In the annals of sporting history, the year 2020 will always be remembered as the one in which most of the sporting events were either cancelled or postponed due to a pandemic that ravaged all schedules and brought the whole world to a grinding halt.
The year 2020 will also be remembered as the year in which some highly respected and accomplished athletes left for their heavenly abodes, leaving behind a huge void and glittering legacies.
Kobe Bryant, Balbir Singh Sr., Rajinder Goel, Chetan Chauhan, Dean Jones, Diego Maradona and Paolo Rossi were some of the notable sportspersons who left us in the year 2020.
A look at how they passed away and their big achievements and legacies:
Kobe Bryant (1978 – 2020)
The popularity of basketball in India can be rightly attributed to the NBA in the USA. When the images of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird among others were broadcast through the newly arrived satellite television in the early 1990s, it instantly got an entire generation hooked on it. It wasn’t a surprise at all when the likes of Jordan, Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller became household names in the 1990s.
The generation of the new millennium saw the rise of NBA stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal and many more. Among them was a shining star called Kobe Bean Bryant.
Also known as the “Black Mamba” (he gave himself the nickname), Kobe Bryant was a NBA legend who spent his entire 20-year career (from 1996 to 2016) at the Los Angeles Lakers. And Bryant was part of LA Lakers’ five glorious NBA titles, three of them consecutive – from 2000 to 2002. A shooting guard, Bryant led the NBA in scoring twice and was third in the NBA’s all-time scoring records until LeBron James surpassed him in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, just a day before news came in of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on January 26.
Bryant had even tweeted conveying his congratulations to James. That tweet was the last by Bryant.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) 1580009964000
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash, along with 7 others while they were on their way to the Mamba Sports Academy in Los Angeles.
Bryant is survived by wife Vanessa and the couple’s other three daughters: Natalia, 17; Bianka, 3; and Capri, born last June.
Balbir Singh Sr. (1923 – 2020)
If hockey is considered India’s national game, then Balbir Singh Dosanjh can be called independent India’s first sporting hero.
Called Balbir Singh Sr. to distinguish him from other hockey players of the same name, the three-time Olympic gold medallist is regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time.
Balbir Singh Sr. represented India in three Olympic games – London (1948), Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956) – and won the gold medal in all the three editions, having scored 22 goals across the three games.
Balbir Singh Sr. scored five goals in India’s 6-1 victory over the Netherlands in the gold medal match of the 1952 Helsinki Games. It is a world record for most goals scored by an individual in the men’s hockey final of the Olympics and still remains unbeaten.
In 1957, Balbir Singh Sr. became the first athlete to be conferred the prestigious civilian honour Padma Shri and was a part of the Indian team that won the silver medal in the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo.
The hockey legend breathed his last at a hospital in Mohali on May 25, after battling multiple health issues. He was 96 and had been fighting a pulmonary illness over the last two years, with multiple admissions to the intensive care unit.
Rajinder Goel (1942 – 2020)
How would you feel when you are one of the best left-arm spinners in the country but still not picked to play at the international level? Heartbroken. Right? Well, that’s not how Rajinder Goel dealt with it. He simply took it in his stride and kept bowling at a very high level in Indian domestic cricket.
Rajinder Goel was born at a time when there was no dearth of fantastic spin bowlers in the country and only one left-arm spinner was selected to play for India – and that was the greatest of them all – Bishan Singh Bedi.
But Rajinder Goel never let this rejection come in the way of him taking wickets at the domestic level. And he picked them in heaps – such big heaps that he went on to become the record-holder for most wickets in the Ranji Trophy – 637. A record that still stands.
The closest that Rajinder Goel came to play for India was during the 1974-75 series against the West Indies when he was named in the Indian squad for a Test match in Bangalore, but the left-arm spinner was not included in the Indian playing XI.
Rajinder Goel played 26 seasons of first class cricket with the grace of accepting his destiny of not playing for India without ever being bitter about it.
Rajinder Goel breathed his last in Rohtak on June 21 due to age-related illness. He was 77.
Chetan Chauhan (1947 – 2020)
From Ashok Mankad to Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Sunil Gavaskar had many great opening partners in his glorious Test career. But it was Chetan Chauhan who had the distinction of being Gavaskar’s longest opening partner in Test cricket.
And even though Chauhan didn’t hit a Test hundred, he was Gavaskar’s longest opening partner largely due to his guts and grit. And the partnership wasn’t just the longest, it was also India’s most successful opening partnership from 1973 to 1981 with more than 3000 runs, including 10 century stands.
During his 12-year-long cricket career from 1969 to 1981, Chauhan played 40 Tests scoring 2084 runs with 16 half-centuries, with 97 as his best score.
Honoured with the Arjuna Award in 1981, Chauhan was twice elected to the Lok Sabha from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, in 1991 and 1998.
Chauhan was also the manager of the Indian team during its historic home series against Australia in 2001 and also the manager of the Indian team in Australia in 2008 during which the ‘monkeygate’ scandal broke out.
Chauhan also served as the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA) in various capacities – president, vice-president, secretary and chief selector.
Chauhan succumbed to a Covid-19 infection after suffering from multiple-organ failure at a Gurugram hospital on August 16. Chauhan, a serving Cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, had contracted the virus on July 12. He was 73.
Dean Jones (1961 – 2020)
Australian cricketers are famous for sledging. There have been many sledges that have become part of cricket folklore and not surprisingly, most of them involve the Aussies.
But have you ever heard an Aussie batsman getting sledged by his own captain? A captain is supposed to encourage his players to come up with match-winning performances but the Aussies have always been known to play their cricket a little differently.
In Allan Border, Australia had a captain who never hesitated to say a lot more than a few harsh words to his players to bring out the best from them. One such incident happened during the historic tied Test between India and Australia at the Chepauk in 1986 and it gave birth to the legend of Dean Mervyn Jones.
“I want a tough Tasmanian and not a weak Victorian,” was what Border is supposed to have said after Australia had lost Geoff Marsh in their first innings and the number three batsman Jones, playing only his third Test, was suffering from cramps. This line from Border had the desired effect on Jones and it spurred him on to play perhaps the most courageous innings on Indian soil in tough batting conditions in the dry Madras heat.
Jones vomited more than once while batting and had to be treated in hospital after the completion of the innings for exhaustion and dehydration, but not before hitting a dogged 210-run knock that enabled the Aussies to declare their first innings at 574/7 and having proved a point to his captain that he was not a “weak Victorian”.
That 210-run knock by Jones is still the highest score by an Australian batsman in a Test in India.
But to say that Jones’ career was defined by this knock alone would be an unfair assessment. He was among the first batsmen to revolutionise the one-day game by constantly charging down the pitch and hitting big shots against some of the most fearsome bowlers of his era. His risky running between the wickets and his stylish fielding in the outfield earned him many accolades and fans.
Part of Australia’s victorious ODI World Cup campaign in 1987, Jones scored 6068 ODI runs with seven centuries. Jones was also part of Australia’s 1989 Ashes winning team, scoring 3631 runs with 11 centuries in 52 Tests.
Jones passed away on the afternoon of September 24 after a cardiac arrest in Mumbai where he was part of the IPL broadcast set-up. He was learnt to have been absolutely fine before he collapsed suddenly. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. He was 59.
Diego Maradona (1960 – 2020)
One of the many reasons that almost the whole of India fell in love with the game of football in the late 1980s was Diego Armando Maradona.
Not just India, Maradona had the whole world at his feet when he almost single-handedly won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986.
The two goals Maradona scored in the quarter-final vs England will always be remembered for contrasting reasons. The first one was the most outrageous non-goal in the history of the game, titled ‘Hand of God’ and the second was one of the most outrageous displays of cutting through a midfield and defence to score one man goal, all in the space of 11 seconds. In 2002, this was voted as the ‘goal of the century’.
The image of a short, stocky figure, wearing the number 10 jersey, running through a whole line of opposition defenders, dribbling the ball swiftly as if it belonged only to him, is unmatched and unparalleled in sporting history.
Maradona’s control of the ball, his flamboyant body language and his eccentric facial expressions were such that crowds thronged even to the practice sessions where the legend displayed his extraordinary dribbling skills much to the delight of the awestruck fans.
But like many flawed geniuses, Maradona too had his share of shortcomings and weaknesses. He was sent back home from the 1994 World Cup after playing just two games for failing a dope test. Years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism destroyed his body to such an extent that he nearly died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000.
Maradona underwent drug rehabilitation and came back to the international spotlight in 2008 as coach of the Argentina team, leading the team to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His tenure as national manager ended right after this edition of the World Cup.
Maradona breathed his last 10 years later on November 25 in Buenos Aires at the age of 60, shortly after undergoing a surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.
He passed away due to a massive heart attack much to the shock of fans and admirers the world over.
For many, along with Pele, Diego Armando Maradona will always remain one of the all time greatest footballers.
Paolo Rossi (1956 – 2020)
Who can imagine that a player accused in a bribery scandal and banned for three years would play a defining part in the country’s World Cup title victory? Paolo Rossi did exactly that, while maintaining that he was completely innocent. The ban was later reduced to two years.
Rossi in fact scored six goals to win the Golden Boot as top goal scorer, and the Golden Ball for the player of the 1982 FIFA World Cup. He remains one of only three players to have won all three together (World Cup title, Golden Ball and Golden Boot), along with Garrincha in 1962 and Mario Kempes in 1978.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Italian footballers of all time, Rossi had an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and scored a hat-trick in the 3-2 defeat of Brazil in the 1982 tournament, which he was cleared to play only after continually protesting his innocence in the bribery scandal.
Rossi was also voted as the European Footballer of the Year in 1982 and along with Christian Vieri and Roberto Baggio, Rossi holds the Italian record for nine goals scored in the World Cup.
Overall, Rossi scored 20 goals in 48 appearances for Italy. He passed away at the age of 64 on December 9, due to lung cancer.