Ishant Sharma, India's most experienced fast bowler, will undergo a fitness test on February 15 at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. The results will determine whether or not he will join the India Test squad for the two-match series in New Zealand, which starts in Wellington on February 21. The second Test, in Christchurch, will start on February 29.
The Indians have a tour game slotted for February 14-16 in Hamilton, and if he is cleared, Sharma will fly straight to Wellington in time for the first Test.
On January 21, Sharma - four short of becoming only the second Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev to reach the landmark of 100 Tests - twisted his right ankle while playing for Delhi in a Ranji Trophy match against Vidarbha at the Feroz Shah Kotla. The injury took place when Sharma turned back to appeal on his follow-through. An official from the Delhi & Districts Cricket Association, based upon an immediate MRI scan, had said the pacer had suffered a Grade 3 tear in his ankle, which put the New Zealand tour in doubt.
However, Sharma travelled to the NCA to begin his rehab and has started bowling steadily, allowing the national selectors to include him in the 16-man Test squad for the New Zealand Test series subject to a "fitness clearance".
The Indian team management would hope that Sharma clears the test, considering he has been an integral part of the fast-bowling unit, which has been the backbone of Virat Kohli's India keeping a firm hold as the No. 1 Test ranking for the past few years.
Virat Kohli will definitely want Sharma to link up with the squad, which has Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini as the other frontline pacers, after a below-par performance in the recent ODI series, which New Zealand swept 3-0. Especially worrying for the Indians was the performance of Bumrah, their spearhead, who went wicketless in the three games.
Pandya shows encouraging signs
On Wednesday morning, Sharma was spotted alongside team-mate Hardik Pandya at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. It was the same ground where Pandya was last seen in action during the T20I against South Africa on September 22 last year. He was declared unfit recently by the BCCI, which said the allrounder needed more time in rehab to recover fully from the back surgery he underwent in October.
Today, Pandya did his warm-ups in the company of the NCA medical staff at the ground where his domestic team Baroda started their final round of the group stage of the Ranji Trophy against Karnataka. The extent of his fitness, or his recovery timeframe, aren't known yet, but that he faced throwdowns in the nets was an encouraging sign.
The trademark big-hitting was mostly shelved, with Pandya playing with a straight bat. However, on occasion when the ball was banged in short, he did unleash some full-blooded pull shots. Crucially, Pandya didn't seem uncomfortable while moving. His footwork was in place and he was jogging around to pick up balls and pass them to the two men who were feeding him throwdowns. While it still didn't look like a full-intensity batting stint, the fact that he was out in the middle and seemingly untroubled will be good news for the Indian team.