India in England 2014 August 13, 2014

Ishant a chance to play at The Oval

After being ruled out of the last two Tests with a leg injury, India's premier seamer could return in place of Pankaj Singh, while Gautam Gambhir looks set to keep the opening slot at The Oval

MS Dhoni's joke after losing at Old Trafford that India got two extra days off might not have gone down well with some fans, but the players have managed to fit in a lot of action in the time off.

Some have seen Manchester United play, some Chelsea, and there has also been a long paintball event. When they took the field two days before the Test, Dhoni was missing. In his absence, Duncan Fletcher and Virat Kohli addressed the huddle, and India even played a different sport to warm up. Dhoni has always been dead set on football, but on Thursday, they played a version of handball with white cricket balls.

Dhoni's absence raised a few doubts about his availability for the final Test - he has been taking blows on the body through the series - but it turned out he took leave from training to go for a shooting session at a firing range. That Naman Ojha hardly got any batting practice means Dhoni should be fit to play.

Another person whose fitness India can be optimistic about is Ishant Sharma. The seamer missed two Tests to a "leg injury", which the Indian management will not elaborate on, but from towards the end of the Old Trafford Test, Ishant has been gradually increasing his bowling load. Tuesday was a day off for the team, but on Wednesday Ishant came to The Oval and bowled at full pelt for about half an hour, and how he wakes up after this bowling load might decide whether he will play on Friday. Ishant was Man of the Match in India's win at Lord's, and the bowling has not quite looked the same after his injury. If he plays, he should replace Pankaj Singh.

Gautam Gambhir, who struggled on his comeback at Old Trafford, seems set to get another chance. The batsman spent a long time in the nets, working hard with Trevor Penney who gave him throw-downs. The two seemed to be discussing the outside edge, and how to avoid it. India are yet to enjoy a 50-run opening stand in eight Tests since they left home for South Africa late last year, but they are not too keen to change the combination again.

Shikhar Dhawan, the opener who was dropped for Gambhir, and Rohit Sharma, who has played only in Southampton, hardly got a bat in the nets. This could point to India continuing with five specialist batsmen followed by Dhoni and allrounders.

One of the allrounders could change, though. In an interesting twist, India gave Stuart Binny a long hit at the start of the training session, alongside R Ashwin, which could mean a swap with Ravindra Jadeja, but the session was not as organised as India's earlier ones.

Binny for Jadeja might just be an option India want to keep open. Jadeja and the opening slot are two big concerns for India. Even though Jadeja played a big part in India's win at Lord's, his batting is low percentage, and his bowling mostly one-dimensional. He was not present for the slip-catching practice at the end of the session. Only M Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane took catches there. India's fans will hope that just two slips is not a sign of things to come.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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