AITA promises clean slate in selections for Pakistan tie

Mahesh Bhupathi's team beat Uzbekistan 4-1 to book a spot in the World Group playoffs MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) on Thursday sought to play down the latest controversy confronting the national federation - the removal of Mahesh Bhupathi as captain of the Davis Cup team.

They suggested that the decision to replace Bhupathi with Rohit Rajpal was done not out of malice, but because the International Tennis Federation (ITF) had not given the impression until the very last minute that it was considering moving India's upcoming Davis Cup tie with Pakistan out of Islamabad.

However, while AITA insisted that Bhupathi would not be the non-playing captain for the tie, they said that the members of the side that had expressed their hesitation in playing in Pakistan would be reconsidered for selection since the tie had now been shifted to a neutral venue.

Bhupathi had made himself unavailable for the tie that was originally to be held in the Pakistan capital on September 14. The tie was subsequently rescheduled to be played between November 29 and 30 after the Indian federation raised concerns over playing in Pakistan in view of the prevailing security conditions in the country.

While pulling out of the tie, Bhupathi had said that all of India's Davis Cup regulars had also conveyed to him that they would not be making themselves available for the matches.

On the morning of November 4, Bhupathi was replaced as the non-playing captain by Rohit Rajpal and a few hours later, the venue of the tie was shifted by the ITF to a neutral venue.

While Bhupathi stated that he was now available for the tie, the AITA stood by its decision to replace him with Rajpal. In turn, Bhupathi had lashed out at the federation, saying in an interview that AITA "liked to divide and rule."

The federation took strongly to those allegations. They said that Bhupathi, while pushing for the tie to be shifted, had even suggested that India should forfeit if the ITF did not meet their requests.

"In the emergent meeting on October 15 we decided that India will not forfeit the tie nor it would take the loser's spot," AITA CEO Akhuri Biswadeep said. "India would go ahead and field the team."

The federation insisted that while they had repeatedly tried to get the ITF to shift the tie to a neutral venue, they had expected to be unsuccessful in that request and hence had little choice but to approach Rajpal.

"The decision of change in venue was victory of soft diplomacy and quiet persistence of AITA. However, in the last three months the ITF never gave an impression that it would agree to a change in venue," Bishwadeep said.

"Bhupathi had already informed that he would not travel to Pakistan as his family was not in favour of that. Considering the likelihood of the tie being held in Islamabad, it was important to decide on captain, who had the maturity and calmness to deal with the sensitive tour."

The AITA said that they had even considered roping in Anand Amritraj and Leander Paes, who had agreed to travel to Pakistan, as a member of the playing team before approaching Rajpal.

"Leander Paes was also considered for captaincy but it was decided not to burden him with two roles. Anand Amritraj was also considered but he wanted a long-term stint and that time Rohit was asked if he can take up the job and he agreed without putting any condition," Bishwadeep said.

While the tie had been shifted to a neutral country, Bishwadeep said the decision was not final and that Pakistan had appealed to the ITF; a final decision will be made on November 10.

Yet, while a number of first-choice players had also appeared to back Bhupathi's decision to skip the tie, the federation held out an olive branch saying they would be considered for selection should the tie be played in a neutral venue.

"We have officially named our non-playing captain as Rohit Rajpal. We cannot go back on that. But we haven't named our team as of yet," Bishwadeep said.

Rajpal echoed those sentiments: "We respect and value the players who had put their hands up to play in Pakistan without question but we also want to pick the best side for our tie against Pakistan." Rajpal, however, added that while he would be the non-playing captain for the next tie, this did not mean that Bhupathi would never find his way back as the Davis Cup captain.

"I would say, why not (as to whether Bhupathi would ever be named as captain again). It's the executive committee's decision to decide on captain but if Mahesh is required in future why not have him and also he can make more contribution in other capacities being a legend of the game. Everything is open."