As suspected, the Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee report punishing two franchises and their officials for their notoriety in the Indian Premier League (IPL) had been the lead stories on front pages of the newspapers and also the main topic of discussion on television, leaving behind the great on-court achievements of Leander Paes and Sania Mirza over the last weekend at Wimbledon.
The two items continued to hog column inches and prime time television in the same proportion the whole week. As Indian cricket board president Jagmohan Dalmiya kept talking to key officials connected with the IPL, Sania did one better by getting legendary Martina Navratilova to Hyderabad to visit her tennis academy and talk about the greatness of her and Paes.
Dalmiya specially invited former board president Shashank Manohar for his vital inputs on the IPL crisis besides confabulating with its chairman Rajeev Shukla even as some politicians and fans started expressing their unhappiness over the two-year suspension imposed on Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR), terming the punishment too harsh, though only.
The committee also punished Gurunath Meiyappan, team principal of CSK, and Raj Kundra, part owner of RR, by banning the two for life from board’s cricket activities. That maverick Subramanian Swamy, in what he says speaking on behalf of the “nationalist Tamilians” wants the committee to review the “excessively harsh” punishment.
Shukla added his bit by saying that the IPL will be of eight teams and hinted at the possibility of the board fielding the two suspended sides under its banner. Few thought of this angle and it clearly points to a rapprochement between the former CSK boss and the Dalmiya regime or the chief protagonists in the clique. If approved by the IPL Governing Council and its parent body the Indian board, the move will bring CSK and RR back into the fold once they serve out their suspension.
The board itself may go in appeal against the two-year suspension and ask for some other penalty so that the players do not unduly suffer. The problem the Governing Council is facing is if two other teams are brought in and the players of CSK and RR are distributed among them how will CSK and RR get back their star players two years down the road.
Players like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Dwayne Bravo, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravas would never have left CSK in normal circumstances and likewise Shane Watson, Steven Smith, James Faulkner, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny and Dhawal Kulkarni may never leave RR as long as Rahul Dravid is their mentor.
As for our tennis stalwarts, quite a few commentators still grudgingly concede Sania’s rise in stature even if they readily accept Paes’s greatness. Some unfairly state that Sania could win the Wimbledon mixed doubles title only because of the protective wing of Martina Hingis. What the critics do not seem to have noticed is that Hingis at 34 waited for 17 years for her fourth title at Wimbledon. It is no fluke, Saina is World No.1 in doubles and Hingis No 2. Even those who partnered her in the last few years vouch for the Indian’s tenacity and never-say-die spirit.
In Paes’ case, it is now an accepted fact that any player partnering him can hope to win a title. At 42, the Indian seem to hone his skills with each passing tournament. For someone who has played with hundred partners in the doubles, he is still an epitome of fitness at 42.
Navratilova summed up the match-winning qualities of Paes and Saina. “Leander and Sania, they are always trying hard. That in itself wins a lot of matches. Without that you cannot win. She feels few people have the kind of consistency the two have and what’s more they try hard. And Paes and Hingis could not have found better partners.
Navratilova paid a terrific compliment to Saina saying the two would have made a good team as well. “She makes a heck out of the ball. She knows where to put the ball, she is always very positive, no matter what. You can’t tell her she is winning or losing by looking at her face. Because, she is always trying.” Can there be a better praise for Sania?
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)