In what has turned into a saga of epic proportions, the impending India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie in November now has a fresh name in its cast – Leander Paes.
The 46-year-old, who holds the record for the most number of doubles wins (43), hasn’t featured in India’s Davis Cup plans since he overtook Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli to the distinction in the tie against China in April 2018. Now, with the International Tennis Federation’s final decision on granting the All India Tennis Federation’s request to shift the November 29-30 tie out of Islamabad to a neutral venue pending, a largely fresh list of Indian players have applied for visas to travel to Pakistan.
Non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi has been categorical in expressing his displeasure over travelling to the neighbouring country following the escalated political tensions over the past few months. In the instance of the ITF deciding to stick to the original schedule of the tie being held in Pakistan, it is likely that AITA might want to have Paes doubling up as playing captain.
Speaking to ESPN, Paes said he didn’t want to wade into the matter just yet and ‘wants to wait till things get clearer’.
Apart from Bhupathi, four members of the original squad announced in August — Rohan Bopanna, Divij Sharan, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran — no longer feature in the fresh list of players. While Prajnesh is getting married around the time of the tie, Divij has opted for a break post his wedding reception on November 23. Ramkumar and Bopanna, it is learnt, have decided against travelling for the tie.
Bopanna’s former Pakistani doubles partner Aisam-ul Haq Qureshi told ESPN that he’s disappointed with the fresh turn of events. “It’s sad to hear that Rohan does not feature in the Indian squad anymore. I’m hoping the list can change even weeks before the tie.”
The players who have made themselves available and now feature in the squad instead are Saketh Myneni (who was also part of the original squad), Vijay Sundar Prashanth, N Sriram Balaji, Siddharth Rawat and Manish Suresh Kumar.
AITA on its part said it was still waiting for a final decision on the ITF on the venue before it can firm up its plans. “Right now,” said secretary Hiranmoy Chatterjee, “we have listed the players who made themselves available. We will wait for the ITF to take a final call and then decide on the team and the roles.”