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Amid banter, India stars display intent

By the end of a long practice session, the familiar sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot of Sachin Tendulkar's bat and booming past the bowler was in evidence at the PCA Stadium. With two days to go for the first Test, it was clear that few, if any, of India's batsmen were struggling for form, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Sep 30, 2010 00:19 IST
Anand Vasu

By the end of a long practice session, the familiar sound of the ball hitting the sweet spot of Sachin Tendulkar's bat and booming past the bowler was in evidence at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium. With two days to go for the first Test, it was clear that few, if any, of India's batsmen were struggling for form.

“Come on Gazza, that's an inswinger. You can't fool me,” Virender Sehwag called out to Gary Kirsten after meeting the ball with the full face of his flashing blade.

In the last few days, there was irritation in the India camp as frequent reports of injuries and fitness concerns hung about the squad.

But, on Wednesday, as the match drew closer, it was clear that the group was in good spirits.In the afternoon, the focus was on cricket, with the players just going through their paces.

In the morning, however, the atmosphere was much more cordial as fans got a chance to hear their favourite cricketers speak when the new ODI kit was launched.

Harbhajan Singh set the tone, saying it was inevitable his name came up whenever an Australia series was round the corner, because people in Australia loved him so much.

“I have a lot of friends in Australia, and because I perform against them, whenever there’s an Australia series, my name comes up,” said Harbhajan. “I hope I can keep performing and it stays that way.”

What did not tickle Harbhajan’s sense of humour, however, was the suggestion that he was bowling defensively.

“I am not a defensive bowler, I am an attacking bowler and I’ll always be an attacking bowler,” he said. “People call me anything. Sometimes, when I score runs, they even call me a batsman. I don’t mind that bit but they are wrong when they say I am bowling defensively.”

The loudest cheers were reserved for Sachin Tendulkar, and, expectedly, the thing he liked most about the new kit was the fact that it incorporated the Tricolour. “I’ve always worn the Tricolour on my helmet,” said Tendulkar. “The Tricolour is special and I’m proud to wear it because I’ve worked hard for it. It’s not just cricketers, even other elite athletes wear the Tricolour and it’s a matter of pride.”

For Zaheer Khan, who is charged with leading India’s attack, the opportunity to bowl a lot of overs and get stronger was the most exciting aspect of the season ahead.

“I have spent a lot of time at the National Cricket Academy recently and I have got better,” explained Zaheer. “My body is such that it tends to get better the more I bowl. I have come to a stage now where bowling-fitness is the most important thing.”

The chatter was incessant and the banter between the players thoroughly entertaining. When it came down to business, though, the focus was in place, hinting at the prospect of some high-quality cricket when the Test starts.