Age is not a barrier for class

PETE SAMPRAS' victory in the U. S. Open proved that when it comes to class, age is not a barrier. In a sport, where champions are getting younger by the year, the sight of two over 30 years old players in the men's singles finals, would have made many rub their eyes in disbelief. Yes, between Sampras and Agassi, they have won 21 Grand Slams and several other titles. But many of the tennis world believed, that their Grand Slam winning days were over, though of course, they also expected them to be dangerous players in the early rounds.

In Sampras' case this was his third consecutive U.S. Open finals. He lost the previous two to Safin and Hewitt respectively. This year, he might have been charged up to see his old adversary Andre Agassi across the net.

Having already won a record 13th Grand Slam title two years back, he was desperate to win one more just to show the doubters that he still has a lot left in him. One of the doubters was Greg Rusedski, the Canadian-born British player who has made a Grand Slam finals but has never won a Slam. His churlish comments after Sampras beat him might have spurred the American. Not that champions like Sampras need all these to succeed.

Rusedski's remarks, that Sampras was a step and half slower than he was at his peak, begs the question of how slow Rusedski himself is - a younger man than Sampras - since he lost to the champ in an earlier round. With the weather affecting the schedule, Sampras could not get enough rest and when one is past 30 the body does take a little more time to recover and be ready for the next clash.

This is one of the reasons that the Waugh brothers should actually be thankful that they are not in the Australian one-day squad. The Australian selectors may have done them a favour and helped to extend their Test careers by picking them only for the longer version of the game. Test cricket is hard, competitive and at times bitterly fought, but is not as frenzied as the one-day game.

The one-day game takes a lot out of a player, especially in places like Sri Lanka, most of India and in Sharjah, when matches are scheduled back to back. The players groan for they know that the next day is going to be a tough one. The fittest of players are below their best on the second day of a back-to-back one-day series even if it is in a cooler climate.

Modern physical training methods do make it easier for the body to recover faster, but sometimes it is the mind that lets the body down. In Steve Waugh's case, the cricketing world knows how strong his mind is. Last year, he played a Test match against England when he had not fully recovered from a leg injury and went on to score a century without asking for a runner though he was limping progressively as his innings went on. Then he came on the field and stayed the whole day and did not have a substitute.

That he could score a century on one leg tells you how good the English bowling was and it also tells you why Waugh wanted to play in spite of the injury because he knew that he would miss out on a century if he opted out. The century also saved him from criticism, for if he had failed then he would have been accused of playing himself instead of a fully fit player. Steve Waugh would have been well aware of this risk and also how strong his mind is and so took the chance of playing in the last Test of the series, which possibly could be his last in England.

The ensuing series against Pakistan gives Waugh brothers the opportunity to show the Australian selectors that they are still good enough to make contributions to the Australian team and with the Pakistan team in a disarray with senior players not available and the coach sacked, it should not be a surprise if both of them grab the chance and ensure that they are in the squad to play in the Ashes series that follows.

The flat pitches in Colombo, where one Test is being played, and the two Tests in Sharjah will be to their advantage and some of the reserves in the Australian team may well have to wait some more time to get their turn.

The announcement of the Australian team, for the Tests against Pakistan at the neutral venues, shows Adam Gilchrist as the vice-captain of the squad. That is a bit strange because though Gilchrist was the vice-captain to Steve Waugh when the latter was part of the one-day team, it is Ponting who is the captain of the Australian one-day side now.

Now with Steve Waugh retained as the Test captain it would have been natural if Ponting had been named his deputy so as to groom him to take over, as well send the signal to the other aspirants of the captaincy. But having Gilchrist as the vice-captain, it does create a situation where the famed unity of the Australians might be at risk. Once the captaincy ambition is sparked, it is difficult to douse it and does lead to unpleasant situations where every failure by a contender will be looked at suspiciously even if it was a perfect cricketing error.

The Waughs have a season or two at best left in them even though Steve has professed a desire to come to India in 2004 to finish off what his team couldn't in 2001. That may well be a distant dream, but aren't dreams supposed to make the impossible look possible?