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Sports Rewind 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

From Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal standing up to the test of time to American NFL players taking a knee in protest, 2017 saw sport cover a vast ground. 2018 promises bigger surprises

Year Ender 2017 Updated: Dec 31, 2017 10:15 IST
Abhishek Paul
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal reminded that in the eagerness to embrace the new, the romance of good ol’ days should not be ignored either after vintage displays in 2017.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal reminded that in the eagerness to embrace the new, the romance of good ol’ days should not be ignored either after vintage displays in 2017.(AFP)

The times they’re a-changin’, crooned and strummed a 23-year-old college dropout half a century ago. As we welcome the new year, with its myriad possibilities, the essence of Bob Dylan’s lyrics has not stopped riveting — in its acceptance as well as denial.

Nobody played the Nobel Laureate’s 1964 hit on an American sports field in 2017, yet for some burly NFL players it echoed in their actions.

They kneeled, not in respect but in protest, to a new regime where the President feels cavalier in calling sportspersons ‘son of a bitch’.

At home, India’s cricket superstars conveniently chose to be oblivious to the changing times, when there was little to differentiate the National Capital from a gas chamber. The world No 1 team overlooked what some masked faces of Sri Lankan players revealed.

In a year that saw sport transcend the field of play in such a way, two men turned back the clock on tennis court.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal reminded that in our eagerness to embrace the new, the romance of good ol’ days should not be ignored either.

As 2018 beckons, with its bouquet of joy, sorrow and surprises, looking back at the year that went by seems apt. For, it’s the many facets of an old chapter that raises the expectations from the new.

THE GOOD

It is in the unexpected that the beauty of sport lies. Cricket witnessed that in an English summer when Pakistan, fighting poor form and a poorer start against India, displayed their streak of unpredictability at the ICC Champions Trophy.

Sarfraz Ahmed’s men reminded all that the Gentleman’s Game is still alive and kicking in Imran Khan’s country. As the icing on the cake, they proved it with a stellar show in the final against India. That loss apart, Virat Kohli’s men were on their own glory ride, statistically equalling West Indies and Australia in consecutive Test series wins.

Talking about vintage rivalries, Federer and Nadal gave the fans a vision of that in the Australian Open final. It was their first meeting in a Grand Slam summit clash after six years and the former prevailed. The latter then went on to win the French Open. The duo shared all the four Slams as the younger lot of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic struggled with their own battles.

The duels transpired in football too, with Cristiano Ronaldo equalling Lionel Messi in winning five ‘Player of the Year’ awards. The former’s performance for Real Madrid, which became the first club to defend Champions League crown, has set up for a mouth-watering 2018, which will see the FIFA World Cup too.

THE BAD

However, not all was hale and hearty in 2017. Gianluigi Buffon and Usain Bolt would vouch for it. Both went into sunset in a way undeserving of their credentials.

Buffon, the 2006 World Cup winner, saw Italy lose to Sweden and miss the flight to the 2018 edition in teary-eyed helplessness.

There were tears and pain on the athletics track too, when Usain Bolt stumbled in his last race at the World Championships in London. History will not forget that the fastest man in the world could not complete his final dash.

It’s the final step that matters so much, and that was where India’s women’s cricket team faltered at the ICC World Cup. Used to playing the second fiddle to the more publicised men’s team, Mithali Raj-led India entered the final for the second time. Yet, on the cusp of a win against England in the title clash, their dreams shattered after a six-wicket burst from Anya Shrubshole.

THE UGLY

There were nightmares too this year. The menace of doping came back to haunt cycling with four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome coming under a doping cloud. Russia was not spared either as they were barred for the 2018 Winter Olympics for the same reason.

And Illie Nastase, Romanian tennis great, showed we are still a long way to go to stop people from judging others by their skin colour. His comments on Serena Williams’s pregnancy explains it all.

“Let’s see what colour it (the baby) has. Chocolate with milk?” he said. It’s in racism that the seeds of National Football League players’ protests lie too.

The questions of those protesting are one of the many that might find an answer in 2018. As does the answer of how life will be without Italy at the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

How strong is Virat Kohli-led India’s ambition to be world beaters will also be known during their South African sojourn in January.

The tennis world would be looking forward to seeing whether the vintage show by Federer and Nadal will continue in the same strain or the younger lot will stand up to the challenge.

Too many answers to seek in 2018. For inspiration, one can always go back to Dylan’s lines — For the loser now/ Will be later to win/ For the times they are a-changin’.