Laxman impressed with seamers' fitness
The first thing you notice at India's nets at the MCG is that Zaheer Khan has come back a leaner man, going all out during the training session, watching Umesh Yadav closely, discussing his action before going on to bowl again. Ishant Sharma is bowling too, though not as many overs as Zaheer and Yadav, but still a fair share. Ishant's ankle is still strapped, but there seems to be no talk of a replacement being called up from India.
There is general optimism around the Indian camp. Ishant turns around and laughs when he hears a TV reporter say in his piece-to-camera, done in close vicinity of the nets, that Ishant's ankle remains India's main worry and that his selection decision will be made on the morning of the Test, three days from now. Yadav and Zaheer continue to have a discussion around his action, between deliveries. Eric Simmons, the bowling coach, looks relieved too.
After the debacle in England, especially when it came to fast bowlers' fitness, you can't be sure until they have played the whole series, but after the initial scare with Ishant's ankle they seem to have recovered. After walking off in the first practice game, and then missing the first innings of the second, Ishant came back to bowl on the last day in Canberra.
"Ishant didn't finish the first practice game in Canberra," VVS Laxman said, "but the way he bowled in the second innings of the (Cricket Australia) Chairman's XI in the second match, and also the way he bowled today at the nets is proof that they are both fit and raring to go."
Laxman was also referring to Zaheer. His injury on the opening day of the Lord's Test this July was one of the big turning points of the series. Andrew Flintoff had immediately tweeted that if Zaheer didn't come back to bowl, that could be the series to England. In his time out of the team, though, Zaheer seems to have worked hard on his rehabilitation. It is hard to miss, especially in comparison with the shape he went to England in.
"When you are playing the international game, injuries become part and parcel of a player's life," Laxman said. "If you see, even the Australians are missing their frontline bowlers because of the injuries. But it's good to see the way Zaheer Khan has come back after his ankle surgery. He is lean and fit, and you can see he has really worked hard on his fitness."
India's other concern on overseas tours of late has been the lack of time to prepare, but this time the team came to Australia well in advance and got two tour games apart from the general nets and acclimatisation. Laxman, though, believes that the time they have been able to spend as a team in Australia has been equally important.
"Last time we had one side game against Victoria team but it was rained out, so we directly went to a Test match without preparation," Laxman said. "So we are quite happy with the way we have prepared. Also we are able to spend a lot of time together, especially with the one-day boys who have recovered from the tough schedule they had. I think it was quite good the way we spend around 10 days in Canberra and we are quite happy with our preparations, and hopefully we can start performing from the word go."
India aren't used to feeling so good before the overseas tour, even though this should be par for the course. They had to deal with such fitness worries in the lead-up to each of their last three tours. However, the indications right now are that as Boxing Day approaches, they are getting more and more confident about the availability of their first three bowling choices - Zaheer, Ishant and Yadav - and also about the time they have spent in local conditions.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo