There was a lot to rejoice

The ICC Cricket World Cup turned out to be a fairytale for India's worshipped cricketers. It was so perfect, in fact, that one had to voluntarily flap out from one's head evil thoughts of pre-programming, writes Kunal Diwan, while reviewing the year 2011.

It's not who you are, it's what you're remembered as that matters. And although 2011 decked itself in sequins of gold, it is the durability of the material, and not merely the luminance or lustre, which will determine its place in history.

A year that saw the fulfilment of a billion hopes in one sport and the raising of an already sky-high bar of quality in another does have a right to sit smug. So stupefying was India's World Cup campaign and so menacing Novak Djokovic's season start that the few spots of tarnish — the humiliation in England of M. S. Dhoni's men and the sorry aftermath of spot-fixing by Pakistan — were all dazzled into insignificance.

Then there were Lionel Messi and Barcelona, an individual and a team who continued to stretch the limits of possibility on a football pitch. To say nothing of Sebastian Vettel, who drove at warp speed to a second successive Formula One Championship, or the end of an excruciating wait for the All Blacks, or of the progressively worrying culture of commerce overriding the well-being of those very individuals around whom money-spinning enterprises were spun.

But first to the hoopla that ceased sub-continental machinery like a spoon of sugar in the gas tank. The ICC Cricket World Cup turned out to be a fairytale for India's worshipped cricketers. It was so perfect, in fact, that one had to voluntarily flap out from one's head evil thoughts of pre-programming. Sachin Tendulkar finally smudged his fingerprints on a World Cup, on his home ground, in the company of spouse and children, and a gaggle of celebrities in the stands. It was almost dream-like, the way the script panned out, with the nerveless Dhoni leading a courageous chase that ended with the ball in orbit for a final six. Which is not taking anything away from Yuvraj Singh (Man of the Tournament) and the rest of the young and the irrepressible, but it was indeed the captain's tantra that cast India in an impenetrable bubble through the 45 days of mass mania. Plaudits poured in as sunshine (metaphorically speaking), laughter and the blare of car horns cut through the thick Mumbai night, and all was hunky dory until this grossly under-prepared party crash-landed in England for the hiding of their lives.

Overseas Test cricket is a different cuppa, innit? Ask Rahul Dravid, the representative of a batting nous dwindling into extinction, and he'll tell you as much. Three of Dravid's six hundreds this calendar year came in England as the rest of the team disintegrated in difficult conditions. A surprise ODI recall and retirement later, Dravid became the second batsman after you-know-who to go past 13,000 runs in Tests and was awarded the BCCI's Polly Umrigar Trophy for India's best cricketer of 2010-11. The centuries kept coming for the Bangalorean — as did a record ODI double hundred for Virender Sehwag — but for another man and his irrational zealots the quest for a landmark 100th may continue into the next year.

England, meanwhile, overcame years of mediocrity to win an away Ashes against an Australia in transition and skimmed to the top of the Test rankings after walloping India at home. For sure, Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower turned a bickering, borderline-pansy bunch into confident world beaters. The team, Strauss said in an interview, had done a fair bit of unlearning before it was able to shrug off the weight of empty hype, implying that knowledge and memory can cut both ways and that sometimes forgetting assumes as much importance as the act of recollection.

Selective amnesia worked wonders too for Novak Djokovic, who began the year by forgetting all that had gone behind. Long designated a competitive scavenger whose only job was to clean up the crumbs at Nos. 3 and 4, the Serb erased from his mind the endless strings of defeat to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Without an apparently identifiable weapon, Djokovic solidified his all-round game to such a degree of imperviousness that nothing appeared to slip past him. From a potential inclusion in the list of one-Slam-wonders to clinching three majors in 2011, his transformation was absolute, and perhaps even more intriguing to witness than the dominant phases of Federer and Nadal, since there was no specific attribute that stood out in the prankster's refusal to lose. The 24-year-old's first defeat of the season came at the French Open, but soon after he assumed charge of the No.1 spot following a maiden Wimbledon title.

Djokovic could even be forgiven for being a spent force by December after quadrupling his Grand Slam tally in New York. His late-year submission sparked Federer, 30, back to life and the Swiss floated momentarily into the same elevated plane of playmaking that is considered his preserve, although he still ended the year — the first time since 2002 — without a Grand Slam. Nadal, meanwhile, did enough to claim a sixth Roland Garros title and spent the rest of the year licking his bruised appendages into shape.

Speaking of which, the luscious Caroline Wozniacki hung on to the women's top spot, still no major to her name, as the skirts strove to match the quality of the shorts (though watching Andrea Petkovic jiggle robotically after a rare win is by itself worth the price of admittance).

The Tour saw three first-time Grand Slam champions, including the State-sponsored, husband-driven Chinese Li Na at the French Open, another reminder of the Google-spurning country's growing presence across spheres. Sam Stosur won her first major at the USO, triggering losing finalist Serena Williams to claim, unsurprisingly, that the referee had done her in. That's understandable. Everybody gets done in.

Everybody except Barca, that is. This year the Spanish club side sped further away from the competition, coalescing and undulating on the field to master all it came across. Graceful and unforgiving, Pep Guardiola's side swept the La Liga, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup, deepening yet again the cleft that separates it from other outfits. At the forefront of its fluidity, Lionel Messi took his tally for the 2010-11 season to 53 goals in 55 games and later in the year, accompanying his national side to Kolkata for a friendly, witnessed in person the inexplicable hysteria that Indian masses bestow upon their idols.

It was indeed sad that this typical Eastern frenzy continued to elude Indian hockey, which spent another season tottering between two administrative factions. The ambitious World Series Hockey — modelled on cricket's IPL and bearing the promise of bailing out the sport from its mire — was shelved for some more time. A similar boxing league too found few takers in a country besotted with just one sport.

India's badminton hope Saina Nehwal returned from an ankle injury and slipped just a bit from her lofty 2010 roost to end the year on No. 4. Much of what she did was overlooked and underplayed, although this constrictive mentality distended somewhat with the roaring success of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit in Noida, where Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel stormed to victory, recording a Grand Chelem in the process. Vettel, at 24, also became the youngest driver to win successive World Championships. Meticulous organisation and Vettel's victory was in stark contrast to the shameful precedent set by Delhi's 2010 Commonwealth Games, whose organiser-in-chief, Suresh Kalmadi, was finally locked up for sanctioning a deluge of financial irregularities.

There were other blotches too in this otherwise pretty picture. Three Pakistan cricketers were sentenced for spot-fixing in a landmark trial in London as their board struggled to temper its feral talent. Six Indian 400m runners — including Asian Games 400m hurdles gold medallist A. C. Ashwani — were suspended for a year for doping violations.

Tiger Woods finally won an insignificant — by his standards — something since his fall from grace. The putting procreator may actually be — relieved that the only ‘bad' press he got was for his caddy's racial outburst and for having a hot-dog hurled at him at a tournament.

Like every year, this one transported some past masters to their respective sections of the netherworld. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the prince who taught Indian cricket to hold its head up high, succumbed to a lung infection. Smokin' Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali's subjugator in the ‘Fight of the Century', gave in to liver cancer.

Brazil's medically-trained midfielder Socrates — unfortunately famous for missing a penalty in a shoot-out defeat to France in the 1986 World Cup — departed to a lifetime of excesses. Gary Speed, the former Wales soccer captain, hanged himself for reasons yet unknown, while Peter Roebuck — former cricketer, acclaimed cricket journalist and a regular contributor to these pages — flung himself out from a high-rise hotel room in South Africa.

It is undoubted that those that passed away will be missed, but really when something ends we are confronted with options. We can choose to wallow in nostalgia, or sigh in relief, or remain stoically frozen in indifference. There's a likelihood that Indian followers of this year's body of activity will go with the first. It is equally likely that few among them will remember, if they knew in the first place, that India in 2011 won a fourth consecutive World Cup — in kabaddi. Now, did you know that?