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Stuart Hess: The highs and lows of my 2020 sporting year

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IOL Sport cricket writer Stuart Hess looks back at some of the sporting moments, good and bad, that stood out for him in 2020.

Arsenal players celebrate with the FA Cup after beating Chelsea in the final at Wembley in August this year. Picture: Adam Davy, EPA

AS THE year ends, Cricket South Africa finds itself with a third acting chief executive in what has been a tumultuous period for the administration. The Fundudzi forensic report, commissioned after five journalists had their accreditations revoked last year, uncovered an organisation that had fallen into maladministration.

Whether there was actual corruption, only investigators will be able to find, but at least one of the recommendations relating to a partnership undertaken by axed chief executive Thabang Moroe, was for a criminal investigation to take place in terms of the Corruption Act. As Fundudzi’s report lays out – CSA fell victim to a quite staggering level of incompetence in the administrative leadership. FORE!

At least the Proteas got onto the field for a bit, albeit unsuccessfully against England in some T20 matches. There were supposed to be one-day internationals, but England’s golf got in the way of that. In order to alleviate “bubble fatigue”, CSA acquiesced to some of England’s demands to play golf while in the bio-secure bubble in the Cape.

But England played more golf than was agreed to, and at courses that hadn’t been on the list either. Then they got all paranoid after some tests came back positive for two members of the hotel staff, while a Proteas player, who had been in the bubble also tested positive. The upshot of all that was that the English left SA on their chartered flight without playing the ODIs, and relations between some officials at CSA and the England and Wales Cricket Board, are a bit frosty.

DAZZLING DANE

Arguably the main highlight for SA cricket on the field was the performance of Dane van Niekerk’s team at the T20 World Cup in Australia. A first win over England in the group stages, followed by victories over Pakistan and Thailand ensured a semi-final spot where they took the hosts to the brink in a rain interrupted match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

That defeat meant they missed out on a magical night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with over 90,000 packing that storied venue in what would turn out to be the last big sports event played in front of spectators for three months. There are a big couple of years ahead for Van Niekerk and her team, culminating in SA’s hosting of the T20 World Cup in 2023.

THE LAST DANCE

FILE PHOTO: Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan of the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls drives to the hoop against the Utah Jazz’ Brian Russell during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Salt lake City. Jordan led his team with 37 points as the Bulls won the game 93-88. Picture: Mike Blake, Reuters

Because we were all locked down, there was little live sports entertainment to be had, which helped elevate the The Last Dance documentary on Netflix. The producers gained access to exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998.

Over the course of 10 episodes we learned how Jordan took a lot of things personally – from Clyde Drexler, just being talked about as being his equal, to Karl Malone getting the MVP in 1996/97 and the coach of an opposing team not greeting him at dinner the night before the Finals series started. Jordan used any old excuse to fuel his competitive drive. And then there’s Denis Rodman, who gave us the immortal line: “I wasn’t tryin to do anythin, I just wanted to play basketball, party and f*** all the girls.”

ARSENAL

Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates with the trophy after helping the club beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. Picture: Adam Davy, AP

It’s hard being a “Gooner.” Let’s start briefly with the good (yes there was some) back in August, when Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang inspired Arsenal to wins over Manchester City in the semi-finals and then Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup.

He then also dropped the trophy. Since then it’s been a downward spiral, consisting of rigid tactics by manager Mikel Arteta, buffoonery from Granit Xhaka, limpness from Willian, and the absence of Mesut Ozil. Aubameyang has even stopped scoring (well, there was an own-goal against Burnley, which is just SO 2020).

Apparently they can get Ozil back into the squad in January, which if it is the case, means January can’t come quick enough.

@shockerhess