It’s award time – the sports hits and misses of 2021.
Sportsperson of the Year – Ajaz Patel
Claiming 10 wickets in a test innings is akin to flying to the moon…then zipping off to Mars, particularly for a Kiwi spin bowler.
Most spinners who make the New Zealand test side would be lucky to total 10 wickets in their career. They appear as a selection whim, and disappear with little trace.
But Patel is now one of just three players in cricket history to take ten wickets in one innings, after he bowled out India in Mumbai.
Wonder how long he will last. His absolutely remarkable Mumbai feat will stand the test of time, that’s for sure.
Team of the Year – the Kiwi Olympians
Yes, there was the disappointment of being soundly thrashed by San Marino in the medals per capita race.
But apart from that the returns were sensational, led by Lisa Carrington.
That should help with the future funding.
Punch Above their Weight Award – Kane Williamson's men
Goes to the New Zealand cricketers for beating India in the first-ever world test final. Just getting to the ultimate game surprised just about everyone.
Pace bowler Kyle Jamieson led the assault in an eight wicket victory.
With both teams camped in rooms around the Southampton stadium because of Covid, the Indian team had to endure listening to the Kiwi celebrations.
But the noise shouldn’t end there – this inaugural victory will grow in status over the years if the new format takes off.
Superstar in the Making
Cricketer Kyle Jamieson. Sensational bowling figures along with batting acumen. He even managed to top score in the Mumbai test disaster, when the Black Caps totalled 62 in the first innings (that’s the last mention of that).
Disappointment of the Year
MMA superstar Israel Adesanya quitting for America…citing a lack of Government support over various issues, and specifically MIQ.
“You’ll never see me fight in New Zealand ever again,” he thundered.
Be a good promotion if he did though.
The America’s Cup still wows the public. Drama, (some) epic racing, personalities, national pride, intrigue, Grant Dalton…
Bore of the Year
Bad (America’s Cup) sailing races – although luckily there is often more wind off the water than on it.
Courage Award – Simone Biles
American Simone Biles, the world’s greatest gymnast, quit a number of Olympic disciplines citing mental health struggles which she said renderedthe routines too dangerous.
All the societal issues in sport can detract from its charm at times, but athletes all over the world are making important stands.
It was a draining year for Biles, who later gave evidence to a senate hearing about the historical sex abuse experienced in the America gym team.
Quote of the Year
“Seriously, we have got to stamp on this. It’s criminal….”
And there was a lot more from Gary Neville, the Manchester United stalwart turned football pundit, whose immediate condemnation helped cause the avalanche of criticism which stopped an elitist European super league in its tracks.
Top Track Work – the Dynamic Duo
Kiwi trainer Chris Waller and jockey James McDonald – who have dominated the Sydney racing scene for ages – finally claimed Melbourne Cup glory with Verry Elleegant, who is also New Zealand bred.
Oh, Ye of Little Faith Trophy – Most of the World
The athletes believed, but the rest of us had major doubts. The Olympics were widely viewed as an enormous risk on Planet Covid. Yes, the joy factor was dialled back without crowds. But a world polarised by just about everything managed to come together then part as fairly good friends.
Life Begins at 50 – Steven Alker
It has taken Kiwi golfer Steven Alker 30-plus years to become an overnight sensation.
The 50-year-old went on a PGA seniors golf tour blitz after turning 50 in late July.
Can’t wait to see how he goes in 2022 – his rise was so astonishing that he secured automatic rights on the Champions Tour.
Prediction of the Year (for next year) – no thanks
Covid being Covid, I’ll pass on this one. It’s too difficult to predict. But who would want to be running a major sport right now?
Most Memorable Flip
…won easily by the American Magic outfit, whose America’s Cup boat Patriot – skippered by Kiwi Dean Barker – nearly went to the bottom during the Auckland regatta.
Rival crews rushed to the scene as a dramatic, lengthy and successful boat rescue operation was mounted after the spectacular capsize.
The Déjà vu Medal – Peter Burling and Blair Tuke
The brilliant sailors led Team New Zealand to a successful America’s Cup defence, but like some famous predecessors they are apparently ready to quit the Kiwi team. Well, I think that’s what is happening. No one really seems to know. America’s Cup sagas are so convoluted.
Feel-Good Sports Story of the Year – the US Open's teen triumph
Especially with all us oldies stuffing up the world…
…the 18-year-old Briton Emma Raducanu won the women’s final without conceding a set during the tournament. In doing so, she became the first qualifier to win a grand slam title and the first woman in the Open era to win a Slam at the second attempt.
Her career summary of Titles Won 1, Prizemoney $4m makes suitably strange reading.
Beaten finalist, the 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada, was a comparative veteran with four Slam appearances already under the belt.
Life Begins At 40 – Tom Brady
Or make that 43. After a glittering 20-year career with the New England Patriots, quarterback supremo Tom Brady struck immediate success with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, guiding them to a Super Bowl victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He also became the oldest participant in the Super Bowl, his 10th appearance in the big show, winning his seventh ring.
My Own Personal Favourite – Lydia Ko
Finally, the Ko comeback is all go. Ko won her second Olympic medal, and climbed back to the upper echelons of the world rankings after it had looked as though her free fall would never end.
Win or lose some things never change – she does everything with such grace, as the world saw in the final stages of the Olympic tournament.
Comeback Queen – Emma Twigg
Two previous Olympic fourth placings were locked away as she stormed to a rowing gold medal.
Comeback King – Phil Mickelson
The artful American golfer became the first player to win a major at 50, claiming the PGA title while ranked 115 in the world. It was Mickelson’s sixth major, and his first since 2013.
“It’s very possible that this is the last tournament I ever win,” he said, which isn’t quite true. He won four of his first six seniors tournaments.
Kiwi Coach of the Year – Scott Robertson
Cumulative award for the Crusaders rugby coach, after winning his fifth title in five attempts. Amazing.
Topic of the Year
Ian Foster v Scott Robertson…the All Black coaching debate could go on and on.
World Sports Superstar of the Year – Mohamed Salah
A free wheeling, goalscoring breath of fresh air from the dynamic Liverpool football setup.
The old Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo headline act was getting stale. Football needs a new talisman. It has one.
Conundrum of the Year (and future years) – Naomi Osaka
The American-Japanese tennis star quit the French open and raised questions around media questioning, citing the mental health problems they caused. As she later said, it’s a tricky balance.
Biggest Concern – women's sport
New Zealand is hosting world rugby and football cups over the next two years but the national teams are in slumps. Women’s sport has found it tough enough anyway in the pared-back Covid landscape.
Suckers of the Year – a lot of us
…for daring believe that Aussie fly-by-nighters like Phil Gould and Peter O’Sullivan really cared about the Warriors. One minute they were going to dedicate their lives to the club. Next minute they were off.
Cameron George Award – Cameron George
Goes to Warriors boss Cameron George…for keeping the NRL Nomads afloat across the ditch.
Kiwi Rugby Champions of the Year – Not Sure
Reports of Blues players celebrating their champion status had Crusaders fans we know choking on their lamb chops.Having stormed to yet another title, the domestic Super Rugby crown, the mighty Crusaders slipped as Leon McDonald’s Blues grabbed the trans-Tasman version, their first trophy since 2003. So who are the champions? It was all very confusing.
Most Frustrating Stall – Serena Williams
The tennis legend played three of the 2021 Grand Slams but couldn’t add to her tally of 23 wins, remaining one behind the (thoroughly unlikeable homophobe) Margaret Court.
Another Grand Slam from a 40-year-old Williams would be a great story for 2022, as unlikely as it seems.
Surprise Hit (1)
The Netflix series Bad Sport. It didn’t get much promotion but the six episodes on separate sporting sagas gets two thumbs up as they say in the movie rating business. My own personal favourite: the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction episode on Christy Martin, the trailblazing women’s boxing star.
Surprise Hit (2)
John Kirwan’s suits…so bold that fellow Sky rugby pundits Jeff Wilson and Mils Muliaina were in danger of disappearing on the TV sets. Jeff and Mils need strong shopping off seasons.
Surprise of the Year – rugby punditry
The above trio is actually trying to do a bit of decent rugby criticism on Sky. By world standards it is very standard issue, but hey, at least the genre is trying to spread its wings. Rugby desperately needs this.
Top Hit – Tyson Fury
In a crazy knock-em-down heavyweight contest, the charismatic Fury overcame Covid, his newborn baby’s health issues and terrible elbow injures to beat Deontay Wilder for a 2 – 0 trilogy triumph. Fury versus fellow Brit Anthony Joshua is the drawcard many would love to see. My money would be on Fury, the more natural boxer.
Issue of the Year
Concussion. If only all the sport medics would swallow their pride and start making some statements which reflect the public concern and fairly substantial data around it.
Fading Issue of the Year
Sport’s influence in the very difficult business of stamping out racism is undeniably important. But ‘taking the knee’ is losing its impact. Protests need to remain fresh – rituals don’t cut it in the long run.
The All Blacks were inept against impressive Ireland and France. Losing against outstanding opponents is okay. Playing like that isn’t.
All Black of the Year
There wasn’t one…but if the trophy has to be allocated I’d give it to Will Jordan on the basis of fresh hope…he is a rarity in being able to play rugby the way it was meant to be played, with a sense of adventure.
There was a special magic around the name of the 1960s All Black Waka Nathan and particularly for an Auckland fan – even if you had never seen him play.He was, perhaps, the rugby forefather for the greatest of flankers, Michael Jones.
A sign of different times – the most famous moment, or certainly photo, from Nathan’s career was a Ranfurly Shield try he scored against Canterbury.
I interviewed Nathan at his Mangere pork bone shop 20 years ago, when he said he’d still love to be playing.
“Imagine getting paid that money for doing the thing you love,” he said.
Nathan, who had suffered dementia, was 81 when he passed away in September.
International rugby league. Is there anybody out there?
England rugby coach Eddie Jones revealing he annihilated a kiwifruit with a samurai sword to stir his team up before their massive World Cup semifinal win over the All Blacks in 2019.
A favourite memory from 2021
Interviewing 94-year-old Bill McCaw, the only surviving All Black from the last defeat against Wales in 1953. When I asked McCaw for an old comrade’s phone number, he apparently whipped out his iPad where he keeps a contact list. Talk about changing times- that 1953 tour of Europe was the first time he had seen television.
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