India's Davis Cup show an encouraging sign

Last Updated: Wed, Apr 10, 2013 09:25 hrs

It was absolutely heartening to see the Indian team so united in their 5-0 romp over Indonesia in the just-concluded Davis Cup tie at Bangalore. 

At the same time, one could not help feeling that had the squad members shown the same unity of purpose, put their differences with the AITA aside and played the match against South Korea, India could well have been seriously challenging for a return to the prestigious World Group, instead of still languishing in the qualifiers.
Days before the match started, the players adopted a ''united we stand'' mantra. The acrimony of the past was set aside. Possibly realizing that they had made a mistake in not representing the country against South Korea, the players wanted to atone and put their best foot forward. 

It was another thing that even if they hadn't, India would have completed a clean sweep over opponents against whom they had a 5-0 record coming into the tie. 

But the fact that they made a clean sweep without dropping even a single set underlined not only the disparity between the teams, but also that the old confidence levels had returned.
The result of the tie was a foregone conclusion given the wide gap between the rankings. Somdev Devvarman is currently ranked 208 and Yuki Bhambri 279. Against this, the rankings of the two Indonesian singles players Christopher Rungkat and Wisnu Adi Nugroho are 250 and 1774. 

And with Leander Paes figuring in the doubles along with Sanam Singh, there was never going to be any chance of the Indonesia pair causing an upset. Yes, it is true that Davis Cup play can make a mockery of rankings at times, as someone like Paes has proved so often. But this time there were just too many advantages for India, including of course, playing at home and on their favourite hard court surface.
But more important than the 5-0 verdict - which kept India in Group I and within sighting distance of a return to the World Group - it was just so encouraging to have the top players representing the country again. 

Of course, Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi had been dropped from the squad and no doubt this made it that much easier for the members of the squad to play in a ''friendly atmosphere'', as underlined by non-playing captain SP Misra. 

Bopanna and Bhupathi have lost many friends since their petulant behavior that goes back to the selection of the Indian squad for the London Olympics last year.
Without these two Paes, Yuki, Sanam and Somdev all practised and played in a rift-free ambiance. Misra and coach Zeeshan Ali had been criticized by the players when they opted out of the tie against Korea. This time, however, there was no discord and the trio of Somdev, Yuki and Sanam (Paes played against Korea) happily put aside the differences of old and gave off their best. 

As Somdev put it best on the day before the match when queried about his relationship with Paes, ''we had a difference of opinion but we have always had respect for each other.''
Misra and Zeeshan were obviously hurt by some of the accusations thrown at them by the players a couple of months ago but to their credit they held nothing against the trio emphasizing only on the pleasant ambiance while playing down any talk of animosity. 

''The boys are working hard and we hope to do well,'' said Misra on the eve of the match and the team members did not let him down. They gave him something to cherish for the Bangalore tie was the 71-year-old Misra's last as captain and as the players lifted him on their shoulders on the victory lap after the rout was complete his face was a myriad of emotions.
It may be a mistake to read too much into the lop-sided victory but one cannot help feeling that the nucleus of a fine side is building up. Having recovered from his injuries Somdev is enjoying a good season with four victories over top-80 players this year. He also made it to the third round of the Miami Masters late last month before going down to world No 1 Novak Djokovic. 

Yuki and Sanam are slowly climbing up the rankings. And what can one say about the evergreen hero Paes? The Bangalore match was his 50th Davis Cup tie - a feat not many have achieved. He completes 40 in June but he just goes on and on making certain that India is sure of winning at least one point in any Davis Cup encounter - the doubles. 

As he repeatedly says when queried as to what makes him carry on, ''the people and the flag''. Moreover, he is now an inspiring father-figure to the youngsters in the side and his inputs are invaluable.
So the Davis Cup squad is a good mix of youth and experience. A return to the prestigious World Group may still be some distance off but at least a small step has been taken in this direction and as we all know great things have small beginnings.


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