With less than a month to go for the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie between India and Pakistan, there is still no clarity regarding the venue.
Officially, the tie is supposed be held in Islamabad on November 29-30. However, given the current diplomatic relations between the neighbours, members of the India team had expressed reservations about travelling to Pakistan and the All India Tennis Association (AITA) had already conveyed that to the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
The final call on whether a neutral venue will be considered is supposed to be taken latest by November 4.
Asked whether there has been any change in their stance since the time the ITF had postponed the tie from the original September date but had not changed the venue, the ITF told The Telegraph via an email early this week: “The Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie between Pakistan and India has been re-scheduled for 29-30 November in Islamabad. The ITF will continue to monitor the security situation in Pakistan with the host nation and our independent security advisors.”
That has been their stance from the start.
Captain Mahesh Bhupathi maintained that he needed assurance regarding security of the team. “I have no problems going to Islamabad, but just need someone to give assurances regarding safety… If Islamabad stays as venue, then all the players must be asked on their comfort level to travel amidst the current security assurances and then decisions will need to be taken. This means the support staff too, including me,” Bhupathi said on Thursday.
According to AITA secretary-general Hironmoy Chatterjee, the last they had heard from the ITF was when the dates were postponed. “They have not got back to us regarding our request for a neutral venue. We will have to wait till Monday (November 4) and then take a call,” he said.
However, what must be a cause for concern is that unless a final call is taken on the venue, the team remains an uncertainty. While the AITA had already picked a team — Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Rohan Bopanna, Divij Sharan and Saketh Myneni, with Sasi Kumar Mukund as a reserve — most of them may not be available if ITF insists on Islamabad.
Some have security concerns, while weddings of Prajnesh and Divij in November will make them unavailable.
India’s pool of players waiting in the wings include Purav Raja, Sriram Balaji, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Vishnu Vardhan and Arjun Khade. And the most important name being whispered about is that of the iconic Leander Paes, who, according to AITA sources, have made himself available. Paes, however, has remained tight-lipped about the issue and repeated phone calls and messages to him have gone unanswered.
A change in venue will also bring into account a change of court. While Islamabad means the tie will be played on grass, the teams may have to contend with a different surface at a different venue. That too should affect the team composition.