It has been 12 years since an Indian team toured Pakistan across any sport. It has been 55 years since an Indian Davis Cup squad has travelled to Pakistan for a tie. Both these streaks are about to be broken.
India has announced its squad for the 2019 Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group 1 away tie against Pakistan. India’s top two players, Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ramkumar Ramanathan will spearhead the squad. Doubles specialists Rohan Bopanna and Dvij Sharan are also included in the team. Saketh Myneni’s inclusion completes the full line-up. The nation’s fifth-best singles player, Sasi Kumar Mukund will be the reserve player. Coach Zeeshan Ali and non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupati will accompany the squad. Sunder Iyer will be the team manager. Adding to the list, two physios, too, will book their tickets to Pakistan for the away tie.
“The team of six players, support staff and coach will be going to Pakistan. I will also go along with the team. We will be putting in the visa application for everyone. Pakistan hockey team travelled to India for the World Cup, and now we are also going,” said All India Tennis Association (AITA) Secretary, Hironmoy Chatterjee following the Pulwama attacks, the chances of the Indian side travelling to Pakistan was greatly diminished. However, following a three-day inspection from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Islamabad was given a thumbs up to host the tie.
“We can confirm that ITF conducted a site visit this week (July last), as is protocol before Davis Cup ties, and is satisfied with all arrangements,” said ITF Spokesperson
Moreover, the AITA has already started the visa process for the players after an invitation letter sent by the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) was received earlier this week.
“There were initially some safety concerns, but after ITF and AITA addressed those issues, they are all coming. We are really happy that we are travelling with the full squad,” said Zeeshan Ali.
In fact, Pakistan’s tennis chief, Salim Saifullah Khan has even confirmed that they are planning to invite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to see the tie live at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad.
“All the set up will be declared a red zone because the Parliament, Presidency and the PM (residence) are also there. I am sure nothing untoward will happen, and the Indian players would be comfortable. The Indian players have visited here for the ITF Futures tournaments as well. And when Indians come here, it is difficult to separate them from Pakistanis because we look the same. The clothes are the same; the food is also the same. We always advise them to stay in specific hotels. Nothing has happened so far and Inshallah, nothing will happen. One team had come to Lahore after independence (1964). We feel it is a good opportunity for the two countries to show maturity. We should not mix politics and sports,” said Salim Saifullah Khan
Pakistan’s former National Top 10 player Nauman Aleem will be the manager of the Pakistani team. Former Davis Cupper Mushaf Zia was announced as their non-playing captain. Veteran players Aqueel Khan and Aisam Qureshi will be the front-runners for Pakistan.
Aqueel, now aged 39 years, said to the press the following when asked about the approaching tie against India:
“Realistically, the Indians are very professional players, who are among the World’s Top 100, while on the other hand, we have only one international star in shape of Aisam ul-haq Qureshi. If you want me to comment on the rest of the team which will be part of the Pakistan Davis Cup squad, then sorry to say, they are not quality stuff to play high-profile pressure matches of Davis Cup. They are good at the national level, but they need to have international exposure to even think about standing any chance of playing against much-experienced Indians.”
As per the official Davis Cup website as of 6 August, Pakistan has not submitted its team nomination officially. Apart from Aqueel and Aisam, it is difficult to predict which all players will complete the rest of the squad. Going by the players who played the Davis Cup ties last year alongside Aqueel and Aisam, Mohammad Abid Ali Akbar and Muzammil Murtaza might make the cut. Both Akbar and Murtaza are placed outside the Top 1500 in the rankings.
The historic Indo-Pak Davis Cup tie will be held on 14 and 15 September 2019. Grass is the turf of choice for the tie. India are currently placed at No.20 in the Davis Cup rankings whereas Pakistan are placed at No.37. Pakistan will make one valiant attempt to avoid a seventh straight Davis Cup loss against India.