India face issue of Ishant knee niggle
After a long, winless tour of Australia, India have big fitness issues facing them. Rohit Sharma is close to full fitness, but he is yet to play a match after a "sore" hamstring kept him out of three out of the four matches of the triangular series. Ishant Sharma's knee, meanwhile, has turned up as a new problem area. He last bowled in a match in the Boxing Day Test, which means he has spent a month away from competitive cricket. A month is a long time for just a minor injury. He was picked for the Australia Day ODI, but rain meant that he didn't bowl. Four days later he wasn't picked because of fitness issues.
Turns out Ishant did his knee again in the only training session India had between the two matches. "He bowled in the nets, and after that he had a sore knee because of the nets session," MS Dhoni said when asked what went wrong so soon. "Before that also he was bowling but he was fine, but by the time we came for the press conference there was no niggle as such. This came to our notice by evening but it was too late for us to do anything. Also we didn't want to push him. Because if there is a niggle it may turn into an injury."
Knee injuries, just like the hammie that Rohit has suffered from, are not to be taken lightly, which is why the extra caution with Ishant. Between the MCG Test and the ODI that Ishant was finally picked for, he had been gradually increasing his workload. India wanted to give him some match practice with the pressure that international cricket brings, but this re-emergence of the soreness could point out to an injury more serious than what India had earlier assessed it to be.
Ishant's replacement in the XI gives the injury another curious turn. Mohit Sharma is not a part of the World Cup squad, and Dhoni had said before the start of the ODI series that he will look to play only who are going to play the World Cup. Now India had an option of going to either Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Umesh Yadav, but they chose Mohit. Dhoni was asked the reason for going to a player from outside the World Cup squad, and he said, "Who should have played?"
"Why, there are Bhuvneshwar and Umesh," was the response.
Dhoni replied rather mysteriously: "There has to be a reasoning, no? That's why they haven't played."
The most plausible reason to play Mohit would have been to see how he is going should Ishant not be available for the World Cup. Mohit went well, bowling with intensity and pace. On occasion he went into the 140ks. He ended up with figures of 10-1-36-2 as India failed to defend a small total of 200. However, this is just conjecture. India now take time off, and they say they are positive about Ishant's fitness.
"According to the physio, he may be fit in the next four days," Dhoni said. "That's what they are saying. Apart from that, I am not a physio, I don't know. I just ask him who all are available and he tells me who are the guys who are available. I am okay with it."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo