There are situations that transcend considerations merely national. In this edition of ‘Blast from the Past’, Sports Rediscovered revisits one such incident. India’s 1974 forfeit of the Davis Cup.
The year was 1974. Nelson Mandela was whittling down hours at Robben Island. Protests against the government’s linguistic jingoism in schools had seen widespread protests. The winds of change were blowing. Portugal had withdrawn from Mozambique. This was later followed by evacuation from Angola. In the midst of all this political drama, one innocuous tennis match made it into the news- and that too without taking place. Absence, perhaps makes a better statement.
India: The Dark Horse
The Eastern Zonal finals saw India, the underdogs, take on defending champions Australia. The match was written off by the Australian media as a ‘no-match’. However, the underlings, who had never made it past the preliminary rounds, stunned the sporting community at large by beating the 23-times-champions 3-2. The Calcutta crowd stood witness to history being scripted. The Indian team, captained by Ramanathan Krishnan, and comprising of the Amritraj brothers and Jasjit Singh,defeated the Aussies, captained by Neale Fraser (Team: John Alexander, Colin Dibley, Bob Giltinan).
In the first match, Singh beat Giltinan 11-9, 9-11, 12-10, 8-6. The second match was, however, a setback for India, as Vijay Amritraj went down fighting to John Alexander 12-14 15-17 8-6 2-6. The doubles match saw the Amritraj brothers come back with increased vigour, and ended in a 17-15 6-8 6-3 16-18 6-4 victory over Alexander and Dibley.
Singh’s second single against Alexander did not go very well for the Indian, and he was beaten 6-8 4-6 3-6 by Alexander. In an exciting round 5 match, Vijay Amritraj revenged his second match loss by beating Giltinan 6-1 5-7 6-4 6-4.
Russian Roulette Proves Easy
In the Inter-zonal round, India were to face the Soviet Union. The match held in Pune saw India trounce the Russians 3-1, and that too with one player less (Singh). It was an Amritraj-show all throughout. In the first match, Vijay Amritraj beat Teimuraz Kakulia 6-4 11-9 6-3. Though his brother Anand lost the second match to Alex Metreveli 4-6 7-9 3-6, the duo avenged themselves with a 13-15 7-5 19-17 6-3 victory over Korotkov and Metreveli. The elder Amritraj brother then sealed things for India, beating Kakulia 6-2 8-10 4-6 6-3 6-3. It was a moment of jubilation. India were in the finals of the Davis Cup championships!
The team was to face South Africa (who had beat Italy in the first round) in the finals. Within touching distance of glory, the Indian team, however, decided to sacrifice everything for the sake of that which is right. At a time when even Arthur Ashe seemed to have had taken an ambivalent stance, in a mark of protest against the South African government’s apartheid policies, India refused to travel to Johannesburg for the final. And there ended the hopes of an entire nation.
Summary – 1974 Davis Cup
Colour is not a physical reality. It’s a political reality. By refusing to play the match, all that India achieved was perhaps a dent on the SA government’s conscience. But in the real world, even a small dent counts.