India have been jolted ahead of their series opener against Pakistan in Delhi with RP Singh and Sreesanth, two of their three fast bowlers, being ruled out due to injury. Munaf Patel, recovering from injury himself, and Delhi seamer Ishant Sharma have been drafted into the squad.
It leaves India with two fast bowlers and three spinners in their squad. Sreesanth, who sat out the first four matches of the one-day series against Pakistan, picked up a shoulder injury during the final ODI in Jaipur. He did not take part in the practice sessions today. RP Singh, who was rested in the fifth ODI, has aggravated an old injury - an oblique abdominal strain. He didn't bowl today but took part in the fielding sessions.
Munaf, who was a controversial pick for the one-day series in England, impressed in Maharashtra's Ranji Trophy match against Rajasthan, picking up four wickets in the first innings during an extended spell of more than ten overs. He also took a five-wicket haul in the Irani Trophy match last month to hasten Mumbai's defeat. Munaf last played for India in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town in January. Sharma has played one Test for India, against Bangladesh in Dhaka recently, and also toured with the squad in England. He was impressive in Delhi's second round Ranji Trophy Super League match against Saurashtra, picking up seven wickets. Sharma's call-up was announced by the Indian board a day after Munaf's selection.
However, India's bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad didn't seem to have an idea about the injuries during the team's practice session at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
Last evening, though, the big question surrounded Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Will his ankle hold up for the game? Will Yuvraj get a chance? Will Dinesh Karthik have to keep wicket? On today's evidence all speculation can be put to rest. He sprinted with an Olympian zeal, comfortably outdoing Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, threw slip catches with fervour, and moved around athletically while keeping wickets.
His batting was fluent, his tattoo on his right arm resplendent and his superstardom highly conspicuous. "Well, though it has not healed yet and there is slight pain, I think it's getting okay and I did not have much trouble," Dhoni told PTI. Basically it was Dhoni doing what Dhoni does best. Basking in the attention and gearing up for a challenge.
India might still have to answer the Yuvraj conundrum. Has he reached a stage where he is demanding a Test spot? Laxman, who's stiff back forced him to come in at No. 9 in Hyderabad's second innings against Punjab recently, has recovered and probably deserves a chance given his scores in England. Sourav Ganguly, arguably India's best batsman in the England Tests, should walk in too. It probably means another bench-warming exercise for Yuvraj, who, since his last Test in June 2006, hasn't found a way to break through.
Some bowlers please?
If first impressions are any indication things aren't the same at the Feroz Shah Kotla these days. It's refreshing to see the revamped stadium - old-style architecture blending with modern practice facilities - and even more heartening to note that you can actually obtain a media pass without running from pillar to post. Some things, though, remain the same. Officious police officers still think the turf needs to be guarded with their life and the local association couldn't call on a set of competent net bowlers for the Indian batsmen, and this two days before an important series opener against Pakistan. A collection of schoolboys - all from local clubs - rolled their arms over and left the Indian team management exasperated halfway through.
He [Dhoni] sprinted with an Olympian zeal, comfortably outdoing Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, threw slip catches with fervour, and moved around athletically while keeping wickets
The sight of Lalchand Rajput, the manager, and Greg King, the physio, trying to get their lines right was enough to suggest a paucity in bowling options.Yuvraj had a lengthy bowl and Sachin Tendulkar and Prasad gave themselves a good work-over too. Zaheer was the only Indian fast bowler who had a go in the nets.
Kumble checks in
Mid-way through the net session, in walked Anil Kumble. It was tough to miss the symbolism - India's most experienced bowler walking in when the rest of the full-time and part-timers were panting away. It was also difficult to ignore the irony - India's most unassuming of champions instantly surrounded by television cameras and reporters.
Ahead of him, batting at the nets, were India's probable No. 3, 4, 5,and 6. Yuvraj, a one-day sensation, was hovering around. Behind him was India's latest superstar Dhoni. Here he was, 37 years of age, surrounded by the men who dictate television TRPs, the cricketers who attract the most eye-balls.
He walked up towards the nets, placed his kit-bag, turned back towards the region where Dhoni was practising his wicketkeeping, took a few catches, returned to the nets, picked up the ball, and plugged away. The first ball hurried VVS Laxman, rapped him on the pads and forced him to let out a smile. Many things change in Indian cricket but Kumble's intensity, ever since his Old Trafford debut in 1990, has remained a constant.