Apart from the all-important decision to displace Anand Amritraj with Mahesh Bhupathi as non-playing captain, the AITA decided to drop Rohan Bopanna, the country’s highest- ranked doubles player (28) for World No. 59 Leander Paes from the squad for February’s New Zealand tie. Yet the members assert the call was made based on the premise of tactics.
The proposed lineup includes Saketh Myneni, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Yuki Bhambri and Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who will compete for three spots. Meanwhile, Leander will feature as the only doubles specialist. “We’ve always wanted to go with three singles players. If we take two doubles specialists, and one of the singles players gets injured, then there will be a problem of who will play the singles rubber on the third day,” explains Zeeshan Ali, whose term as coach was extended. Earlier in 2016, against South Korea, Myneni had to pull out of his singles match against Chung Hong due to cramp, and Bopanna—a doubles player —stepped in to compete in the rubber.
The strategy, hence, will require Myneni, who has previously shared the court with both Paes and Bopanna, to play the only doubles rubber of the tie. The decision, meanwhile, to pick Paes instead of Bopanna was based on past performances with Myneni. “In the last match when we played New Zealand, we played Saketh and Rohan. Unfortunately they lost in straight sets,” Ali says. “Saketh and Leander played against Spain, where they combined well and almost pulled off an upset against an Olympic gold medal winning team. So it’ll be good to go with the same team considering they both combined well,” he adds.
Furthermore, fellow selector Nandan Bal asserts that the Paes-Myneni tactics work better than the Myneni-Bopanna pair. “Saketh and Rohan are both left-sided players. So that clashes. But Leander plays on the right. So that’s a natural fit,” he mentions.
For the tie, the return of former India number one Bhambri, and the rise in form of Prajnesh Gunneswaran give the selection committee the chance to employ the three-singles-one-doubles strategy, and avoid the risk forcing a doubles specialst to play a singles rubber – like it happened against Korea. “Yuki has just come out of injury, so has Saketh. So it’ll be risky to put in two singles players and Rohan and Leander as two doubles players,” Bal adds.
Dropping Bopanna for the tie though, Ali asserts, is purely a strategic move. “There was no politics in the decision. It was purely tactical and a straight forward decision made by the committee,” he concludes.