CHANDIGARH: It will be only the second time in the last 18 years that the Indian Davis Cup team will have neither Leander Paes nor Mahesh Bhupathi in the line-up when the Asia/Oceania Group relegation play-off tie against New Zealand begins on Friday.
The two stalwarts, who have to their names the longest winning streak - 23 doubles rubbers - in the Davis Cup history, will miss the action for altogether different reasons.
Bhupathi was axed by the All India Tennis Association for taking a rigid stand against its selection decision for the London Olympics, while Paes has opted out, preferring World Team Tennis event in the US over the home tie.
Paes made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 and Bhupathi in 1995. Both the players have missed only seven ties each so far in their Davis Cup careers.
India owe much of their Davis Cup success to Paes and Bhupathi, although the two star players do not figure as a team on the ATP Tour.
Their on-court magic is a stuff of legends but their bitter bickering has also grabbed as many headlines ever since they broke into the scene in the '90s.
Although they stopped playing together on the Tour but they kept sharing the same side of the court whenever India played Davis Cup.
A 23-match winning streak since 1997 is a testimony to what service they have rendered while donning the national colours.
Such assuring was their presence in the line-up that the doubles rubber was always considered in India's pocket.
The last time they missed a Davis Cup together was the World Group first round tie against top seeds Serbia in March, 2011. India lost that tie 1-4 to get back to World Group play-offs.
Paes will be back to Davis Cup action after this tie, provided he remains injury free, but a big question mark is hanging over Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, who has also made his mark as a doubles specialist on the Tour.
Bhupathi and Bopanna, who figure in the top-10, have been punished by AITA and it is unclear if the two will be taken back into the fold.
In their late 30s, Paes (39) and Bhupathi (38) are in the twilight of their careers and before they bid adieu to the game, it is important that the next generation gets to play enough with them so that the transition is smooth.
However, for that to happen, it is imperative that these veterans play a few more ties together for the nation.