The shift in venue for the Pakistan tie has brought relief as well as headache for the national tennis federation (AITA), the officials of which are now scratching their heads on team selection.
The dynamics of the encounter have changed after the International Tennis Federation (ITF) shifted the tie out of Islamabad as top Indian players, who had refused to travel to Pakistan, are now interested to compete in the November 29-30 matches.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) officials spent the day discussing whether top players should be asked for their availability or not because if they do so, it will amount to dumping the players, who showed their willingness to travel to Pakistan despite safety concerns.
The new captain Rohit Rajpal is keen to have a strong side at his disposal but does not want the players, who expressed their willingness to travel to Islamabad, to miss out.
It has been learnt that Rajpal wants to take everyone along.
Veteran Leander Paes, Saketh Myneni, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and N Sriram Balaji had all made themselves available for selection.
Save Paes, none of these players would be able to make it to the team because of their low ranking if top player Rohan Bopanna comes in the fray for selection.
Paes is ranked 96th in the world and Bopanna, who refused the trip to Pakistan, is placed 39th.
However, Rohan Bopanna has lashed out at AITA for not consulting or even informing the players before announcing the new non-playing captain. He took to Twitter to express his displeasure.
“One needs to realise that when one represents their country, there is much more to them than just the skill they bring to the court. The camaraderie amongst the players, between the players and their captain is where we derive a lot of support from.
Contrary to the incessat beliefs and actions of AITA and their manner of functioning, when it comes to the decisions they make in context to the ‘players’ best interests’; with my years of experience and representation – I would like for the system to know that a player’s best interest is when the players are heard. And in this case, at least informed. When we bring our patriotism on the court with raquet in hand, we also bring a voice,” tweeted Bopanna.
Even if Bopanna and Paes are picked as a specialist pair as Divij Sharan (47) is taking a break, Jeevan (ranked 110) and Balaji (137) will miss out.
The AITA selection committee largely goes by the rankings while picking the Davis Cup squad, so ignoring Bopanna would be tough if he is willing to play.
In singles too, Myneni (266) and Arjun Kadhe (552) expressed their interests in competing in Islamabad but are ranked way below top players Sumit Nagal (career-best 129), Ramkumar Ramanathan (199) and Sasi Kumar Mukund (248).
If Nagal and Ramkumar are picked, Myneni and Kadhe will not find a place in the squad.
“It’s a tricky situation. It does not feel good to ditch players who were willing to risk lives and travel to Pakistan. How do you leave them out? But if top players are available, India should field a strong team, so it’s a catch 22 situation for AITA,” an official, closely monitoring the development, told PTI.
At least two top singles players confirmed to PTI that they are available for selection but have not been approached by the AITA.
The AITA is under no obligation to ask availability of top players because, in its communication on October 25, the federation had made it clear that only those players will be considered for selection on neutral venue who are ready to be picked for Islamabad tie.
“We want to beat Pakistan and that is our top priority. We definitely want a strong team but we don’t want those players to miss out who raised hands to travel to Pakistan,” Rajpal, who is Chairman of the selection committee, told PTI.
It has been learnt that team selection will depend on the surface chosen by Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF), which has five days to nominate the neutral venue. So, the Indian team won’t be selected before November 10.
Pakistan’s chances to get grass courts will be difficult on neutral venue and if hard courts are chosen, Nagal and Ramanathan will be priority singles players.
Myneni could go in as a third singles player and also can play in doubles as well. In that case, Sasi Mukund will miss out, though he can be part of the squad as a reserve member.
If both Bopanna and Paes are picked then it will be interesting to see if they are willing to pair up since there have been frictions in the past between them.
Sources say, Paes could also be paired with left-handed Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, who has made a mark on the doubles circuit in the past two years.
(With PTI inputs)