By Aayush Puthran

Sports, team or individual, has its own stars that define eras, make people fall in love with the game and leave an impact that is hard to erase in eons. The year 2012 has been a memorable year for sports fans who have witnessed the final displays of some the greatest heroes in sports. The Michaels – Schumacher, Phelps and Ballack – along with Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters said their final goodbye to the sport they traded their skills for almost an entire lifetime. Cricket too had its own set of champions bidding farewell to their beloved sport in 2012. What was most poignant about 2012 is that some of biggest legends the game has known left the game forever, leaving huge craters in their team and sad fans around the world.

Some of the cricketers who called it a day in 2012:

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

Rahul Dravid acknowledges the crowd as he heads for the pavilion after being dismissed in his last ever One-Day International in the 5th NatWest series match between England and India at the Swalec Stadium on September 16, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales © Getty Images

Rahul Dravid – “The Wall” goes

After a poor series against Australia Down Under, where his ever-reliable defense faltered repeatedly, Dravid walked away from the game with the same dignity with which he performed for almost 16 years. With 13, 288 runs, he ended his career as the second highest run-getter in Test cricket, behind Sachin Tendulkar. Dravid had his most successful run as a batsman under Sourav Ganguly’s leadership, when along with the captain, Tendulkar and Laxman, Dravid formed the Fab Four of Indian batting. Regarded as the Golden Generation of Indian cricket, his absence from the game left the Indian batting line-up vulnerable to fast and seaming attacks.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

Brett Lee… the cricket ball turned into a hand grenade in his hands. Explosive! © Getty Images

Brett Lee – Killing ’em with a smile

The Smiling Assassin redefined aggressive fast bowling. Rarely were batsmen treated to the sight of a bowler with raw pace smiling at them on the field. Along with Shoaib Akhtar, Dale Steyn and Shane Bond, Lee was probably the only genuine fast bowler to have played in the first decade of the 21st century. After bursting into international cricket with a five-wicket haul against India at Melbourne in 1999, Lee’s career was plagued with innumerable injuries. For most part of his career, the Australian supported the lethal pair of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. However, following their retirement he became the strike bowler for Australia. In order to prolong his international career, Lee bid goodbye to Test cricket in 2010. However injuries continued to trouble him and in July 2012 he ended his career with 718 international wickets.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

The flying bail hits Mark Boucher (left) in the eye in a friendly match between Somerset and South Africa on July 9, 2012 in Taunton. The freak injury saw the end of a fabulous career © Getty Images

Mark Boucher – unfortunate exit

The South Africa wicket-keeper probably got the most undeserving goodbye from cricket. In a warm-up match against Somerset in July 2012, a bail flung at Mark Boucher’s eye causing severe damage and ending his illustrious career at 147 Tests and 999 international dismissals. With 555 dismissals, Boucher remains the most successful wicket-keeper in the history of Test cricket. In an age when Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara, MS Dhoni and Brendon McCullum were redefining the role of a wicket-keeper in cricket, Boucher was one the very few specialists in the job going about his business without tough competition. Although Boucher wasn’t a frontline batsman, he made quite a few handy runs lower down the order at a quick pace.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

VVS Laxman… Van Gogh with the willow © Getty Images

VVS Laxman – cricket’s style quotient takes a beating

The stylish Hyderabadi batsman wasn’t a happy man when he announced his retirement. A non-controversial figure throughout his career, Laxman’s exit exposed the disharmony within the team. After getting picked for the series against New Zealand, earlier in the year, Laxman decided to walk away from the game before the series itself. The absence of Laxman along with Dravid was soon felt in the middle-order as India lost the home series against England 1-2.  Although, he wasn’t in the league of Tendulkar or Dravid, Laxman created a special place for himself in the team with his innumerable knocks during crisis. In a star-studded line-up, the Hyderabadi batsman had to play at No 6 for most part of his career. Yet, he shephereded the tail with brilliance and showed great character and selflessness while doing so. Stats might not justify his greatness, but some of his knocks are probably the greatest ever played by an Indian. A nemesis of the Australians, some of the players from Down Under considered him as a greater threat than Tendulkar. He didn’t have a vast fan club, yet every cricket lover would have fallen in love over his wristy flicks and graceful cover drives.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

Andrew Strauss looks glum as he announces his retirement from professional cricket at Lord s on August 29 © Getty Images

Andrew Strauss – early and unexpected farewell

The former England captain retired at a young age of 30. On the verge of becoming one of the most successful England players ever, Strauss made the surprising announcement. Although, England lost the series against South Africa, Strauss had taken the team to new heights in Test cricket as the captain. He became the first England captain to win two back-to-back Ashes. Strauss was a key-figure in the England batting line-up ever since he scored a hundred on debut at Lord’s in 2004. In his short eight-year career, Strauss amassed over 7000 runs and 21 centuries in Test cricket forging a successful opening partnership with the current England skipper Alastair Cook.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

Simon Taufel the best of the modern umpires © Getty Images

Simon Taufel – early entry, early exit

A fast bowler for New South Wales schoolboys’, Taufel moved to umpiring at a young age and garnered fame and recognition as one of the finest umpires to have graced the game of cricket. Neither did he have the flair of David Shepherd, nor the humour of Billy Bowden, yet Taufel was one of the most respected umpires in the history of cricket. Ever since, the Australian made his debut as an international umpire at a young age of 27 when he witnessed his former teammate Adam Gilchrist smash a quick-fire ton, he was recognised as one of the brightest young talents. Along with Billy Bowden, Taufel  changed the norm of having middle-aged umpires for officiating international matches. Taufel was inducted in the ICC Elite Panel of umpires in 2003 at the age of 33. He went on to win the ICC Umpire of the Year award for five consecutive years from 2004 to 2008. The Australian retired from umpiring at the end of ICC World T20 2012 at the age of 41. He stood in three World Cups including the final of 2011 between India and Sri Lanka at Mumbai.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

Ricky Ponting waves to the crowd during a farewell lap with his daughter Matisse on Day One of the 1st Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka on December 14 at Hobart © Getty Images

Ricky Ponting – a legend bids adieu

The most successful captain and player in terms of winning games, Ponting battled poor form in the last two years before he drew curtains to an illustrious career. Ponting showed glimpses of his arrogant batting against India earlier in the year, however form soon deserted him as he was found out against quality attacks. Regarded by many as the second best Australian batsman since Sir Donald Bradman, Ponting exemplified brash aggression like few others did. His body language on the field was the toughest since Viv Richards. In a team studded with star players like Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Steve Waugh, Michael Hussey, Damien Martyn and others, Ponting was the best. He was compared to the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara as the greatest batsman of the generation. In an emotional farewell, Ponting was given the guard of honour by Graeme Smith’s men at Perth. Ponting ended his career as the second highest run-getter in Tests, narrowly overtaking Rahul Dravid’s tally.

Exits of Tendulkar, Ponting, Dravid, Laxman & Brett Lee made it a poignant 2012 for cricket fans

It’s difficult to imagine that Sachin Tendulkar won’t be seen in the blue jersey in ODIs for India. His exit was the biggest blow Indian cricket suffered in its cricket history © Getty Images

Sachin Tendulkar – end of an unparalleled era

The man who was single-handedly responsible for popularising the sport in India in the 1990’s announced his retirement from One-Day internationals just as the year was about to end. Unarguably the greatest ODI batsman, Tendulkar amassed a staggering 18426 runs, including a mindboggling 49 centuries in 463 matches. More than his records, it was the burden of an entire nation that he carried that made his career even more phenomenal and gave him the status of a demi-god. Tendulkar scored a cetury in only his second-last ODI innings to bring up his 100th international ton. However, he hit a rough patch following the 2011 World Cup making his retirement issue a national debate. Cricket never had an icon bigger than Tendulkar and no cricketer had a fan-following half as close as he did. The tiny five feet five inch giant made cricket such a commercial hot-property in India that BCCI became the richest sporting body in the world. Nobody in the country wanted to be a cricketer. They all wanted to be a ‘Sachin’.

It has been an eventful and emotional year for cricket lovers watching their heroes bid goodbye. Understandably cricket following is taking a hit. With the turn of year, one has to wait and watch who will be the next cricketing hero.
Replacements would come and voids shall be filled
Records will be broken and new one’s would be made
But only the void in the heart shall remain
For those who made me fall in love with the game
Shall never grace it again.
(While enjoying the small joys of life, rarely has anything mesmerised Aayush Puthran more than cricket. A student of Journalism in Mumbai, he is trying to figure out two things: ways to make Test cricket a commercial hot property and the best way to beat Mumbai traffic. He has a certain sense of obsession with novelty. He might seem confused, but he is just battling a thousand demons within his mind. Nonetheless, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of coffee!)