As yet another year – and decade – draws to a close, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on some of the incredible sporting action we’ve been treated to during 2019. It’s been some year.
These are our sporting highlights of 2019 – what are yours?
1. England beat New Zealand in the Cricket World Cup Final
This has to be top of the pile, right? This was sporting theatre at its absolute best. The drama was relentless, an almost nauseating and scarcely-believable rollercoaster of breathtaking tension unfolding before our eyes. It was so wild and unprecedented that many watching didn’t even know or could get their head around how a super over worked.
As is becoming increasingly standard, Ben Stokes was the hero. He bludgeoned 15 from the final over of the regular innings, including a crazy six by way of four overthrows – and he was, of course, awarded the man of the match.
There’s a saying in international football that goes: “22 men chase a ball around for 90 minutes, and in the end the Germans win”. Perhaps cricket should adopt its own: “England bat and bowl, and in the end Stokes is the hero.”
2. Ben Stokes 135* vs Australia in the 3rd Ashes Test
It’s that man Stokes again! Needing 359 to win, England’s highest run chase in English Test cricket history, it was the tallest of orders and, as had become the norm, England found themselves 15-2. When Stokes came to the crease for the last hour of day 4, his only thought was to just survive, and by stumps he’d faced 50 balls for a wonderfully measly 2 not out. It was a great dig-in, and part one of the job was done – but day 5 was still to come.
As is now permanently etched into English sporting folklore, Stokes – with the gloriously obdurate assistance of Jack Leach – went absolutely nuts, smashing Australia to all parts and making grown men cry in the process. That this is and will always remain one of the greatest sporting highlights imaginable goes to show that winning in sport isn’t *quite* everything. England won that game, thanks to Stokes, but went on to fail to win the series, rendering Stokes’ heroics almost wasted. But, of course, it wasn’t wasted at all – it was one of the most extraordinary innings of all-time.
3. Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson win gold
These two stunning gold medal triumphs at the World Championships lit up British athletics, and also women’s sport. KJT’s story was a tale of defiance and indefatigability, bouncing back from a succession of devastating adversity to win a spectacular gold in the heptathlon. It was a triumph that melted hearts across the country.
After being pipped to gold in the 100m, Dina Asher-Smith destroyed the field in the 200m final and claimed her first gold medal at a major championships. After a tough time for British athletics, here we have two super-talented and inspirational young British women who can inspire our children and future generations – and it is up to all of us to help convert that inspiration into participation.
4. England Lionesses’ run to the World Cup semi-finals
This was when women’s football in this country truly felt like it had arrived. A record-breaking 28.1m people watched the BBC’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup, with England’s semi-final loss to the USA attracting what was at the time the highest live TV audience of 2019, with 11.7m tuning in. Playing an exciting brand of football, the Lionesses swept through their group and the early knockout games, before succumbing to favourites and eventual winners USA in the semis.
And it wasn’t just England making waves in France. The USA’s driving force Megan Rapinoe became a global feminist icon, and won the coveted Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award. This really is a momentous time for women’s sport.
5. The Premier League title race
The final slot was a tough one. England’s run in the rugby World Cup, and that amazing win over the All Blacks? Anthony Joshua becoming a two-time world heavyweight champion? Andy Murray’s Lazarus style comeback? The Netball World Cup on home soil?
But we went for this. Not exactly a moment, but elite sporting drama of such rare and sustained excellence that it will live long in the memory. Since the days of the great Manchester United and Arsenal sides, title races have largely become processions, with one or two exceptions. This was different, with the juggernauts of Manchester City and Liverpool blasting away everything in their paths. Pep Guardiola’s men won their last 14 successive games to retain the title – piling up 98 points in the process – and deny Liverpool who had inexplicably failed to win that elusive Premier League title despite losing only one game and amassing 97 points. It is the rivalry the Premier League has been waiting for – the two best teams, and the two best managers in the world, going head to head for the foreseeable future. We love to see it.
Have we made any glaring omissions? What are your sporting highlights of the year? It doesn’t even have to be in elite sport – perhaps it’s something your grassroots team has achieved, or maybe your kids’ team created a memory that last forever. Whatever it may be, let us know in the comments on Facebook – and here’s to a glorious 2020 in sport!
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