FOR THE first time in 55 years, an Indian team will travel to Pakistan to compete in a Davis Cup tie. The All India Tennis Association (AITA) confirmed the Indian team’s participation in the Asia/ Oceania Group 1 away tie, which will be held on September 14-15 at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad.
“Yes, we will be going,” AITA Secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee told The Indian Express. “It’s the World Cup of tennis and not a bilateral series, so there is no embargo on any front.”
First step, but wait for cricket
THE TRIP to Pakistan can be seen as a baby step in normalising sporting relations between the two countries. Following pressure from the international sports community after India didn’t grant visas to Pakistan shooters earlier this year, India had to soften its stand. Last month, the government said it would not stop Pakistani athletes from taking part in events in India. However, historically, the benchmark of normalcy between the two countries is always the resumption of home and away cricket ties.
India has skipped most sporting events hosted by Pakistan for over a decade — the 2007 cricket tour to Pakistan was the last significant “away” sporting trip that India undertook.
While the Davis Cup draw was out in February, the team’s chances of making the trip seemed bleak in the wake of the border tension following the Pulwama attack later that month. Last month, however, the sports ministry made it clear that the decision to compete in the tie remained solely with the AITA.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior official had put the onus on AITA. “Sports ministry does not interfere in team selections, participation of tournaments or visits to countries by sportspersons,” he had said.
The Indian tennis body waited for the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) inspection of the venue and security arrangements in Pakistan before making its stand public. “The ITF had sent representatives to Islamabad on the 22nd of this month,” said Chatterjee. “Once they cleared it, we sent our details to the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) so that they could issue the invitation letter. That letter has come, so we have started the visa application process. It takes about four to five weeks to complete the visa process.”
The last time India played Pakistan in the Davis Cup tie was in 2006, at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, when the hosts came up with a 3-2 win to take India’s head-to-head tally against Pakistan to 6-0.
AITA is yet to announce the final squad for the seventh meeting between the two neighbouring countries. “The team will officially be announced later, and it will be based on rankings,” said Chatterjee. “But we more or less know the team.”
As it stands, Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi and coach Zeeshan Ali are likely to have India’s top-three ranked men’s singles players, Prajnesh Gunneswaran (ranked 88), Ramkumar Ramanathan (185) and Sumit Nagal (207) in the team. The sole doubles rubber is likely to played by India’s top-two ranked doubles specialists Rohan Bopanna (45) and Divij Sharan (46).
The winner of the tie will earn a spot in the World Group playoffs next year. And since it is an India versus Pakistan tie, bragging rights will also be up for grabs.