For more than three months, the All India Tennis Association had been trying to get the International Tennis Federation to move the Davis Cup tie between India and Pakistan out of Islamabad. But when ITF finally announced on Monday that the tie will be played at a neutral venue, the decision took AITA by surprise.
There was “no intimation from ITF” about the change of venue and Mahesh Bhupathi’s reservations to travel to Pakistan were the reasons that forced AITA to remove the former tennis player as the captain of the Indian Davis Cup team.
The ITF announced that the tie will be played at a neutral venue late on November 4. Hours before that, AITA had removed Bhupathi as the captain and appointed chairman of the selection committee Rohit Rajpal as the new non-playing captain for the tie which is scheduled for November 29 and 30.
“Everybody was surprised [by ITF decision to change venue),” Rajpal said. “Why would you keep saying ‘apply for visa, send players list.’”
AITA CEO Akhouri Bishwadeep said Bhupathi’s unavailability and senior player Leander Paes’ inclusion in the initial squad, made AITA look beyond the two to find a “mature, calm and experienced” captain.
“As on September 28, Bhupathi, communicated on behalf of the players that no one was comfortable going to Pakistan,” he said.
India’s top three singles players Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Sumit Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan had made themselves unavailable for the tie if it was held in Pakistan, along with the top two doubles players Bopanna and Divij Sharan.
On October 15, AITA approached Paes for the tie to which he readily agreed.
“Bhupathi had informed that he was not going to Pakistan because his family was not in favour,” he said.
“Considering the strong likelihood of the tie being held in Islamabad, it was important to decide on the captain. Paes could not be considered because it would have been a burden on him and plus we have had the tradition of non-playing captain.”
Bhupathi and senior player Rohan Bopanna expressed their displeasure at the decision to remove the former from the captain’s post even before the ITF announced their decision and for now, the AITA is going to stick with their decision.
AITA also revealed that Bhupathi had suggested that India should forfeit the tie and take the loser’s spot if the tie was not moved out of Islamabad. The national body decided against that recommendation.
Now that ITF has announced a change in venue, the selection committee will pick the “best team” for the tie but will not sideline the players who had made themselves available when the top players did not.
“We have taken note that these guys [who made themselves available for Islamabad] have stood up for the country and we will honour them,” chairman of the selection committee Rajpal said.
“We will not ignore them. The selection committee will again sit down depending on where the tie is played and on what surface. Our goal is to win this tie. Everybody who says he is available, will be considered.”
AITA also did not rule out Bhupathi’s role in future events but did not make it clear that if he will be the captain.
“Mahesh [Bhupathi] is welcome for national duty,” Bishwadeep said. “Whatever duty AITA requires from him, then he will be approached.”