Pakistan may not be the leading sports nation in the world, but the year 2012 did help the country make its presence felt in the world of sports. Be it the remarkable run of Mohammad Asif in World Amateur Snooker Championship or Pakistan hockey team’s stunning comeback to clinch bronze in the Champions’ Trophy, the year had more pros than cons for a country that hasn’t seen international sports action in a handful of years.
Let’s start with cricket where Pakistan beat England 3-0 in Test matches played at ‘adopted’ home United Arab Emirates. The men in green lost their only other Test series against Sri Lanka, but, on the whole, lost one Test, drew two and won as many as three, which is no small achievement, considering all three wins came against the then number one side.
Pakistan went on to win the Asia Cup this year, defeating a resurgent Bangladeshi side, but they lost to India during the event, a fact that still hurts Pakistani fans. The team didn’t fare well in the other One-Day series they featured in, and same goes for T20 cricket (they did defeat Australia 2-1 in bilateral series) but just as winning is part of the game, so is losing. The men-in-green failed to reach the final of World T20 which was eventually won by West Indies, who beat hosts Sri Lanka in the final match.
In Euro 2012, played in Poland and Ukraine, the reigning world champions Spain downed Italy 4–0 in the final to successfully defend their title, becoming the first team ever to win three consecutive major international competitions.
For Pakistan the year belonged to the World Amateur Snooker Champion Mohammad Asif. The cueist from Faisalabad stunned the world by staying undefeated in the competition, winning the final by defeating a more experienced British player Gary Wilson. The win gave Pakistan back the title it won in 1994 through Mohammad Yousuf, after 18 years.
As for tennis, Pakistan’s Aisam ul Haq had a mixed year. He partnered with Dutchman, Jean Julien Rojer and managed to win Estoril Open Tennis tournament and Gerry Weber Open. They played well to reach the quarter finals of Madrid Masters by inflicting an upset victory over America’s Bryan Brothers, but lost in the last eight to a team comprising his ex-partner Rohan Bopanna.
Bopanna was also part of the team (with Mahesh Bhupati) that won the Paris Masters and relegated Aisam to the runner’s up trophy later in the year. As for Bryan Brothers, they defeated Aisam and Rojer in the French Open semi-finals to avenge their earlier loss.
Despite his good show, he failed to book a place in the Olympic Games and the Pakistan contingent went without him, returning empty handed as none of the athletes managed to raise eyebrows.
As for the Grand Slam events, it was Serena Williams’ year as she won two out of the four women’s events. Serena Williams downed Agnieszka Radwaska in Wimbledon and Victoria Azarenka in US Open to cap a good year.
In men’s singles events, Novak Djokovic reached three finals and won just one. He defeated Rafael Nadal in a marathon match to win the Australian Open, but lost to the Spaniard in the French Open. Roger Federer won his seventh Wimbledon title by defeating Andy Murray who later broke the British jinx to clinch his first Grand Slam — the US Open — defeating Novak Djokovic in the final.
But Novak Djokovic had the last laugh as he ended the year as world’s number one, despite being dethroned by Roger Federer who became the only player in history to complete 300 weeks at the top slot in his career!
This year also saw London becoming the first city to host as many as three Olympic Games.
America, China, United Kingdom and Russia dominated the table as top teams whereas the torch was handed over to Brazil, where the next mega event will take place after four years. Andy Murray struck gold at the game as he stunned the world by avenging his Wimbledon defeat at the same court. Representing Great Britain, he used all his might to defeat a tired Federer in straight sets to win the gold medal.
The year 2012 also saw the downfall of all-American hero cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong was stripped off all his titles including seven victories at the Tour de France cycle race as well as bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic Games for using and distributing performance-enhancing drugs. Pakistan’s Abdur Rehman was banned by his English county and country for using drugs and the left-arm spinner is serving the ban, despite apologising for the unlawful act.
Some may agree to disagree but the two matches played in Karachi between an International Stars XI and Pakistan Stars XI last October have shown the world that for sports, Pakistan is a safe place. The Bangladeshi team might visit Pakistan next year and it might herald a new era for the country.
This round up would, however, be incomplete without the mention of those 42,813 participants of Punjab Youth Festival who created a world record by singing the national anthem in a live gathering. For a country that was declared ‘unsafe’ for international sports competitions, that is not only big, but a great achievement. Thank you 2012! — S. F.