The revolt and after

Leander Paes, India’s captain, makes a point to Prakash Amritraj (left) and Rohan Bopanna during a practice session ahead of the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY Leander Paes, India’s captain, makes a point to Prakash Amritraj (left) and Rohan Bopanna during a practice session ahead of the Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan.

Though sensitive to the demands of the players, the AITA secretary-general, Anil Khanna, is clear that just because a few players have revolted it cannot become a judgement day for Leander Paes. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

Leander Paes may be one of India’s best players in Davis Cup history, but his team-mates are out to establish that he is a bad captain. In a series of outbursts, and in a strong letter to the All India Tennis Association (AITA), Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj have relentlessly attacked Leander, who, on his part, has maintained a studied silence, letting the boys expose themselves in a flurry of accusations.

It was no wonder that the AITA chose to protect the image of Leander, who was forced to be the non-playing captain in India’s tie against Uzbekistan in February in New Delhi owing to an ankle injury.

In an emergency meeting of its Executive Committee and the Selection Committee, the AITA discussed the players’ issue at length but opted to keep the issue in abeyance so as to focus on the coming Davis Cup tie against Japan in April and the Olympic Games in August.

Though sensitive to the demands of the players, the AITA secretary-general, Anil Khanna, is clear that just because a few players revolted it cannot become a ‘judgement day’ for Leander Paes.

However, Mahesh Bhupathi, who has been providing moral support to the revolting players, has gone further to say that the team also needed a non-playing captain, a new doctor, a new coach etc.

The former Davis Cup captain Naresh Kumar said that it was “childish” on the part of the players to enact such a row on trivial issues instead of focussing on playing good tennis.

Another former captain Jaideep Mukherjea recalled how he had to quit because Leander Paes did not want to play under him. Mahesh also stated that Leander had pulled out of the Davis Cup tie against Italy in Genoa in 1998 on the pretext of an injury, though the real reason was that he was not comfortable playing under Jaideep as captain. Ramesh Krishnan came into the picture thereafter, but he too quit a few years ago, understandably to focus on the career of his two daughters who were busy playing in the junior circuit.

The AITA took the easy way out then by appointing Leander as the captain even though he was busy playing the singles and doubles. As things present, it was not a wise move to burden him with the captaincy in the first place, though Leander himself has been pretty serious about team’s cause.

His methods and attitude towards his team-mates may be questionable, but Leander has this uncanny ability of provoking his players into giving good results. His onslaught against Mahesh in the Doha Asian Games was quite unpleasant but it had the required impact on his doubles partner, who played very well despite being physically below his best.

interestingly, Harsh Mankad, who had felt that Leander had been unfair to him, has now conceded that the captain, after all, had taken the decisions in the best interest of the team and only after weighing various factors.

“You have to go with the best players in the team. I think it has more to do with the egos. Small things have been blown into a big issue. It can be sorted out. You can perhaps have a playing captain and a manager,” said Shyam Minotra, the former chairman of the selection committee.

That was exactly what the AITA eventually did by appointing the former Davis Cup player and member of the selection committee, S. P. Mishra, as the manager of the team for the tie against Japan in April.

Will that serve the purpose? It may not, as the players want somebody other than Leander to be sitting on the chair during the matches, as they have lost faith in him as a leader. They have great regard for his game and his tremendous contribution to Indian tennis, but it ends there.

The Davis Cup rules do not allow the manager to sit on the captain’s chair.

Another selector and former coach of the Indian team, Akhtar Ali felt that ‘it is India’s best chance to beat Japan as they are not mentally comfortable playing on grass.’ The last time India played Japan in Osaka in 2004, Leander had suffered one of his rare defeats in the region, losing a ‘live’ fifth rubber to Gouichi Motomura. Overall, it was quite unfortunate that the AITA did not take any step to stop the unending onslaught on Leander. It should have at least served a warning to the players to stop the mud slinging.