Is Rafael Nadal the best of all?

Nadal has five years on Federer in age, so there’s every chance he would level or go past the great Swiss.

Who is the better player, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal?   -  AP

Is Rafael Nadal the greatest player in tennis history? The debate on this will no doubt be a heated one with those who think that Roger Federer is the GOAT.

There will be others too who will plump for Rod Laver. He swept the Grand Slam — winning all four majors in the same calendar year not once, but twice. The second time was in the Open era as well when the professionals were allowed to play in the majors.

Those were also the days of the wooden racquets and shorter rallies as serve and volley was the method more in use than the baseline rallies you see today.

Nadal is one short of Federer’s record of 20 titles. He also has five years on Federer in age, so there’s every chance he would level or go past the great Swiss.

That, of course, is not a given as more and more talented young players are coming up. They can cause upsets in an earlier round or even in the finals as Serena Williams is finding out.

She has now been defeated in four finals by players much younger than her. That one title she needs to level with Margaret Court is just not coming and like Federer, time could be running out on her.

Steve Smith’s magnificent comeback to Test cricket after a year’s ban has been nothing short of a fairy tale. His remarkable consistency is almost Bradmanesque for its big scores.

It’s not just centuries, but big three-figure knocks that were the hallmark of Don Bradman’s career. Smith is doing exactly that — getting big centuries and more importantly centuries that matter. But for him missing one Test, because of the concussion he suffered when struck on the neck by a Jofra Archer bouncer, he could well have been the first to score 1,000 runs in a Test series. Here again Bradman was the closest, getting 974 runs once in a five-match series.

Steve Smith is piling up runs like his illustrious predecessor, Don Bradman.   -  Reuters

Because of Smith’s big initial back movement towards the off-stump there was a body of opinion that felt that a bowler who bowled good in-swingers or a left-hand bowler swinging the ball into his pads would be able to get him cheaply. But, so far, nothing of the sort has happened.

The Pakistani trio of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis would definitely have made life tough, but where Smith excels is in his temperament, which is so strong that any technical difficulties are taken care of by an iron mind.

The stereotypical thinking that those from the subcontinent aren’t as mentally strong as others could well be the reason why Usman Khawaja was dropped after the third Test and not Travis Head.

Yes, Head was also a co-vice-captain of the Australian team and so would have fought his case, but if you look at Australian, English and New Zealand teams, you will find that when it comes to dropping players it will invariably be those whose forefathers were from the subcontinent. Khawaja has a better record than Head, has more centuries and bats at the top of the order and not down at a safe number like Head, but hey, his forefathers are from the subcontinent.

The other example is Mark Ramprakash, who always had the axe hanging over his head. In fact, his recent axing as batting coach is again because of the same warped thinking about those who are seen as not being quintessentially English or Australian or Kiwi. After England’s abysmal batting in the Ashes series, will Graham Thorpe, the batting coach, get the sack? No chance. He is a proper Britisher after all.

Guess the more things change the more they remain the same!