Leander Paes returned to sporting action this year but it wasn’t on a tennis court.
Instead, he donned gloves, pads and brandished a bat to team up with former India cricketer Irfan Pathan for a celebratory cricket match in Kolkata on Tuesday, India’s Republic Day.
In a cricket tournament launched in honour of Leander’s father, 1972 Olympic hockey bronze medallist Vece Paes, the tennis legend turned up for Doctors’ XI to face CC&FC XI.
Vece Paes, 75, is a doctor in sports medicine. He has worked with the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Asian Cricket Council as a medical consultant for decades.
The Indian Davis Cup team and ATP tournaments in India have also availed of his services as a tournament doctor. Vece has also worked with the Indian Super League (ISL).
The cricket match was organised by the doctors of Kolkata at the historic Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CC&FC). Christened the Dr Vece Paes Cricket Cup, it will be an annual event to be played on every Republic Day.
“I’m very emotional about CC&FC,” Leander Paes said. “As a young boy growing up, at this very ground I learnt leadership, sportsmanship and camaraderie.
“It’s an honour to be your son. I’ve tried to run it and play the game of life as best as I could. I hope I have done you proud,” Leander added.
The Doctors’ XI, however, lost to CC&FC by three wickets.
“It was a short yet memorable partnership brother,” Irfan Pathan wrote on Twitter, with a picture of himself with Leander Paes.
Vece Paes was felicitated after the match in an emotional moment where both father and son welled up. Former hockey team-mate Gurbux Singh was also present at the event.
‘It gives the guru greater satisfaction when his ward outshines him. You have certainly done that,’’ Vece told his son, who has participated in the Olympics a record seven times as a tennis player.
Leander Paes emulated his father to win a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Now 47, Leander Paes was passionate about football growing up. He played hockey and basketball too -- his mother Jennifer was a national basketball player -- along with cricket.
While he opted for a career in tennis, football never left him. In 2019, Leander was spotted playing the sport with cricket legend MS Dhoni in a charity match in Mumbai.
Leander is also a fan of football club Mohun Bagan, which has now merged with ATK to form ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL.
Lead photo: Irfan Pathan/Twitter