Sports in Pakistan had been in a state of disrepair for years but it showed more than a few signs of life in 2021 — and not just in cricket either. During the outgoing year, national athletes did not make too many additions to the trophy cabinet but they came quite close and certainly did better than what was expected of them on a number of fronts.
All things considered, it wasn't quite annus mirabilis for sports in Pakistan but the year still had quite a few moments to savour. Below, we recap everything of significance that happened during the year.
South Africa becomes the highest profile team to visit Pakistan
Bringing top cricket teams back to Pakistan had become a massive challenge for cricketing authorities since a horrific attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in 2009.
The Pakistan Cricket Board, after years of laying the groundwork, finally managed to convince South Africa to visit these shores, and even though the team sent by South Africa was more like a B or C side, nonetheless, it was another step towards staging top-level international cricket in the country.
After 14 long years, the African side arrived in Karachi on Jan 16 to play two Tests and three T20Is on their first tour of Pakistan in 14 years. However, they were so bad that they ended up losing all the matches, save for a T20I.
A mountain hero lost, a mountain hero gained
February brought the heartbreaking news that veteran mountaineer and one of Pakistan's most daring sons, Ali Sadpara, had gone missing while attempting a joint ascent of K2 with with Iceland's John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Chile's Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto.
Meanwhile, in May, 19-year-old Shehroze Kashif became the youngest Pakistani to scale Mount Everest — the world's highest mountain.
A few months later in July, the Lahore native also became the youngest mountaineer to reach the K2 summit — the world's second-highest peak at a height of 8,611 metres (28,251 foot) above sea level.
PSL and its 'bio-unsecure' bubble
Biosecure bubble was the new buzz word in cricketing circles in 2021, and so before the Pakistan Super League 2021 began, it was thrown around a lot by the cricket board to portray how airtight the arrangements were.
The bubble, however, burst open even before the tournament had begun, with Peshawar Zalmi head coach Darren Sammy and captain Wahab Riaz having breached Covid protocols to meet team owner and non-bubbler Javed Afridi prior to their season opener on Feb 21.
Such lax standards saw a virus breakout for the second year running and so the tournament had to take a few months' break yet again.
It resumed a few months later and when it did, Mohammad Rizwan, who was deemed not good enough by Karachi Kings but instantly made the captain by Multan Sultans, led his new franchise to their first-ever title. It was just the start as Rizwan went on to accomplish a lot the entire year.
Talha Talib carries the weight of expectations at Olympics
Only a few had heard weightlifter Talha Talib's name until his debut at the Olympics caught everyone's attention.
Despite little support, the 21-year-old lifter from Gujranwala took part in the 67kg category and held the gold medal spot until the final round before eventually being bumped down and denied a podium finish.
He couldn't lift enough to get a medal but he lifted his sport out of the abyss and shone a bright light on it.
Arshad Nadeem throws javelin into limelight
During the Olympics, another little known hero Arshad Nadeem quite literally threw his sport into the limelight. Few had known what javelin throw was until the man from Gujranwala went neck and neck with some of the world's top throwers.
He was in contention for a medal at one point and even though he did not win, he made it clear that he he's got game. Once you prove that, Pakistan takes notice, and it did.
Kiwis ditch Pakistan at the eleventh hour
Hosting South Africa earlier in the year was a step in right direction but still a baby step. The real achievement would have been to bring New Zealand and England to these shores.
Both the teams were scheduled to tour prior to the World Cup. New Zealand were the first to visit, almost ending a lengthy 18-year wait as they flew in but ended up leaving the country citing 'security' threats without even explaining what those threats were.
England followed suit, causing a massive backlash against both the countries' board not just from the fans but the cricket fraternity too.
Haider Ali wins gold at Paralympics Games
This year arguably belongs to national athletes who excelled at the global scene and Haider Ali was one of them. He made the country proud by winning a gold medal in the discus throw competition at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Games, becoming the first Pakistani to do so.
Ali accomplished a 55.26-metre throw — almost 3m longer than Ukraine'sMykola Zhabnyak who hit the 52.43m mark to come in second place.
Shoaib, Dr Nauman turn friendship into feud on national TV
It's of course not a sporting feat, but it does involve a sporting legend. When the entire nation was celebrating Pakistan's victory over New Zealand in the T20 World Cup, former speedster Shoaib Akhtar and host Dr Nauman Niaz were busy having a quarrel live on national TV.
Dr Nauman took exception to something Akhtar said — which is still unclear what it was — and asked him to leave. Akhtar tried to get a live apology out of Nauman but failed and then walked off the set.
Abdul Razzaq bowls a big no-ball to Nida Dar
Former allrounder Abdul Razzaq, during a talk show on a private TV channel, earned the wrath of social media users for mocking the appearance of Pakistan Women's cricket team start Nida Dar.
His remarks, not the first of its kind from him, also prompted the media regulatory authority to impose a fine on the TV channel for allowing such a statement to go on air. He later apologised.
Misbah, Waqar drop pre-World Cup bombshell
On Sept 6, with his long-time critic Ramiz Raja all set to take over the PCB, the then head coach Misbahul Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis resigned from their positions citing the toll it took to spend time in biosecure environments.
With the World Cup less than two months away, it was considered a massive shock at the time but in the end it worked out quite well as the team made a deep run in the tournament under new leadership.
Pakistan get their mauka to exorcise World Cup demons against India
Easily the best day of the entire year in a sporting context was October 24 when Pakistan defeated arch-rivals India in a World Cup match for the very first time. It wasn't just any win either. It was an absolute mauling.
The 10-wicket thrashing gave the entire country's mood a massive lift and made sure they had something to hit back with after years of mauka, mauka jibes.
Compiled by Azhar Khan
Banner image by Mushba Said