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February 19, 2013
David Warner faced pace bowling in the nets for the first time on Australia's tour of India on Tuesday as he aims to prove his fitness ahead of the first Test in Chennai, starting on Friday. Warner's recovery from a fractured thumb is the real injury concern for the Australians in the lead-up to the Test and his availability will also have a knock-on effect on the rest of the batting order.
If Warner does not play, Shane Watson will return to the Test team as an opener alongside Ed Cowan but if Warner is fit, as expected, the likely scenario will involve the continuation of the Cowan-Warner opening combination with Watson to bat at No.4. Watson has made no secret of his desire to face the new ball in Test cricket and his innings of 84 and 60 opening in tour match against India A strengthened his case.
But Cowan has also batted well so far on this trip, scoring 58, 40 and 53 in the two tour games, and Australia would be reluctant to split up an opening pair that has been the best performing in world cricket for the past 14 months. Australia's coach Mickey Arthur said it was too early to determine whether Warner would be fit for the Chennai Test, but he said he had been impressed by the way Cowan handled spin during the warm-up outings.
"We just want to see how Davey Warner comes up over the next day or two," Arthur said in Chennai ahead of Australia's training session on Tuesday. "It's critical that he trains well over the next day or two to play. I'm pretty sure and confident he'll come through but he hasn't faced any quicks yet. He's been doing a lot of batting against spin which has been fantastic. He hasn't faced pace bowling - that's the only concern - but he ticks that box today.
"Ed has come out of these practice games with his head held high. He's had a good method against the spin and he's played exceptionally well. [Opening with Watson and Warner] would be a tough call but that's something we have to only weigh up once Davey Warner is fit or not fit."
Watson's strength against the fast bowlers is often cited as a reason for him to move back to the top of the order but he is also one of Australia's most experienced campaigners in India. In 14 Test and ODI appearances against India in India, he has averaged 40.63 with the bat and Arthur said with the Chennai pitch expected to offer significant turn, selecting a largely untried middle order in such conditions would be risky.
"I think Watto's a class player so wherever Watto fits in I think he adds value," Arthur said. "Potentially through the middle is going to be a real tough time to bat, so you want your most seasoned campaigners in that area.
"We've got to look again and see what we think is going to be the best possible way of winning. That's the primary focus for us, how are we going to beat India in India. We've got to look at our best possible combination to do that. I do think though that we've just come off a series where we've been Sri Lanka 3-0 - do those players get first opportunity? I don't know. That's something that we'll have sorted out by the end of today."
The other major question surrounds the make-up of Australia's attack and the likely inclusion of an allrounder to offer a fifth bowling option. The seamer Moises Henriques strengthened his case with 4 for 12, including three top-order wickets, in the first of the two warm-up games. He found some reverse swing, which will be key if the pitch deteriorates, and also made a useful 33 in the second game.
Henriques appears to have the edge over the offspinning allrounder Glenn Maxwell, who took 1 for 20 from four overs in the first warm-up match, in which he also scored a first-innings duck, and did not play the second game. Arthur said Australia would not be tempted to name a spin-heavy team if they felt their pace options provided them with greater wicket-taking potential.
"Moises has done everything right to possibly get a Test match here," Arthur said. "We've chatted at length about it. We'll consider everything before we get the team out. But Moises has certainly done very well in these games. He's bowled exceptionally well I thought. The way he batted the other day was exactly as we want our batters to play. You've got to play with that intent here.
"We've got to look at what our best opportunity is to take 20 wickets. Maxie has worked extremely hard. I think Maxie has got a huge future. We have to weigh that up. There's probably one allrounder position in our team that's up for grabs. We've got to then determine is it the allrounder that can give us reverse swing or is it the allrounder that can give us a little bit of handy offspin?"
The frontline spinners Nathan Lyon and Xavier Doherty, and the part-timer Steven Smith were bowling in the nets at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Tuesday but the young left-armer Ashton Agar was not with the group. Although there was a chance Agar, who was with the group to gain experience by playing in the tour games, would be kept on for the Tests, he has been released from the touring party and has flown home to Perth.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala