Here are my top-10 sports memories (the pleasant as well as the unpleasant ones) from the year 2011 (sorted chronologically):
1. Cricket: England Win The Ashes 3-1 (7th January)
The Ashes had been retained already, but Australia had a chance to regain some pride after two innings losses. The redemption did not come, as England got their third innings win of the series as they sealed the Ashes win 3-1. It was a masterclass performance from the English side, bowling out Australia for 280 and 281, and scoring 644 themselves. Alastair Cook continued his golden run with 189 runs and the Man of the Match award. Playing without Ricky Ponting, who had injured himself at the Boxing Day Test of 2010-11, the Michael Clarke - led Australian team lost the Ashes at home for the first time in 24 years.
2. Cricket: ICC World Cup (2nd April)
I have far too many memories from this event. That is why I have already compiled a separate post of my World Cup Memories. But there is hardly any doubt that this was one of the highlights of the year in the game of cricket... and an event worth remembering! India became the World Champions for the first time in 28 years, becoming the first team to win the finals at home.
3. Tennis: Djokovic Rules At Wimbledon (3rd July)
It was the top-seed defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain against the form player of the year and usurper of the No. 1 rank Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the Gentlemen's Singles Final at the 125th edition of the Wimbledon Championships. Djokovic won in 4 sets, and plucked out a few strands of the Wimbledon grass to put in his mouth. He was savouring the taste of his victory... quite literally! It was a difficult match to watch for a Nadal fan like me... mainly because he had been outplayed completely by the Serbian. Djokovic broke the Federer-Nadal duopoly for the No. 1 rank that lasted almost 7 and a half years.
4. Football: Japanese Women Triumph In Germany (17th July)
Ordinarily, this event would not have made my top-10 list. But this was not an ordinary year for Japan. The great earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 had left almost 16000 people dead, 6000 injured and 3500 missing. The aftershocks of the earthquake continued till June 2011, when the Japanese women began their FIFA Women's World Cup campaign in Germany. In this backdrop, they won the finals on penalties against one of the two favourites - United States of America, having already beaten the other favourite - hosts and defending champions Germany - in the Quarterfinals. It was an emotional moment for Japan, watched by huge crowds in Germany and a fitting end to an immensely successful World Cup!
5. Cricket: England Complete Whitewash (22nd August)
The No. 1 spot in Test cricket had already been sealed with a win in the third Test. But that was never going to stop England, as they emphatically completed a whitewash over India to stamp their status as the top team in Tests. It was extremely difficult to watch that performance from England as an Indian fan... the only solace being the realisation that the English squad was far superior. The wounds of this drubbing will take a
6. Rugby: All Blacks Win At Home (23rd October)
The hosts won the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 16 years (after the Springboks 1995) in a closely fought finale at Eden Park, Auckland. Like the Japanese women's FIFA World Cup win, this win for the All Blacks too came in a year where Christchurch had been affected by a big earthquake... so much so that some matches (including a quarterfinal) had to be moved out of that city due to the destruction caused. The All Blacks have always been an exciting team to watch... and there is no denying that they were the best team of the tournament, winning every single match they played.
7. Formula One: Inaugural Indian Grand Prix (30th October)
A few years ago, I would have said it's unfathomable so early! But in 2011, it actually happened. Buddh International Circuit hosted the inaugural Indian Grand Prix Formula One race weekend from 28th October to 30th October 2011... and apart from a small interruption due to a stray dog during the first practice session on Friday, it was a smooth affair. Karun Chandok set the first ever flying lap time on the circuit during the first practice session on Friday. Sebastian Vettel won the with his Red Bull car, both the Force India cars (Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta) managed to score points and Narain Karthikeyan finished at 17th position - equaling his season best with the Hispania Racing Team. Formula One had come to India!
8. Cricket: South Africa 96, Australia 47 (10th November)
What a day of cricket! If I tell you that the day started with visitors adding 70 runs for the last 2 wickets and ended with the hosts scoring 81 runs for the loss of just 1 wicket, then you might be forgiven for thinking that a lot of the day's play might have been washed out. It is scarcely conceivable that in between these 151 runs for 3 wickets, Cape Town witnessed the fall of 20 wickets for 143 runs! So the final equation - 23 wickets, 294 runs, 79.3 overs and a part of all four innings played out in one day! I watched Australia slump to 21 for 9, and then had to miss out on the rest of their innings as I was to go out. Their 10th wicket pair's 26 run partnership saved them the embarrassment of recording the lowest ever total in a Test innings, and ended up being greater than the sum of all their other 9 partnerships!
9. Cricket: Sehwag Also Crosses The 200 Barrier (8th December)
A lot of people believed that he would be the first man to do so. He wasn't... his idol was! But 652 days after Tendulkar had done so, Sehwag too breached the 200-run barrier in Men's ODI cricket and relegated that 200* (147b, 25 x 4s, 3 x 6s) to the second spot amongst the highest runs scored by a batsman in an ODI innings. The top spot is now occupied by a 219 (149b, 25 x 4s, 7 x 6s)... a phenomenal knock that could even have been a 250! Like it happened with the Tendulkar 200, I missed this occasion too. Atleast in case of the 200*, I had seen Tendulkar bat till he was about 130-odd... but this time, I was reduced to just following the scores on my cell phone. But the highlights were good enough to make you realise what a special knock that was!
10. Cricket: Sri Lanka Move On From Murali (29th December)
South Africa humiliated them in the 1st Test. There was hardly anyone predicting a win for the Sri Lankans before the 2nd Test began. But the Durban jinx struck again. Sri Lanka put up a stupendous performance to beat South Africa in the 2nd Test and level the series at 1-1, subjecting the hosts to their 4th consecutive loss at Kingsmead, Durban. The most important thing was that this was Sri Lanka's first Test win in almost a year and a half since the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. I was wondering when Sri Lanka would start winning again... for their year had gone nowhere but down after they had been beaten in the World Cup finals in Mumbai. This match ensured that they finished it on the right note!
There were many other moments worth remembering in 2011 - Sri Lanka's capitulation against England at Cardiff, Zimbabwe's brilliant comeback to Test cricket, Na Li becoming the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal's 6th French Open win, Jo Wilfried Tsonga's win over Roger Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinal coming from 2 sets down, Novak Djokovic out-Rafa-ing Rafael Nadal to win his first US Open title, Manchester United losing the derby to Manchester City at home 1-6, numerous clashes between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa during the Formula One season, and many more! Looking forward to another exciting year full of great sporting action... Happy 2012 to everyone!