The president of the national tennis federation (All India Tennis Association) wears a 'startled deer' look nowadays. You know, the one that has been pinned by the mesmerising headlights of your car --- it can see doom loom but just can't figure out which way to bolt.
Anil Khanna has always played the game well. Prudence defines this career sports administrator; harsh words and unwavering stands are more the premise of athletes. But now, he and his confidants are getting desperate.
The roll of the dice, which envisioned Mahesh Bhupathi (Hesh) and Rohan Bopanna (Bops) caving in to the diktat of the body, has gone horribly wrong. Both have refused to partner Leander Paes.
What's even worse is that the federation's pigheadedness at not even considering two entries has come to bite it in a manner that it didn't expect: the man who spent the taxpayer's money on financing the preparation of Hesh-Bops isn't amused that Khanna decided to rap them on the knuckles at the country's expense.
Sports minister Ajay Maken decided to ask some basic questions after a bunch of people called him to voice their concern on a decision that smacked of arbitrariness.
On the face of it, the Paes-Bhupathi combo is the best to represent the country. This correspondent still feels that purely on tennis merit, the selectors were right. However, the fact that Hesh-Bops have repeatedly conveyed to AITA that they would only play as a pair is something that the selectors were privy to.
Even then, they chose to stick to the tried-tested-but-Olympic-failed pairing. That made the selection committee's decision one of pure escapism. They just did not confront the harsher reality of the duo sticking to their friendship, which has now become all the more concrete, baked by their mutual loathing for Paes.
To be fair, Bhupathi has said a lot of inflammatory things about Paes in the past and then sulked, and then sulked some more, before finally coming around. Now, move on. Frankly, after Maken's stand, it will be very tough for the body to refuse Hesh-Bops entry. It will be within its rights, but it would appear to be petty.
The present imbroglio offers a simple solution: pair Paes with a kid, and let the vocal duo play together.
That way India will have two highly motivated entries in the draw. With Somdev Devvarman unlikely to even play Wimbledon on account of his still healing right shoulder, Yuki Bhambri appears to be the most likely candidate to combine with the warrior-hearted Paes.
This correspondent has many a time written about the indiscipline in the Indian tennis team. Davis Cup ties especially reflect this.
But if AITA did not have the guts to discipline Bhupathi and Bopanna when the two decided to have a booze party right in the middle of a Davis Cup tie — April 2008, against Japan in Delhi — then why be all uppity and hoity-toity with pronouncements like 'players cannot be selectors'.
Tennis players have always selected themselves on the basis of rankings. To put it bluntly, the selectors don't even know what they are talking about given that the majority of them have been far, far away from top-echelon tennis for quite a while. Still they presume that they know better than our best.
It will take skill for Khanna to wriggle out of the spot that he finds himself in. The spotlight is where it should be —glaring harsh on a federation that found the wrong stick to beat up its players.
Sure this lot needs taming but then you got to even whack your kids nowadays with prudence —the little rascal may call the cops. Bhupathi just did.