At long last with one fell swoop, the AITA to their credit swept aside the rebels Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna and announced a brand new young team for India’s Davis Cup tie against New Zealand to be played in Chandigarh from September 13-15. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air and hopefully will see the dawn of an Indian tennis spring.
The rebellion started during our Davis Cup tie in Delhi against Japan in March 2008. In an appalling move, the powerful Bhupathi- Amritraj combine wrote a letter the AITA, co-signed by the team, refusing to play under the captaincy of Leander Paes. It was a successful attempt to hijack and control the Davis Cup team. With the tie just a couple of days away, the AITA had no other option but to back down. Leander was yanked out of the captain’s chair, a compromise formula was found and S.P. Misra a former Davis Cup player was made the non-playing captain of the team.
Misra a quiet gentleman has been acting as a buffer between the two factions. One is told that the atmosphere in the dressing room, with no leader, no discipline, fuelled by Chinese Whispers whipped up passions to a frenzy. Emboldened after having had their way, the two B’s, Bhupathi and Bopanna, now took on the AITA. They threatened to withdraw from the Olympic team if they were not nominated to play together in the doubles. There was a media free-for-all. Even cabinet ministers were dragged into the fray!
At Wimbledon everybody laughed at the tamasha, which unfolded like a racy tele-serial. Refusal to play for the country is no laughing matter. In some regimes it could be considered as a treasonable offence. A Mughal emperor may well have announced ‘saza-e-maut’ for the rebels. Even more serious has been the destruction of team spirit and discipline of the Davis Cup team. It shattered the image of Indian tennis at both national and international levels. The Indian Davis Cup team in the past have always performed well beyond their rankings. Team spirit and discipline were strong factors that boosted our performance.
I remember our ties against Australia in Calcutta when Neale Fraser was the Aussie captain and in Chennai where John Newcombe led them. When one of their players would leave the dressing room for his match, there would be a deafening roar of support from the rest of the team. We are not the same, but inner resolve and unity have carried many a day for us.
In the future the new team must be led by Somdev Dev Varman a well-behaved, soft spoken, but very tough 25-year- old from Tripura. To his credit he has managed to steer clear of tennis politics, which is no mean achievement. He is a product of the highly-competitive US collegiate system and miraculously, but deservedly, achieved the breakthrough deep into the ranks of the top 100.
It is like swimming through pirhana-infested waters. Unfortunately, Somdev’s luck ran out. Just when he was poised to have a crack at higher-ranked players, he was injured and needed surgery for a shoulder injury. I am sure he will fight his way back after the long layoff.
Gopichand guided Saina to the top because he knew the way and had been there himself. Somdev has broken thro-ugh the 100 ATP ranking barrier and knows the ropes. He must be in charge of guiding the youngsters and help them plan their careers to achieve their potential.