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Since 1st March, 1999
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ĎIíll be a fair and flexible captainí
- Captaincy is a tough askÖ but Iím not one to shirk responsibility, says Leander

Calcutta: Come February, a brand new chapter will be added to the Leander Paes saga. The architect of many a Davis Cup miracle will be wearing the captainís hat when India launch their 2004 campaign with a visit to New Zealand for an Asia-Oceania zone group I first-round tie.

Few doubt Leanderís leadership qualities. The senior pro ever since Ramesh Krishnan quit 10 years ago, the affable and articulate man from Beckbagan Row has been a model teamman with his exploits on court and exemplary demeanour off it.

For someone who has done so much for the country, the honour of leading the national team was bound to be bestowed on him at some time or the other. But even the man himself couldnít have bargained for such an early coronation. After all, heís still the most important member of the team who is required to play three matches in every tie.

With Ramesh deciding that a four-year tenure as non-playing captain was enough for him, the AITA had to fill the void. Anand Amritraj, in charge of the team at last yearís Busan Asian Games, was more than keen on the Davis Cup job, but he wasnít a popular choice.

So Leander was approached. He gave his consent, but only after giving it a serious thought, as he reveals in this interview to The Telegraph ó his first after being appointed captain.

The following are excerpts

Q Did the captaincy offer come as a bolt from the blue'

A Well, I was aware that Ramesh wasnít at all keen on continuing. He was reluctant last year, too, but we managed to persuade him to stick to the job. This time also I tried to convince him to stay, but failed. So I knew the AITA would have to appoint a new captain. There werenít too many candidatesÖ I guess they had to consider me under the circumstances.

Was it a difficult decision for you to take'

Yes and no. I have been playing the leading role for quite some time now, this is just an extension of my duties. I also realised that the team needed me as captain at this juncture. Having said that, I have to admit itís a tough ask. Playing three matches and sitting on the captainís chair during the other two means one has to be on court for the entire duration of the three-day tie. Thatís a tremendous physical task entailing a huge workload. But, Iím not one to shirk responsibility.

You seem to suggest you were in no dilemma at allÖ

I took my time, weighed the pros and cons, discussed it with dad, Ramesh and Naresh (Kumar). They felt as long as I can perform, captaincy shouldnít be a burden. When I was convinced, I accepted the job with open arms.

How do you see yourself performing in this new role'

Iíll have to play a number of different roles... that of an active performer, a motivator and a selector too. I also have to make sure that there is no groupism in the team and all the boys stay united. All this adds up to one hell of a challenge and, as you know, I never run away from challenges.

Being a playing captain, you have to judge yourself tooÖ

Absolutely. I am very clear in my mind that the only factor which will decide whoíll play and whoíll sit out is current form. For example, when we go to New Zealand in February, Prakash (Amritraj), Rohan (Bopanna) and Harsh (Mankad) will all have much more match practice than me. So thereís a possibility that two of those three will play the singles on the opening day and, going by the match situation, I may step in for reverse singles if required. But Iíll take a decision only after reaching the venue and having seen everybody in action. What I mean to say is that Iíll be fair and flexible in my decisions.

The team didnít have a coach for most of Rameshís tenure. But you will surely be needing a helping handÖ

Yeah, I definitely need somebody like a vice-captain who can help me with the training and administrative work in the lead-up to the tie and during the three days as well. Somebody I can work closely with and depend on.

Any goal in mind as Davis Cup captain'

We havenít qualified for the World Group in a long time. So thatís something I have in mind, but you have to be practical. We have a young and raw team with no player ranked in the top-200 of singles. Theyíve got to be nurtured properly, so we should be looking at the long run rather than expect immediate results.

Have you asked for a specific term as captain'

I have said it should be at least a five-year term. Iíll take a year to get a hang of the job, another two to three years to work towards developing the young team into an efficient unit and then target the World Group or even higherÖ

You and Mahesh Bhupathi have had your differences. What role would you expect him to play'

Mahesh has been in the team for 10 years now and is the second-most experienced member, so he knows what is expected of him. Iím sure heíll come forward with ideas and useful inputs for the welfare of the team. Iíll, in fact, welcome suggestions from each player in the team.

Finally, would you have preferred the captaincy after your playing days'

Ideally, yes. It would have been nicer to enjoy it after hanging up my racket. But, as I said, I have accepted this challenge and thereís no looking back now.

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