With 2021 behind us, a look back into Pakistan’s feats in sports sheds light on countless achievements despite some setbacks.
The year 2021 might have come to an end but it brought more good news for sports fans in the country than many of its preceding years combined. It saw the rise of a new kind of Pakistan cricket team that stayed on top of its game in all formats, while it also brought a few new non-cricket heroes to the fore. The last 12 months weren’t without their share of sad news and controversies, but on the whole, if one is asked to label 2021 as either good, bad, or ugly, the answer would be good.
2021 was one of the best years for Pakistan cricket, be it in Tests, ODIs or T20Is. For once, Pakistan played all three formats under one Captain who managed to score runs, marshal his troops well and win matches for the country. Out of the 9 Tests played this year, Pakistan ended up winning seven, which is quite impressive considering Pakistan had a change in captaincy at the end of 2020. The result was not that impressive in ODIs where they managed to win just 2 matches out of six, yet they compensated for that by being impressive in the T20Is.
It was in T20I Cricket that Pakistan showed its prowess by defeating the best teams in the world with ease and recording an unthinkable feat of 20 wins in 12 months, something no other team has been able to do in a calendar year.
It was in T20I Cricket that Pakistan showed its prowess by defeating the best teams in the world with ease and recording an unthinkable feat of 20 wins in 12 months, something no other team has been able to do in a calendar year. Pakistan’s wicket-keeper, Mohammad Rizwan, stroked his way into the record books by becoming the first batsman ever to score 2000 runs in T20 Cricket (both international and franchise cricket), while Babar Azam managed to support him both as a batsman and Captain in the international matches.
Pakistan had a better year at the Olympics in 2021 because this time some players managed to attract attention with their impressive performances. One of them was weightlifter Talha Talib who rose to prominence during the mega event and ended the year with Pakistan's first-ever medal at the World Weightlifting Championship.
The two ended the year as the highest scorers in T20I Cricket, with Rizwan managing 1326 runs in 29 matches and Babar Azam hitting 939 runs in the same number of matches. They were on top of their game during the T20 World Cup where they piled runs at will and remained unbeaten in the historic match against India, beating the arch-rivals by a ten-wicket margin.
Since with great performances come great rankings, Babar Azam remained in the Top 10 batsmen list of the ICC Rankings and was the top-ranked batsman in ODIs, third in T20Is, and ended the year at number nine in Tests. Other players who managed to find a place in the Top 10 included Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan (in T20Is), Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali (both in Top 10 in Tests), while Imad Wasim was amongst the top 10 all-rounders in ODI Cricket.
Pakistan’s opening batsman, Imran Butt, also showed the importance of slip catching and despite not impressing with the bat, took as many as 16 catches behind the wicket in just six matches. Pacer Hasan Ali also managed to return to the national side and took wickets in all formats, sidelining bowlers like Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan, and even Mohammad Abbas.
Moving on to other sports, Pakistan had a better year at the Olympics in 2021 because this time some players managed to attract attention with their impressive performance. One of them was weightlifter Talha Talib who rose to prominence during the mega event. The 22-year old weightlifter from Gujranwala came fifth in the Tokyo Olympics and was at one time in the race for a bronze medal that would have ended Pakistan’s drought of medals since 1992.
Similarly, during the World Weightlifting Championship in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Talha Talib, along with Nooh Dastagir Butt, another prolific Pakistani weightlifter, made history. Nooh became the first Pakistani to win a silver medal in the 109 kg category, while Talha managed to bag the bronze medal in the 67 kg category.
Pakistan's professional boxer Muhammad Waseem clinched the WBC Silver Title Belt in the WBA World Title Eliminator Flyweight match in Dubai. In a thrilling encounter against Colombia's Rober Barrera, the Pakistani pugilist outclassed his opponent with scores of 115-113, 115-114, and 117-111.
The other Olympian who became a household name after his performance at the world stage was javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem, who became the first athlete from Pakistan to qualify for the Olympic Games and the first to reach a track-and-field final. Before him, either the team qualified for the mega event or they were given a wild card entry, but Arshad Nadeem changed all that. The 24-year-old athlete from Khanewal finished fifth in the men's javelin throw event with a throw of 84.62. He was not able to bag a medal for his country but made the entire Pakistan watch the entire proceedings in a country where cricket, hockey, tennis, and football are the most followed sport.
And then there was paralympian Haider Ali, who rewrote history by becoming the first Pakistani to win a gold medal in the Paralympic Games. He achieved the feat in the Men's Discus Throw Competition, heaving it at an impressive 55.26 m distance to notch the gold medal.
So what if Pakistan's Inam Butt couldn’t be a part of the Olympic Games, he won a gold medal in the third edition of the Beach Wrestling World Series in Greece, which was his second consecutive gold medal this year. He had earlier won a gold medal in the second edition of the tournament in Rome.
Pakistani cueist Babar Masih managed to reach the final of the IBSF 6-Red Cup where he lost to India’s legendary cueist Pankaj Advani. Babar Masih went down fighting 7-5 against his more experienced opponent to settle for a silver medal in Doha, Qatar. Pankaj Advani might have won the title match but the Pakistani cueist won hearts for his courageous performance.
Then there was Pakistan's professional boxer, Muhammad Waseem, who clinched the WBC Silver Title Belt in the WBA World Title Eliminator Flyweight match in Dubai. In a thrilling encounter against Colombia's Rober Barrera, the Pakistani pugilist outclassed his opponent with scores of 115-113, 115-114, and 117-111. The judges unanimously declared Waseem as the winner after the 12-round fight between the two boxers.
Last but not the least, Pakistani cueist Babar Masih managed to reach the final of the IBSF 6-Red Cup where he lost to India’s legendary cueist Pankaj Advani. Babar Masih went down fighting 7-5 against his more experienced opponent to settle for a silver medal in Doha, Qatar. Pankaj Advani might have won the title match but the Pakistani cueist won hearts for his courageous performance.
Not all was good in the cricket front for Pakistan; the green shirts lost the crucial match of the T20 World Cup against the eventual winners – Australia.
Additionally, the last minute cancellation of New Zealand’s tour dampened the spirit of cricket fans as they left right before the event was to take place due to security concerns. Similarly, right after the New Zealand debacle, the English cricket team also backed out from touring Pakistan. Both events were rather dejecting for the cricket fans who were highly anticipating the return of international cricket. However, as every cloud has a silver lining, both teams are set to tour Pakistan in 2022/23.
Moreover, FIFA Congress officially confirmed the suspension of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) during their annual meeting where 203 out of the 207 members voted in favor of the Bureau of the FIFA Council’s step to suspend Pakistan for third party interference. FIFA took this drastic step after a group, led by Syed Ashfaq Shah, stormed into the PFF headquarters in March, forcing Haroon Malik and the normalization committee to vacate the office and PFF control.
Like most Pakistanis, FIFA believed the takeover was illegal and issued an ultimatum that the committee should be handed over the PFF control by the end of March, but since the group ignored the deadline, FIFA had no choice but to suspend the PFF hence putting a stop to the rise of football in the country.
In an unfortunate incident at the start of the year, professional kickboxer Aslam Khan passed away after being knocked out in a local boxing match. He collapsed in the ring after being punched in the face by his rival, Wali Khan Tareen, in a match held in Karachi.
Aslam Khan was taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injury. Both boxers, belonging to the Pashin district of Balochistan, were fighting in the 80 kg weight category.
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