Bhuvneshwar inching towards comeback
It was well observed during India's England tour that Bhuvneshwar Kumar's waft to get dismissed - in the last innings of the series - was the final fighting lone general's white flag. He was by then the only trace of fight left in the Indian camp. Bowling tirelessly and cannily, batting sensibly and with skill, Bhuvneshwar was India's Man of the Series with 247 runs and 19 wickets. There is no wonder why India have been desperate to get him back from his left ankle injury in Australia.
There might have been some doubt at the start over whether Bhuvneshwar would start in the first XI - given how you need to hit the deck harder in Australia - but by now all doubts have evaporated. India have a young Australian batting line-up in their sights, and haven't yet been able to test them with swing. Moreover India's last four have contributed a total of 248 over four innings. India have been used to more. At the moment India can't rely on any of their fast bowlers for runs. In England, Bhuvneshwar would sometimes look more assured than one or two specialist batsmen.
Good news might be in store. Three days before the Boxing Day Test, Bhuvneshwar batted in the nets. He has been bowling since Brisbane. Even on the day after the Gabba Test, a day off for the team, Bhuvneshwar went to bowl, along with Bharat Arun, the team's bowling coach. When he came back, he took part in a bowlers' meeting. Team sources suggested that they wanted to see how his body reacts to the bowling load.
Tuesday was going to be the start of testing that load. Bhuvneshwar came out with his ankle in a cover, but it wasn't a heavy strapping. In Brisbane he had been trying to not put too much weight on that ankle. Here he seemed surer of his step. He looked all right on spicy nets pitches, on one of which Shane Watson was sconed earlier in the day. That Bhuvneshwar batted with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav in the nets next to his might be sign that he is going to replace Varun Aaron. India's fast bowlers have been having the first hit in the nets on this tour so far.
However, when it comes to testing how the ankle takes the bowling load, India will have to wait. Even before Bhuvneshwar could begin to bowl, it drizzled for the third time on India's nets session. Looking at how juicy the pitches already were, and India didn't to risk worsening the practice strips by waiting out Melbourne's four-seasons-in-one-day cycle. Also one of the pitches got wet during even as the sheer covers came on, rendering it useful only for throwdowns. Groundsmen expect better weather on Wednesday so India ended their nets there.
We will have to get closer to the match for any indications if Rohit Sharma's spot is under threat, either from an extra bowler or from Suresh Raina. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, meanwhile, reported no discomfort with the injuries they had suffered during nets before what turned out to be the final day of the Gabba Test. India had complained about those pitches, saying they were too worn out and they had repeatedly asked the groundsmen to provide them fresher ones. The groundsmen acknowledged the request, but said they needed the other pitches for the next game. Moreover, they said, the purpose of a nets pitch was to replicate as closely as possible the Test track, which too was cracked.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo