“Thank god, there is Leander Paes in our squad. Otherwise, South Korea would have lodged a protest against India for fielding an ‘all-kids’ squad for such a prestigious tie.” That’s how an All India Tennis Association’s employee reacted to the country’s Davis Cup team selected on Friday for the encounter against South Korea.
Refusing to give in to the eight players’ demands, AITA selected three unfamiliar names — VM Ranjeet (ranked 517), Vijayant Malik (542) and Purav Raja (155 in doubles) — to partner Paes for the Davis Cup tie from February 1 to 3.
Before making the list public, the chairman of the selection committee Anil Dhupar, who called the players’ rebellion “unfair and unjustified”, apprised AITA president Anil Khanna about the choice of players. “He was fine with the list,” a selector told this paper.
It wasn’t an easy decision for the parties involved. To AITA’s credit, it gave the revolting players, led by Somdev Devvarman, an extended deadline till Friday noon to confirm their availability. As a last ditch effort, senior AITA officials also reached out to the parents of Somdev, Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan, Sanam Singh, Divij Sharan and Saketh Myneni, but the players did not budge. Left with no choice, the selectors named SP Mishra as the non-playing captain and Zeeshan Ali the coach.
AITA CEO Hironmoy Chatterjee said, “We tried convincing them that we had no problem in agreeing to their valid demands and were ready to give them business class airfare. We told them we were ready to increase the members of the team from four to six. Despite these concessions, there was no response from them. Thus, we picked the squad from whoever was available,” said Chatterjee.
Prospect of a reconciliation sometime soon looked grim. “Once this team is selected, there is no question of further changes. The talks with the rebel players will only be for the next Davis Cup tie,” Chatterjee said.
He revealed that Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were on the selectors’ radar despite a two-year ban hanging over their heads. “Initially, the two confirmed their availability according to the norms and we were considering them for selection. But later, they took a stand that they were not available,” Chatterjee said.