As a close follower of the Indian tennis scene for over half a century, I was deeply saddened by the team’s loss to Korea in the Davis Cup encounter at New Delhi. There is no comparison between India and Korea as far as international tennis concerned. Korea are absolute lightweights with no great tennis tradition to boast of.
India on the other hand have made it to the Davis Cup final three times besides producing players of the calibre of the father-son duo of Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan, the Amritraj brothers Vijay and Anand and in more recent times Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. In singles play Indians have made it to the quarterfinals and semifinals of Grand Slam events while in doubles Paes and Bhupathi have won several Grand Slam titles either as partners or partnering others.
Little wonder then that the defeat to Korea was difficult to digest. It is even more unpalatable because it could so easily have been a victorious campaign had only the players who are currently rebelling against the AITA shed their egos and put aside the issues they have against the administration for the time being and participated in the match.
Sure, some of the grievances are genuine and yes, at times the officials can be pretty adamant. But there is a time and a place and a proper forum to raise issues. Representing your country is something sacrosanct and everything else should be put aside when it comes to this sacred honour.
Under the circumstances it is hard not to disagree with the views expressed by Leander Paes that it is not the players’ prerogative to get into selection issues and administrative matters. Sportsmen are there to go out and play and do their best for the team and the country.
As Paes says "I play for the country, for the people and the flag" and none can question his patriotism or his credentials. As the well known entertainment adage goes, the show must go on, and this applies to the field of sports too.
To take the example of another sport but rather similar circumstances let me go back over 50 years. The Test series between India and West Indies in 1958-59 was marred by petty minded officials for whom players were just pawns in their hands. They indulged in open politicking and naturally this affected the players who were the proverbial puppets on a string.
The overall atmosphere was sickening but not one cricketer refused to play. Even Polly Umrigar who resigned from the captaincy on the eve of the fourth Test at Madras on a matter of principle made it clear in his statement that he was available as a player.
Thirty years later there was a major monetary issue between the cricketers and the BCCI. The players wanted gradation of payments according to seniority or performance. The BCCI was reluctant to agree to this. This happened on the eve of the tour of Pakistan in late 1989. The issue remained unsolved and ultimately the players went on the tour saying they would not accept any money.
In short they played under protest but they played. It was not exactly the best manner in which to commence a tough series but the cricketers did not allow the seamy off the field happenings to affect them. They gave their best and the result was a drawn series a result few Indian supporters would have bargained for.
Even in Indian tennis one recalls that the Krishnans and the Amritrajs had major differences with RK Khanna, then the all powerful AITA secretary but not once was there any talk of missing a Davis Cup match.
Under the circumstances it is difficult not to agree with the AITA that the players in revolt are using "blackmailing tactics." To be fair to the AITA, the administrators have at least taken a step or two forward in trying to reach a compromise and their latest move in forming a neutral committee to try and sort out the differences with the rebels is another step in the right direction.
The players however have continued to remain adamant going by Mahesh Bhupathi’s latest statement. He has alleged that the panel is "biased" and would serve no purpose. This kind of reaction will be of little help in an already charged up atmosphere. A little bit of give and take and sooner than one realizes the problem is solved but things cannot be fixed if one or both parties stand on ego and allow it to become a prestige issue.
By contrast, non-playing captain SP Misra has reacted in a balanced, even soothing manner. Expressing sympathy for the players he said he was all for a quick and proper settlement. "I hope things are back to normal soon" he said and this from a man who was hurt by the players who wanted his ouster as one of their demands.
The players should realize that they are representing India and not the AITA. India might have lost the tie but the players were the ultimate losers. The rebels have set an unwelcome precedent for future generations. As it is they have not exactly endeared themselves to tennis fans by their behavior over the last few months – and the controversies that have emanated from this - and the more they keep defending their actions they will go deeper into the quicksand.