India's practice session gives no clues about composition

If you were looking for clues for the team composition of the first Test from India’s three-hour intense practice session here on Sunday, chances are you would have been left even more confused.

There was no pattern to the afternoon session on a day where the windy weather oscillated between hot to nippy. Bowlers, paceman Umesh Yadav and leg-spinner Karn Sharma, began the proceedings not by bowling but by batting even as specialist batsmen either warmed-up or indulged in some friendly bantering watched by scores of camera-wielding expat Indians. Yadav was either trying to sweep or whack every ball that came his way. Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma were sending down trundlers from short run-ups.

Skipper MS Dhoni, sporting a new hair-do and wearing half-sleeve practice t-shirt, had a short conversation with Team Director Ravi Shastri. Coach Duncan Fletcher, as usual, watched on with a suggestion here and a gesture there. It wasn’t until the trio of M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and K L Rahul took the ‘nets’ that there appeared to be some order to the proceedings.

Aaron, Ishant and later Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav had extended sessions. They held nothing back as they worked up good speed though Bhuvneshwar Kumar, nursing pain in his left ankle, refrained from bowling and putting doubts over his availability, though the release from the team’s media manager said ‘he could be available for the first Test.’

Another aspect of interest would be who between Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina will be picked for the sixth specialist batsman’s slot? While Rohit is high on confidence on the back off the highest ODI score upon his comeback to international cricket, Raina, who played his last Test in August 2012, is also in top form. Both the batsmen had a decent hit at the ‘nets’ and it will be a close call between them.        

But the big question whether M S Dhoni would go out for the toss on Tuesday remained unanswered. The release by the media manager about the pre-match press conference generally will have the name of the player addressing the media. But Sunday’s short message didn’t have any mention of it, keeping the suspense going. 

Dhoni, who was rested for the Sri Lanka one-dayers at home and for the first Test which was to start on December 4 before it was postponed, bowled seam up without any obvious discomfort and when he batted against spinners and throw-downs he didn’t take any caution of protecting his healing/healed wrist. If he had kept wickets, that would have been a genuine indication of his availability but that moment never arrived.     

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