Britain will have to begin their fight to escape the depths of the Davis Cup's third tier without their best player. Andy Murray, speaking yesterday in Perth on the eve of his first appearance of the year, in the Hopman Cup, said he would not be available for the Europe Africa Zone Group Two tie away to Lithuania in March.
"You've got to do what is right for your tennis," Murray said. "That period of the year just before Indian Wells and Miami is very important for me. I have a lot of ranking points to defend.
"I've obviously done very well there in the past couple of years, so playing on clay away in Lithuania before travelling over to California is not the best preparation for that."
Britain are competing at their lowest level for 14 years after losing to Poland in September, when Murray played – and won his two singles rubbers – despite a wrist injury that was to keep him out for the next six weeks.
From that moment, it was never realistic to expect the world No 4 to play in March. Murray is the only man in the world's top 20 from a country not in the Davis Cup's elite 16-team World Group, while Marcos Baghdatis, of Cyprus, is the only other top 50 player from a nation playing in the competition's third tier.
Murray will discuss his future availability on a match-to-match basis, with John Lloyd's team, next due to play the weekend after Wimbledon.
"I don't think it's a case of me abandoning Great Britain – I've played a lot of matches for them and I'm here representing them as well," Murray said in Australia, where he will join forces with Laura Robson to play Kazakhstan today.
"[Roger] Federer has missed Davis Cup matches, Rafa [Nadal] has missed Davis Cup matches, as have [Novak] Djokovic, [Pete] Sampras and [Andre] Agassi. A lot better players than me have missed Davis Cup matches."
Lithuania have only three singles players ranked in the world's top 1,000 – Ricardas Berankis (No 320), Laurynas Grigelis (577) and Dovydas Sakinis (873) – but victory is by no means a foregone conclusion for Lloyd's team. It is 13 years since a Briton other than Murray, Tim Henman or Greg Rusedski won a live Davis Cup singles rubber.
Lloyd has several good doubles players to choose from, but there are no obvious choices as singles players. Alex Bogdanovic (world No 163), Dan Evans (261) and Josh Goodall (306) have all failed to grasp previous chances.
The lack of obvious selections could open the door for James Ward (270), who has yet to play for his country, and Jamie Baker (312), who has impressed on national duty in the past and has rebuilt his career after a serious blood infection threatened to end it.