Board President's XI v Australians, Hyderabad October 1, 2008

Watson doubtful for tour match

Matthew Hayden pads up for a long net session © AFP

The mood in the two camps couldn't have presented a starker contrast. The Australians were looking to absorb as much as possible from a net session in preparation for the Test series. The India hopefuls in the Board President's XI, on the other hand, endured a nail-biting wait for news of the Test squad that ended in disappointment for everyone except S Badrinath.

Yuvraj Singh, the captain, tried to say the right things in the pre-match press conference in Hyderabad. "There can be changes any time in the team," he said. "I am sure if anybody performs in this game it won't go unnoticed. Everyone is aware of that. Even if you're not selected, you still have to go there and give 100%."

No such ambiguity for the Australian machine, which rolled on in Hyderabad with another intense session to keep the momentum going from Jaipur. Their coach Tim Nielsen considered it perfect fine-tuning for the series ahead. "It's winter in Australia. It's cold and we don't have turf wickets of the same quality and soil as we have here," he said. "Jaipur was perfect. We have this game in Hyderabad and then another couple of days of training before the first Test. We should be as ready as we can be for the Indian spinners come the first Test."

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Strategic planning
  • Practising under a harsh sun, two Australian batsmen stood out for their perseverance: Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting, who occupied adjacent nets after their team-mates left.
  • Ponting's batting - he repeatedly came out to the spinners, trying to reach the pitch of the ball - was revealing. He took an off-stump guard against offspinner Jason Krejza, placing his back foot in line with middle. Ponting had succeeded against Muttiah Muralitharan by getting outside the line of off stump and playing with the turn on the leg side. However, against Harbhajan Singh, he has repeatedly lunged forward and perished. Perhaps today's method is an indication of the tactics he is likely to employ against Harbhajan.
  • Hayden had Nielsen throw balls at him from various angles with constant instructions. "Mate, round the wickets please, now pitch it on this length, a touch fuller, more bounce." Once, missing three sweeps in a row, he uttered an expletive and was audibly cross with himself: "What sort of practice are you doing?" He took guard again and allowed himself a smile after connecting.
  • Ponting and Nielsen left after 30 minutes but Hayden faced the bowling machine. He simulated deliveries bowled from different angles by right-arm and left-arm bowlers and left after 20 minutes.
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Australia do have a couple of worries, though. Bryce McGain, their frontline spinner, has already been ruled out of the first Test with a shoulder injury and might be on the flight back home soon. Allrounder Shane Watson has been laid up for the past 24 hours with viral fever.

"At the moment we are making sure he [Watson] gets fit. We also wanted to keep him away from the rest of the group so that no one else is affected," Nielsen said. "We will know tomorrow morning whether he is fit to play."

However, they don't have any concerns about the pitch. "It should be a good batting wicket for the first two days before it starts spinning," Nielsen said. "That's the whole point; to expose our players to more of the Indian conditions over the next four days."

Nielsen said the selection for the Bangalore Test is still wide open. "We will get a better idea of who has best adjusted to the conditions once this game is over and also see what mix of left-handers and right-handers the Indian team will have. That will also affect the selection of our bowling attack."

Mitchell Johnson is under the most pressure. He had a poor series in the Caribbean that accentuated an inability to bring the ball back into the right-hander. His competition is Doug Bollinger, the left-arm swing bowler, and Peter Siddle, the right-arm fast man.

Bollinger is currently the frontrunner to challenge Johnson and appeared bullish on his chances. "I bowled well for Australia A in the last series," Bollinger told Cricinfo. "I am getting the ball to swing in and I'm confident of pushing my case for selection with another good performance here."

The circumstances have made the game a mouth-watering prospect. The Australians are gathering steam ahead of Bangalore while several in the Board President's line-up, like Yuvraj Singh, have a point to prove to themselves, and to the selectors.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo