Zaheer, Tendulkar tune up at preparatory camp
Zaheer Khan exuded purpose and found his rhythm, Sachin Tendulkar's back-foot punch made regular appearances and the India squad seemingly had a fairly satisfactory five hours of practice on day two of their three-day preparatory camp in Mumbai ahead of the England Test series. While the players had practised for a little more than an hour on Friday, today was their first proper workout as a Test side in the nine weeks since the New Zealand series.
Again, like on day one of the camp, all eyes were on Zaheer. Whatever he does on the field is closely scrutinised, such has been his tendency to break down, combined with his importance to India's Test side. Over the years, Zaheer has missed or pulled out during several big series due to injury. He had pulled up sore during Mumbai's Ranji Trophy opener against Railways last week. On Friday, Zaheer had spent the majority of his time on the massage table. He eventually did bowl for a while but was clearly not extending himself.
These days, it takes him an eternity to warm up. There is a pronounced cautiousness to his stretches and squats as if he is worried when something might snap somewhere in his body. Today, though, with the ball in hand he looked a different man. He started with a few gentle ones before increasing the speed of both his run-up and his deliveries. His focus seemed to be on targeting the angle across the right-hand batsmen. Though he was not unplayable, he tested the batsmen. What was good to see was that he remained intense throughout his spell - and it wasn't a short one. Zaheer bowled for about forty minutes in the first session, and again for a similar period of time after the lunch interval.
Another key player who had been tentative on Friday, Tendulkar, also looked a different man today. He faced the three India fast bowlers - Zaheer, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav - with control, and without too many problems. The leaves were confident, the straight pushes were firm and, soon, the trademark back-foot punches appeared. He stood on his toes to send a rising Ishant delivery through extra cover. He pressed far forward to drive him down the ground. When Ishant moved one in close to off stump, Tendulkar left it safely and nodded towards the bowler in appreciation.
Unlike yesterday when they had batted in the nets, the batsmen played today against proper fields. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir started off, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara and Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh, and Ajinkya Rahane and MS Dhoni. M Vijay, the reserve opener, batted along with the bowlers, who were out in full strength today with Harbhajan Singh joining the squad. Harbhajan came out in the second session, and after a lengthy fielding drill that included slip catching, and bowled to his fellow bowlers.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo