The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Leander takes a swing at hockey

Calcutta: Guess what Leander Paes is doing in Paradorn Srichaphan land this weekend' No, he has not challenged the Thai hotshot to a tennis duel. It’s a hockey tournament, which will keep the Indian superstar engaged in Bangkok on Saturday and Sunday.

Leander’s passion for soccer is common knowledge. In fact he could have given Bhaichung Bhutia a run for his popularity had he not been forced to switch allegiance from soccer to tennis at the age of 10.

Of late, the four-time Grand Slam doubles champion has got hooked to golf. The likes of Vijai Singh and Mukesh Kumar have discovered in recent exhibition meets that Leander’s swing on the greens can, at times, be as fluent as his backhand volleys.

Hockey was hitherto unexplored territory for an ‘allrounder’ with a natural affinity for sport. But even that barrier will be broken when the 29-year-old Beckbagan boy takes the field in a two-day invitational tournament beginning Saturday.

Leander is part of the touring CC&FC team which will vie for top honours in the Royal Bangkok Sports Club-organised meet. “He regularly accompanied me to the Mohun Bagan ground during my playing days and loved donning hockey gear,” recalled Dr Vece Paes.

He did play hockey for his school team thereafter, “but never ever since he went to BAT (Britannia Amritraj Tennis academy) in 1986,” added senior Paes.

Leander will have a key role to play on his hockey debut. He has been assigned the centre-forward position. “They want to take advantage of his speed and athleticism… I think he will do a fair job,” remarked Dr Paes who also would have been in the team had he not been laid low by a knee problem.

Leander will be in august company. No less a name than Gurbux Singh will be his teammate. The great full-back of yesteryears is fit as a fiddle and it’s still not easy to get the ball past him.

“We have made four appearances in this event and won thrice… we’ll be strong contenders yet again,” quipped Gurbux. Teams from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Oman will also be in fray.

“Leander’s presence will be a big boost. He doesn’t have much experience but with his enthusiasm and interest I am sure he will adjust fine,” observed Gurbux.

Bengal captain Christopher Thomas, who led CESC to a historic BHA League title triumph in 2001, will lend weight to the team. So will Divyak Doshi, another first division player.

But no prizes for guessing who the cynosure will be at this popular annual tournament this year.

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