India on Thursday picked an unprecedented eight-member Davis Cup squad for the tie against Pakistan, including most of the top stars who refused to travel to Islamabad along with those who made themselves available irrespective of the venue.
Seasoned veteran Leander Paes returned to the Indian team after more than a year along with top players Sumit Nagal, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Sasi Kumar Mukund and Rohan Bopanna for the tie to be held at a yet-to-be-finalised neutral venue on November 29 and 30.
Nagal, Bopanna, Ramanathan and Mukund had reservations about travelling to Pakistan due to security concerns, the basis of the International Tennis Federation’s decision to change the venue.
“It’s a special case this time. We do not pick such a big travel party but we did not want the players who were ready to go Pakistan, to feel left out. So we had to create a balance,” Zeeshan Ali, who is on the selection panel and is also the India coach, told PTI.
In the squad announced by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) selection committee, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Saketh Myneni and Siddharth Rawat also found a place in the team. All these players were willing travel to Islamabad when the others had refused.
AITA usually names five-member main squads along with one or two reserve players.
While the ITF is still considering the Pakistan Tennis Federation’s appeal against the decision to shift the tie out of Islamabad, AITA has gone ahead with the team selection.
“We wanted the players to be mentally ready. They can make their respective schedules now. We did not want them to wait more to know if they will be picked or not. Irrespective of the venue, only these players will be a part of the tie, wherever it is played,” said non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal.
“Not all of them would get to play but at least the new players will get a feel of what it is like being on the Indian Davis Cup squad. It will be a kind of experience for the new generation players like Rawat. We have to prepare the next rung,” added Rajpal.
It has been learnt, that the ITF will stick with its decision to have the tie at a neutral venue. The world body is expected to announce its final decision by November 18.
In the absence of top player Prajnesh Gunneswaran, India’s singles challenge will be led by the in-form Nagal (ranked 127) and Ramanathan (190). Mukund (250) and Myneni (267) will be the back-up singles players.
Perhaps for the first time, the squad has three doubles specialists in Bopanna, Paes and Nedunchezhiyan.
“We did want proper backs-ups for our singles and doubles players. Jeevan has been doing well. He can play with both Leander and Rohan, so he was a natural choice,” said Zeeshan.
Left-handed Nedunchezhiyan has been waiting in the wings for long and has been rewarded for his consistent performances in the past two years.
Nagal was not a part of the five-member squad, which was announced earlier when the tie was to be held on September 14 and 15. He had cited an injury at that time for opting out.
Divij Sharan and Prajnesh were named in that squad but with the tie getting delayed due to security concerns in Islamabad, both of them are now unavailable for personal reasons.
While Sharan is taking a two-week break after his wedding reception on November 23, Prajnesh is getting married on November 28, a day before the start of the tie.
Paes, who was available for travel to Pakistan, has been considered for the first time after he won the history-creating doubles match during the tie against China in April 2018.
“The selection committee also puts on record its deep sense of appreciation and gratitude to all the players who had confirmed their unconditional availability even if the tie was held in Islamabad,” AITA said in a statement.
Those who missed out after making themselves available for travelling to Pakistan are Arjun Kadhe, Vijay Sundar Prashanth, N Sriram Balaji and Manish Sureshkumar.
“…keeping in mind the overall best interest of the nation, of sending out our best possible players to represent India in this prestigious and important tie, some of these committed Indian players like N Sriram Balaji, Arjun Kadhe and Mainsh Suresh Kumar could not be accommodated in the final team,” the statement added.
AITA said the final team will be communicated to the ITF after receiving their communication on November 18.
The main Squad: Sumit Nagal, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Saketh Myneni, Rohan Bopanna, Leander Paes.
Reserves: Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Sasi Kumar Mukund and Siddharth Rawat.
Captain: Rohit Rajpal
Coach: Zeeshan Ali
Physio: Anand Kumar
Team Manager: Sunder Iyer.