India practise a whole new ball game
"Fine leg aur long-on peeche hai, third man andar hai." (Fine leg and long-on are on the boundary, third man is in the circle.) With this imaginary field in place, Irfan Pathan ran in to bowl to Yuvraj Singh in the Indian team's net session at the Supersport Park in Centurion. With one more day in hand before embarking on their World Twenty20 campaign, the Indians chose this venue - a 45-minute drive from Johannesburg - to have a hit before flying to Durban later in the day. The Indians' lack of experience (only one international) in this format is a major handicap, but there was every attempt in this short net session to practice specific skills in the limited time available before their first match on Thursday.
For the type of field set, Irfan's delivery wasn't a bad one - it was full and just outside off - and Yuvraj's attempt to scoop it over third man failed miserably. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was more successful, though, and there was plenty of applause from his team-mates when he cleverly guided one from Pathan over the slips.
After the nets, Pathan spoke of the need to "think on one's feet" - a term that has been, and will be, used plenty of times throughout the next two weeks. In the ODIs, the Indians have occasionally given the impression of lacking flexibility; the first match against Scotland might give them some room to breathe, but thereafter the tests will get significantly tougher. And to Pathan it didn't matter that this was supposed to be a fun tournament: "It might be fun for the crowds, but not for us. We have to enjoy the game, but it's very important that we perform well."
To be fair to the Indians, there was enough purpose in their two-hour session to suggest they were taking the tournament seriously. While most of the players were busy in the three net pitches next to one another, Dinesh Karthik was getting some individual attention from Gregory King, the team's trainer. He kept lobbing underarm balls, and Karthik played a million one-handed straight-drives, with the right hand gripping the bat and the left hanging loose. After a proper practice session, he returned to a smaller net area to repeat the bottom-hand drill.
With Robin Uthappa, King had something else in mind. With the pitches here likely to offer bounce, Uthappa - who is likely to open the batting - had a long session practising the pull as King carefully aimed deliveries around the shoulder and head. ("I don't want them bouncing over the head".)
With a line-up that includes Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Uthappa, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Karthik, the batting is in reasonably good hands, but the bowling is a greater worry, and the fielding the greatest. In both areas, there wasn't much to suggest any relief, with Ajit Agarkar continuing to spray it wide of the off stump. RP Singh fired in some good yorkers, but Sreesanth - who had an injury scare earlier in the day when he bruised a finger while fielding - slid it down leg, and then, when he got the direction right, overstepped the popping crease, which was quickly spotted by Venkatesh Prasad, the bowling coach. The penalty: a free hit off the next ball, which was delivered from about two feet behind the return crease. Pathan stressed on the importance of keeping it simple: "We should try variations only when the batsmen are getting after us," he said, but in this format of the game he should expect that scenario more often than not.
Before the batting and bowling sessions was the cursory fielding and running-between-the-wicket drills, and there was little urgency in either. The team has six new faces, and while most of them are better fielders than the players they have replaced, it is tough to see fielding bail India out when the going gets tough.
The Indians have another practice session in hand before their first game against Scotland on Thursday, and while the Scots might test them a bit, the real battle will begin on Friday, when they have the small matter of taking on Pakistan.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo