India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie shifted from Islamabad to neutral venue

India’s forthcoming Davis Cup tie against Pakistan has been shifted out of Islamabad and will now be played at a neutral venue. Agreeing to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) request, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) on Monday communicated its final decision regarding the Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 tie scheduled for November 29 and 30.

By virtue of being the original host nation, the Pakistan Tennis Federation now has the choice to nominate a neutral venue and has five working days to confirm their proposed venue.

In its release ITF cited that the decision was taken “following a review of the latest advice given by the ITF’s independent security advisors” and that its “first priority has always been the safety of athletes, officials, spectators.”

“We are glad that the decision has finally turned out to be in our favour. The ITF reviewed the situation and found ours was a valid request,” AITA secretary Hiranmoy Chatterjee told ESPN.

“There may have been players from other countries touring Pakistan for various bilateral sporting events but that hardly makes a case for India’s unique political and diplomatic relations with Pakistan. ITF understood that it’s a special circumstance.”

In September, Pakistan played the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team for a series comprising three ODIs and three T20Is while two ITF Juniors tournaments were played in Islamabad in October (7-12 and 14-19). The Bangladesh women’s cricket team and their U-16 side too are in Pakistan for a bilateral series.

With non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi expressing his reservations over traveling to Islamabad over security concerns, national selection panel chairman and DLTA president Rohit Rajpal was picked to assume the role for the tie at the AITA Annual General Meeting in Chandigarh on Monday.

Despite the change in playing venue, Rajpal will remain captain for this tie, since Bhupathi’s term had already ended in December 2018 and he was only allowed an extension for the tie against Italy in Kolkata in February this year.

Following this tie, the AITA is likely to bring a fresh captain on board. Anand Amritraj, who had captained the side previously before Bhupathi was brought in, had also expressed his willingness to return to his former role. He, however, it is understood, sought at least a one or two-year term and was not keen on taking up the job just for one tie.

With the tie being shifted out of Islamabad, the other members of the original squad who had earlier chosen not to travel to Pakistan, including Rohan Bopanna and Ramkumar Ramanathan, are now again back in the mix. Leander Paes, who made himself available for the fixture with most players pulling out earlier, also remains in the fray. On Tuesday, coach Zeeshan Ali and Rajpal will discuss over what the squad should now look like.

“Earlier, it was a difficult situation to be in with six of our top singles and doubles players not available for this tie,” Zeeshan said. “Now that it’s a neutral venue we should have our best players available and the captain and I will discuss the composition of the team we want for the tie.”

Originally scheduled for September 14 and 15, AITA, in its letter dated August 14, had requested for the postponement of the tie by two months citing security concerns over traveling to Islamabad. Primarily hinging their argument on the downward spiral in diplomatic relations between both countries following the scrapping of Article 370 which revokes Kashmir’s special status, AITA offered an eight-point rationale to back its demand.

According to rule 230.2.5 of Davis Cup regulations, “a nation with choice of ground may lose its choice at any time if the Davis Cup Committee considers that it is not possible or practicable for the opposing nation to reach or play at the venue chosen for the tie, due to war, political unrest, terrorism or natural disaster.”

AITA banked on the ‘political unrest’ clause in the rule to have its way. ITF, on August 22, had agreed to reschedule the tie to November after the matter was referred to the Davis Cup committee. Over the past few months, the AITA has been keeping the ITF posted with news reports from the sub-continent which reflect the prevailing unrest.

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