Both of these sporting heroes have been the victims of criticism in 2017, for varying reasons, but our authors argue that it should not overshadow their remarkable achievements
As I’m writing this, it is about an hour until day three of the 4th Ashes test begins and possibly not long before Moeen strolls out to the crease at the amphitheatre that is the MCG after an England batting collapse. Such collapses have seemed inevitable in this series and, admittedly, Moeen hasn’t exactly done anything to prevent them. On the contrary, he has been pretty useless with both bat and ball this series, as much as it pains me to say, resulting in much criticism and many calls for Moeen to be dropped. Sport at the international level takes no prisoners, but to all those calling for him to be dropped, I say remember the incredible year that Ali has had.
In this year’s test series against South Africa Ali did something that no international cricketer before him had ever done, scoring 250+ runs and taking 25+ wickets in a four match test series. Also in that series, he took 10 wickets in a match for the first time in his England career at Lord’s, the home of cricket; a very apt stage for such an achievement. This is not to even mention the highlight of Moeen’s series – as I now like to call it – his hat-trick to win the test at the Oval.
Moeen also had success in the shorter forms of the game this year, with his most stunning performance his 102 off just 53 balls against the West Indies, the second fastest ODI hundred for England ever. Even more remarkably, it took Moeen just 12 balls to accelerate from 50 to 100 in his innings that contained eight sixes. Domineering stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. I like to think that Chris Gayle, probably cricket’s most destructive batsman of all time, dropping Moeen on the way to his 100 was out of admiration for Moeen’s dominance. Wishful thinking perhaps!
In the time it has taken me to type this article, England have, in very England fashion, squandered their commanding position somewhat (yes, I’m still awake at 01:30 watching an Ashes series we’ve already lost). Joe Root has fallen after yet again failing to convert a 50 and Dawid Malan has just been given out LBW. He did hit the ball before it struck his pad but he decided not to review it because…well, I don’t really know why. Perhaps he did it because it means that Moeen edges ever closer to coming to the crease.
However, Moeen Ali is my sporting hero of 2017 not only because he has excelled as an all-rounder but because of what I have learned about his life off the field from the ECB’s ‘No Boundaries’ documentary. Everything about the man who is the subject of the piece screams humble. As a youngster, he played park cricket in an environment where he once had to run from gangs yielding weapons and where he was once purposely run over; yet he talks about how he had a fortunate upbringing and how so many had it so much worse. His views on religion and ethnicity are also exemplary and everyone in this day and age should aspire to his opinion that ultimately, we are all human beings and that we should all be friendly with one another. I believe Moeen to be a fine example for aspiring young cricketers, something he himself states that he wishes to be, and many England players (I’m looking at you Bens Stokes and Duckett) could learn a thing or two from Moeen’s off-field behaviour.
At last, it’s Moeen’s time to come in as Jonny Bairstow has just fallen to Nathan Lyon. Two months ago, I placed a bet on Moeen to be Sports Personality of the Year. In hindsight, it was a premature shot but it emphasises just how much of an effect Moeen has had on me this year. I loved him even before 2017 but this year my estimation of the man has increased tenfold. I’m crossing everything I have for Moeen this innings because, in my view, nobody has deserved success more than him this year. He has been my hero.
Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton has long been a British sporting icon. It was some time ago now, in November 2008, that he won his first World Championship in the sport, becoming the youngest driver in history to do so. Nine years later and Hamilton still carries the same level of superstardom. 2017 saw him win the title for the fourth time in his career as he beat out Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel 363 points to 317. Not only does he now join the likes of Vettel, Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Michael Schumacher on the list of four-or-more time champions, he also boasts the all-time F1 record for pole position totals, grabbing his 69th at this season’s Italian Grand Prix in September to overtake Schumacher.
Hamilton has been so successful in his Formula One career his more recent achievements do not seem to receive the adulation in the wider sporting press that they truly deserve. When something is as expected and as anticipated as Hamilton’s title win this year was, there is perhaps less of an instinct to laud and celebrate it. A fourth World Championship victory will rarely be as memorable in the eyes of the public as the first, which is especially unfortunate for Hamilton since this season has arguably been his most impressive. From his against-the-odds victory on a low-speed track in Singapore to his exhilarating battle with Vettel in Spain, Hamilton made 2017 his year. There should be no debate now, Hamilton is undoubtedly one of the sport’s most legendary names.