The Davis Cup is supposed to be the ultimate team game, a coming together of players, whatever their differences, for a common cause - of country. But was that really the case in faraway Bucharest, when India met and was outclassed by Romania? Officially, no one's telling. Unofficially, it was far from a team united.
Nothing could have made that more apparent than the absence of senior member Leander Paes from the sidelines for the majority of the Prakash Amritraj match in Bucharest on Sunday.
"We do not know what precisely happened during the tie, but there is no doubt that the players should improve their relationship," All India Tennis Association (AITA) secretary Anil Khanna told HT, when asked about what happened and the situation. "We feel that the most bitter period of this episode is over. And while we do not expect them to be friends, we do expect them to be more mature." Coming from the AITA boss, even that statement spells that all is far from well.
Word from the team suggests that it was Paes's job to warm up Somdev Devvarman for the final dead rubber on Sunday and coach Nandan Bal also went along. But that India's erstwhile captain for four and a half years did not make it a point to come out cheering during what was the most crucial match of the tie, with the score 1-2 in favour of Romania, is a clear indication that Paes is in no mood to forgive Amritraj for challenging his captaincy and authority.
"That they all chose to sit in separate boxes and as far apart as possible during Somdev's match, does not show the kind of spirit that winning teams need," said a former selector who did not wish to be named.
In fact Devvarman was reportedly quite shocked when he first made it to the team in the tie against Sweden this February. The 23-year-old's success on the American collegiate circuit came from the support base that his University of Virginia team provided. In Delhi he ran smack into the acrimony and back biting that has obviously been denting India's challenge for some time now.
In fact, even Paes is on record saying that his greatest Davis Cup triumphs came on account of a team united in the face of great odds. Devvarman can hardly begin to feel the same just as of now.
Meanwhile, the AITA needs to do more than just ask the players to be "more mature". After a long time, India now have the option of three singles players with Rohan Bopanna, Amritraj and Devvarman in the reckoning. Instead of providing the captain with the option of trying out all three and going with the players in form just before the draw, the AITA chose to ignore Bopanna for this tie. Not only would Bopanna have served as a great practice partner, taking him along made great sense in case any member of the four-strong squad got injured. Bopanna could have even stepped in for Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi if needed, given that he is 51on the doubles ranking list.
The AITA's otherwise unconditional support for Paes may well be justified given the amount that he has contributed playing for the flag. But the federation can ill-afford to appear skewed in his favour by ignoring Bopanna. Even if Paes's chosen support staff is to be persisted with, the demands of the others with regard to having along a world-class trainer and coach cannot be ignored. Changing the captain has not really changed the atmosphere in the Indian locker room. Instead it has all just become even murkier.