The two-day Asia/Oceania Group I fixture kicks off on Friday in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan – a neutral venue chosen by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), citing security concerns in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) had appealed against the ITF’s decision to move the tie earlier this month, which was dismissed last week, prompting its senior players, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Aqeel Khan, to pull out.
Teenagers Huzaifa Abdul Rehman and Mohammad Shoaib, ranked a lowly 447 and 1005 in the world in juniors respectively, will compete against an experienced Indian side, featuring 18-time Grand Slam champion in doubles, Leander Paes.
“We had to send the junior team to send a message to the ITF and to the Indian team, as well,” Qureshi, Pakistan’s number one tennis player and 2010 US Open doubles finalist, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
“Basically, it’s like a protest sending this team to humiliate the ITF decision and hopefully send a strong message to the rest of the world also about this decision by the ITF and the Indian tennis federation, which was totally unjust and a big-time discrimination towards us.”
The highly anticipated tie, a first between the two sides since 2006, was originally scheduled for September, but was postponed to November due to “exceptional circumstances” almost two weeks after the Indian government downgraded the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Cross-border tensions between India and Pakistan have remained high since the August 5 move in the Muslim-majority region, which is still under a security lockdown and near-total communication blackout.
The All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) had made several requests with the ITF for a change of venue due to the “political atmosphere” between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
In a statement to Al Jazeera earlier this month, Hironmoy Chatterjee, AITA’s secretary-general, said: “The Davis Cup committee after assessment of the situation has taken the right call so that the tie can be played under a friendly atmosphere for both teams.”
Politics and differences over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which India and Pakistan rule in part but claim in full, have already curtailed the two countries’ sporting ties.
The Pakistani cricket team has not toured India for a bilateral series since January 2013 and has not hosted the Indian side for a series since 2006. But the two have faced each other in international tournaments on neutral venues.
In July, ITF told Al Jazeera it was “satisfied with the arrangements”, following a site visit to Pakistan’s capital as part of a mandatory security risk assessment before all Davis Cup ties.
Condemning the ITF’s decision to relocate, Salim Saifullah, PTF president, said: “It’s unfortunate, we are neighbours. At least sports should be politics-free.”
“ITF should not have accepted their (India’s) flimsy excuse and should have told them that you either go to Islamabad or you lose the tie,” he told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
“India likes to take a hit at any occasion, whether its diplomatic, political or sports, to rundown Pakistan.”
The teams are set in Nur-Sultan!
Teenagers Muhammad Shoaib and Huzaifa Abdul Rehman will make their debuts for Pakistan against India
On the line: a place in the 2020 Davis Cup by Rakuten Qualifiers
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— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) November 28, 2019
India has never lost to Pakistan in six previous Davis Cup meetings.
The two sides last met in the international team event in 2006 in Mumbai where India edged Pakistan 3-2.
The winner of the latest fixture, a best-of-five match series, will advance to the World Group qualifiers to play against 2018 champions Croatia in March next year.
Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz