Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Without Leander and Mahesh - India Reach World Group of Davis Cup

Most successful Indian Davis Cupper - Leander Paes - representing the country for two decades opts out of the team because of injury. Paes-Bhupati, one of the world's top doubles teams is not appearing. Bhupati unable to complete his match because of injury. But still Indian team makes it to the world group after a gap of eleven years. That's thanks to the new star rising on Indian Tennis horizon - Somdev Devwarman!

The scene was very bleak exactly a year ago when Indian team lost badly to Romania in the play-off tie and it looked as if India's re-entry in World Group may not be possible in near future. Things went from bad to worse. Advancing age of Paes and Bhupati added to their advancing rift, which led to player revolt resulting in none too impressive performances of the team in preliminary rounds. Suddenly things started to change. Somdev's improved performance on ATP curcuit, Yuki Bhambri's consistency in Junior tournaments gave the Indian fans a ray of hope. Then came a stroke of luck. Australia decided to boycott the zonal semifinal against India which enabled India the right to contest the play-off.

India's convincing 4-1 win over South Africa is significant in many ways. First of course is the arrival of Somdev. India always had players who relished Davis Cup environment. Dramatic fightback by Somdev in the return singles is surely going to be talked of in the years to come. His performance was on the backdrop of his spirited fight in second round of US open earlier this month against a top-twenty player.

India also seems to have found the answer to the haunting question : Who after Leander? Leander's contribution to India's Davis cup campaign is that he was a successful singles players too. In Rohan Bopanna, we now have a good singles player who is good enough in doubles. Plus ther's a promising Yuki Bhambri.

India's journey in the World group is definitely going to be very tough. But this outfit is definitely capable of throwing another surprise. The responsibility is on young shoulders of Somdev. India till now knew of two Devwarmans from Tripura - the legendery father - son duo of Sachin and Rahul Devwarman. Hailing from the same Royal Family, Somdev has certainly done his home state proud.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Truimph of Paes in Proper Perspective

No Indian has ever gone beyond semifinals of Singles competition of any Grand Slam Tennis tournament. No Indian has ever been ranked in top 10 in Singles rankings. Currently, there is no Indian player in top 100 too. Lender Paes and Mahesh Bhupati, on the other hand have won 21 grand slam doubles titles between them. Paes just recently collected his 10th title at US Open when he won in an emotinally charged encounter against Bhupati-Knowles combination.

How can one explain the Indian Success in doubles vis-a-vis lacklustre show in singles? India always had good doubles combinations. Premjit Lal - Jaydeep Mukharjee was among the best in the sixties. Amritraj brothers too excelled in Davis Cup matches. In the last thirty years India could produce just two world class singles players - Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan, both of whom promised much but rarely delivered. Leander too, started off his singles career with a lot of promise, even winning Olympic Bronze medal. But, probably realising that his chances in singles are limited, Paes and Bhupati turned to doubles for better financial prospects. In early part of this decade, they formed a potent combination, and even now, advancing age notwithstanding, both are in top teams with their respective partners.

Top international Singles players rarely indulge in doubles play. With exception of McEnroe and Edberg, none of the top ten players in last two decades ventured in doubles. That leaves the field open for lesser players to thrive. If you look at the successful doubles players, the Woodies, the Blacks, Brians, Sanchez brothers, none of them were top-notch singles players. Success of McEnroe with Peter Fleming in Eighties shows that exceptional Singles player can excel at doubles too. Recently Roger Federer too also underlined this by winning Olympics doubles title. Even in the ladies the Williams sisters, both brilliant Singles players, are combining effortlessly in doubles too.

Indian media is going ga-ga over the Grand slam achievements of Paes, Bhupati (even Sania who won mixed doubles with Mahesh at Australian Open). But how significant are these achievements -Tennis wise? How do the ten titles of Paes compare with fifteen of Roger Federer? The answer is for everybody to find out!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Is Daniel Vettori an Allrounder?

Earlier this month, New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori earned the distinction of achieving a unique double of 3000 test runs and 300 wickets in tests. He thus joined an elite group comprising of Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, fellow countryman Sir Richard Hadlee, Shaun Pollock, Shane Warne and Chaminda Vaas.

Apparently, these runs scored and wickets taken are enough for him to qualify as a leading all rounder. But this glamorous tag is not only about runs and wickets. The first four members of this elite group, Botham, Kapil , Imran and Hadlee would have walked into any side even if they were god at any one of the disciplines, batting or bowling. Shaun Pollock too was equally competitive in both. But the latest three entrants, Warne, Vass and now Vettori have been able to join this group purely because of their longevity.

Warne for example, dearly wanted to score a test century but could not manage to. Barring a few doughty innings in Ashes campaigns, his batting can hardly be said to have contributed to Aussie Juggernaut's journey. Batting prowess of Vaas had no more than a nuisance value. Both were, of course extraordinary bowlers. Warne was till recently world record holder with more than 750 wickets. Vass, on the other hand, although lived in the shadow of Murli, his contribution to Sri Lanka's resurgence can not be denied.

A closer look at Vettori's stats reveals that his contribution to Kiwi success has been very little. On seamer friendly New Zealand pitches his bowling has been largely containing in nature. On the spinner friendly sub continent conditions, he has been successful only against Bangla Desh. His dour batting down the order has often allowed his team to delay the inevitable rather than set up or chase a win.

Eighties was the golden period for all rounders. Kapil, Imran, Hadlee and Botham had a pivotal role in their respective teams. Each one of these had uncanny knack of turning the game on its head within no time with their attacking bowling, explosive bowling, or brilliant fielding. Kapil and Imran also had inspirational leadership qualities.

Retirement of this quartet of mercurial all rounders in early Nineties left a big void. World Cricket has not seen even one Cricketer of such all round capability in last twenty years. Andrew Flintoff is the closest one can think of. Until such exceptional talent emerges, the Cricket lovers across the world will have to make do with Vettoris, Broads and Johnsons.