A captain too soon?

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Is Leander all that old to forsake singles and don the captain's role?-S. SUBRAMANIUM

HE loves the job, but the question is whether captaincy is weighing heavily on Leander Paes.

Right from tackling the problem of Harsh Mankad, the topmost Indian on the ATP computer being kept in the reserves, to deciding whether to put himself in singles or not, Leander has been grappling with a lot of issues.

Of course, we saw all the players sitting in the captain's seat during the tie against Sweden, including an injured Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj, but it is Leander who is taking all the decisions. He does talk to the whole team in trying to reach a consensus. He also showed true leadership in asking his share to be cut so that the fifth player could get a little more money. All said, there is no question that Leander should have played on the first day.

The Swedish captain Mats Wilander was quite mischievous when he said that it was a wise decision that Leander did not play himself in singles as he would have been in trouble had he played and fared below par. He also said that Leander was perhaps not good at coaching himself in singles.

It was perhaps a strategy to reserve him for the third day, but as expected it was a futile wait. No other captain would have let a man of Leander's experience in Davis Cup cool his heels on the sidelines on the first day.

Leander with his inimitable `chip and charge' style of play, would have handled Johansson a lot better than Bopanna. He could have actually demoralised the Swedes and made them see demons in the surface. With a good start, the tie could have been alive till the fifth rubber.

He may not be playing singles on the Tour these days, but the rest of his teammates are no patch on him, when it comes to playing Davis Cup on home soil. While Leander had set stringent standards for himself, he was projecting Prakash a lot more than he really deserved. Prakash was also struggling without playing enough competitive matches, and who knows Harsh Mankad could have been a better option.

Maybe, they would have kept Bopanna out, as had been done over the years.

It is, of course, easy to be wise after the event. Prakash is good on grass without doubt, but he was not match sharp. A good captain would have found that out, and acted accordingly as he had time till the eve of the draw to decide his playing four. As Leander himself admitted, there was not much difference between the three, and Harsh had to be kept out to give Prakash a chance to have a go at Bjorkman on the opening day. There are too many caps that Leander is forced to don these days, and that is costing the team a lot. The rest of the team needs to really push itself up to take Leander's singles berth at least in the ties at home.

Even in away ties, the rest hardly managed to win one singles rubber, as was the case against Japan in 2004.

It was breathtaking to watch Leander hit a return off a low bouncing ball without batting an eye-lid during the doubles. And he used the court like only he can.

Leander is too good to be weighed down by the responsibility of captaincy at this stage, when there is still a lot of magic left in him!