career with their El Dorado?

There is a looming spectre of scrutiny as well, about how a conservative country could accommodate activism, alcohol and LGBTQ+ rights. However, Qatar has maintained it will comply with Fifa rules promoting tolerance and inclusion at matches, and that it is a “traditional but friendly” country. It would even allow fans to drink, whether they would be allowed to do so in public has to be seen. Questions could be raised on alleged human rights violations as well.

(Sandip G)


Time to join 90m club

An Asian, Commonwealth and Olympics medal at his first shot, Neeraj Chopra is already a living legend no matter what transpires from here on. But by his own admission, the Olympic gold “is in its place” and what he should aspire is to now to breach the magical 90m mark. Neeraj’s 87.58m gold-winning Tokyo throw does not even feature in his own top three career throws. Johannes Vetter, his German rival, on the other hand has breached the 90m mark an unbelievable 17 times. Now that Neeraj has attainted the pinnacle of athletics glory, it only makes sense for him to join the 90m club teeming with Germans. With several big competitions lined up this year including the World Championships at Eugene in 2022, Neeraj should all but focus on adding those couple of metres. Obviously, it’s easier said than done but then Neeraj loves challenges to better his 88.07m.

(Andrew Amsan)


Birmingham, Hangzhou dress rehearsals

For me, the biggest anticipation of the year 2022 will be the emergence of new talents in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and Hangzhou Asian Games. When the likes of Neeraj Chopra or Vinesh Phogat won twin medals in the 2018 CWG and Asian Games, it marked their arrival at the world stage before they were counted among top medal prospects for Tokyo. I see the likes of 14-year-old shooter Namya Kapoor winning a medal in CWG or Asian Games and what it could do to their confidence and preparations for Paris 2024. I will also be looking to athletes and teams to get their plans on track for Paris with the CWG as well Asian Games. I am hopeful of the Indian men’s hockey team booking a direct spot for Paris winning the title in Huangzhou. I will also be anticipating wrestler Vinesh Phogat, shooter Saurabh Chaudhary and boxer Amit Panghal to once again dominate Asia in their journey to glory in Paris, a chance which they missed in Tokyo.

(Nitin Sharma)


Board for Cricket Communication in India

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is always in the news and one always expects the richest board to communicate regularly and professionally. The year 2021 has been one where there has been lack of communication from the Indian board, not only with its players but with its stakeholders too. Going forward in 2022, one will anticipate some better flow of information available. The BCCI hasn’t yet formally announced who the Indian team support staff is and what their tenure will be.

There has been not a single press release on VVS Laxman’s appointment and how long he will be with the National Cricket Academy. Or who has replaced the India under 19 coach for the Asia Cup?

It took some Twitter outrage to get the BCCI to post a tweet on Virat Kohli’s contribution to Indian cricket as ODI captain. The BCCI selection committee doesn’t talk anymore, no one knows why they make the decisions they have taken before picking the Indian team or a particular player. Clear communication ought to be BCCI’s 2022 goal.

(Devendra Pandey)


Title ambitions for women’s cricket

Relegated to the fringes of public consciousness, 2022 would provide an opportunity for women’s cricket to test how far they have progressed. India reached the final of the previous edition of the Women’s ODI World Cup in 2017, losing narrowly to England. Since then, they’ve reached the summit clash of the T20 World Cup before the pandemic played havoc with the schedule. The national team has played only sporadically, but key players like Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana and Jemima Rodrigues have excelled in the Women’s Big Bash in Australia. They would be key when India travel to New Zealand early next year.
Also, there is the return of the sport at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where a high-standard field is likely to test them.

England and Australia are traditional powerhouses in women’s cricket, and have an almost exclusive hold on the game’s biggest prizes. The year 2022 may indicate whether India can finally join the exclusive club.

(Tushar Bhaduri)


Shoot at site

Late in 2022, Indian shooters will get an opportunity to assess where they stand. This comes after a disastrous Tokyo Olympics showing. One that saw a record number of Indians qualify for the Games but only one shooter in Saurabh Chaudhary, managing to qualify for the finals, where he came 7th.

I think World Championships are one of the best indicators of Olympic preparedness. Primarily because the best in the world compete in these events and the scores are often a better indicator of where a shooter stands. An average of scores collected in and around the tournament are likelier to reflect the calibre and form of a shooter, than other meets or in some cases, even World Cups. Shooters that do well next October should ideally be given the right kind of backing and training in the following 20 months till July 2024 when the Paris Games begin.

(Shashank Nair)


Sophomore challenges for women’s hockey

They scripted one of the biggest surprises – and also one of the most heartwarming stories – at the Tokyo Olympics but 2022 might well turn out to be a year of reckoning for the women’s hockey team.

Under new coach Janneke Schopman, Rani Rampal & Co. will compete in three major events in as many months, starting with the World Cup, which will be co-hosted by Spain and the Netherlands from July 1 to 17.

Eleven days after it ends, the team will travel to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games and a month later, they’ll be in Hangzhou for the Asian Games, where a berth for the Paris Games will be for grabs.

It’ll be interesting to see how Schopman, who was the team’s assistant coach in Tokyo, juggles the workload in a packed year, where the team will also play the FIH Pro League and the Asia Cup in January, where the top four teams will earn World Cup qualification. The three-month period from July to September, however, will be defining for them, and a chance to show that the semifinal appearance at the Olympics wasn’t a flash in the pan.

(Mihir Vasavda)


Will Winter Olympians protest?

The United States, Australia, Britain and Japan are among countries that have announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics because of allegations of China’s atrocities against the Uyghur community. Former World No.1 doubles player Peng Shuai’s disappearance from public space, after she accused a top government official of sexual assault, has raised concerns about her safety. The WTA withdrew its events from China in a rare stand taken by a sports body against a powerful government. Now the ball is in the court of Winter Olympians, set to participate in the Games in February. Politicians of certain countries not attending the games wouldn’t give China too much heartburn. However, if an athlete or a group of athletes decide to ‘express their views’ through a gesture or a message on a mask, it would leave the organisers in a fix. An attempt to cock a snook at the authoritarian regime in the People’s Republic of China will require a brave athlete to step up for Human Rights in one of the most inhospitable countries for activists.

(Nihal Koshie)


WC every two years = split in FIFA

The real danger is that an idea as stupid as a biennial World Cup can transform into a reality, for Fifa falls for quantity at the expense of quality. One of the reasons why Qatar will host a football World Cup in 2022 is that they had the support of the majority of Fifa members, while strong and traditional football powers gasped for vote.

The proposal for a biennial World Cup has been put forward by Arsene Wenger, now Fifa’s head of global development, to improve competitive chances for smaller nations, and eventually if it is put to vote, also-rans will outnumber the elite. No chance that Uefa will accept it. They have their Euros and a biennial World Cup will clash with that. It will have an adverse effect on the top leagues and the Champions League as well. Football is played in Europe and this idea reeks of damaging the continent’s football economy. Think there’s a decent chance of a breakaway if Fifa doesn’t address Uefa’s concerns. Circa 2022 could be a year of ferment.

(Shamik Chakrabarty)


The Young Force Awakens

In front of a star-studded line-up of Hollywood royalty, a piece of history remained incomplete at the men’s US Open final. Novak Djokovic’s Calendar Slam dream came to a shuddering halt courtesy a tall Russian, Daniil Medvedev. But in that defeat a new chapter had begun in the story of tennis. This was the first step in the transition from the Golden Era of the Big 3 to the Time of the NextGen.

In the fifth Grand Slam final where one from the younger guard would face either Rafael Nadal or Djokovic, Medvedev broke through.

After all these years that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – with 60 Grand Slams between them – have reinvented themselves, you feel the NextGen has found the formula to break the Big 3 oligopoly. That’s what I’m looking forward to seeing in 2022 – whether the youngsters can consolidate the transition to a new world order.

(Shahid Judge)


But, but…it’s the All England..

With her recent focus and necessity of picking and choosing tournaments, the All England, a Super 1000 like three others, isn’t necessarily a shoo-in on PV Sindhu’s schedule. It’s not even a must-have on her wall of fame, given all she’s achieved. But the All E remains an emotional hook for Indian shuttlers, given no Indian woman has ever won the title. It took 21 years after Prakash Padukone for Pullela Gopichand to win at Birmingham. It’s been another 21 years, as India continues searching for a winner. It’s not the Everest, but I’d like to see Sindhu ambitiously target that K2 peak and go all-out for the All-E, and go past the legends.

Sindhu has two Olympic medals, a World Championship (besides 4 other medals), and as such can safely stake a claim to India’s greatest Olympic sport athlete. But the All England isn’t a box that she will want staying un-checked in her career, given this could be her 10th outing at the circuit staple (she was out injured in 2015) since first playing in 2012. All top players of this vintage (Marin, Okuhara, Tai Tzu and Chen Yufei) – except Ratchanok and Yamaguchi – have won the All E atleast once. Saina Nehwal hasn’t either. So, Sindhu must.

(Shivani Naik)

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