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Thursday Dec 26 2019

11 sports stories that made 2019 memorable for Pakistan

Sports is a near lock to supply more than its share of memorable events each year. The beat almost always has plenty for those who crave. The outgoing year 2019 was no different, as plenty happened in Pakistani sports that will never be forgotten.

Here are the events from the world of Pakistani sports that helped shape 2019:

1- Babar Azam vs Dale Steyn

Photo: File

Older and slower, but the Dale Steyn of early 2019 still carried the fearsome reputation that made the likes of Mohammad Hafeez retire from Tests ahead of the South Africa tour. Azam, still just a pup to that point, was supposed to show respect to the veteran bulldog.

He didn’t. In the three-match Test series that began in 2018 but ended in 2019, Azam punished Steyn as no man ever had in a long time, showing no fear against arguably the greatest bowler of his generation.

The two had several other encounters over the three Tests but Azam always came out on top and never lost his wicket to the Proteas master. This was a clear sign that the boy from Lahore would soon become a man.

RECOMMENDED READWhen Babar Azam met Dale Steyn

2- Anita Karim gets first pro win

Photo: File

In February, Pakistan's first female mixed martial arts fighter, Anita Karim, got the first professional win of her career.

The 23-year-old, nicknamed The Arms Collector, scored a unanimous decision win over Indonesia’s Gita Suharsono in Singapore as part of the One Warrior Series season 4.

3- Quetta Gladiators finally get over the line

Photo: File

After two heartbreaks, Quetta Gladiators — everyone’s second team — finally got themselves over the line in 2019, capturing their first Pakistan Super League title in March.

The most consistent side in the league became the first-time winners under the leadership of the then national captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, beating Peshawar Zalmi in the final.

4- World Cup

Photo: File

In May, Pakistan headed into World Cup 2019 high on hopes bot low on form, confidence — and maybe even sleep. They blew hot and cold, going from a side thrashed by the West Indies to a side thrashing the eventual champions.

PAKISTAN'S WORLD CUP IN REVIEW: What went wrong, what went horribly wrong

The team was supposed to emulate Imran Khan’s "cornered tigers", and it did for the most part, starting poorly, losing to India before suddenly finding their feet when it all seemed lost. Unfortunately, the class of 2019 did not have the luck of 1992. They eventually went out of the tournament on a dismal run-rate in what was the most underwhelming of anti-climaxes.

5- PCB takes the axe to everything

Photo: File

During summer 2019, the Pakistan Cricket Board changed everything and everyone. Out went the domestic cricket structure, head coach Mickey Arthur, captain Sarfaraz Ahmed as well as some key PCB officials, including long-serving chief operating officer Subhan Ahmed.

6- Young pace battery emerges

Photo: File

The year 2019 saw a change of guard in the fast bowling department for Pakistan, with Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz taking partial retirements.

Filling the void were young options, the most prominent of which was Shaheen Shah Afridi, who became a regular in every format. Following him was Naseem Shah, and while Mohammad Hasnain and Musa Khan did not make their mark, they did enter the fray in 2019.

7- Sana Mir equals world record

Photo: File

In November, all-rounder Sana Mir equaled Anisa Mohammed’s world record of most ODI wickets for spin bowlers in women’s cricket.

Although currently on a break from cricket, Mir can be relied to make a comeback in 2020 and go past the 151-wicket mark that would make the record just her own.

8- Mohammad Asif wins world championship

Photo: File

In November, Pakistan’s number one cueist, Mohammad Asif, won the IBSF World Snooker Championship for the second time in his career.

Asif, the 2012 champion, repeated the feat by defeating Jefrey Roda of Philippines 8-5 in the final. He remained unbeaten throughout the tournament.

9- Aleem Dar breaks world record

Photo: File

In December, Aleem Dar broke Steve Bucknor’s world record for standing in most Test matches. The Jhang-born achieved the feat by standing in the first Test between Australia and England — his 129th Test, which put him one ahead of the West Indies great’s 128.

10- Inam Butt wins more gold

Photo: File

In December, wrestling ace Inam Butt defeated Sumit Kumar to win gold in the 92kg category at the 13th South Asian Games in Nepal.

Coupled with the gold he won at the World Beach Games in Qatar earlier, Butt had another excellent medal-rich calendar year.

11- Pakistan's Test famine gets over

Photo: File

A decade of anguish and pain ended in December when the PCB managed to bring Sri Lanka to Pakistan for a two-Test series.

The Rawalpindi and National stadiums saw five-day international cricket for the first time since 2009. Pakistan triumphed 1-0 in the series but, most importantly, laid the groundwork and sales pitch to convince other cricket nations to visit these shores with confidence.

Honourable mention: Arsalan Ash for winning a bunch of tournaments and being named the Esports Player of the Year 2019.