It was called an optional practice but it looked more like the rehabilitation wing of an orthopaedic hospital. Yuvraj Singh, Piyush Chawla, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma, who did not play a part in the first Test, Murali Kartik, who is still far from fit after tearing a ligament before the start of this series, Anil Kumble, the captain, and Mohammad Kaif, who has replaced the injured Sachin Tendulkar, turned up at the nets.
The immediate focus was on Ishant, who was to undergo a fitness test before the game in Ahmedabad. After sending down between eight and ten deliveries, he pulled up, clutching his left side, and had a long chat with Venkatesh Prasad, the bowling coach, and then Paul Close, the physiotherapist. Close then walked across to Kumble, who was icing his upper right thigh after a spell in the nets, and had a word. There was no official briefing on whether Ishant was fit or not, but the signs — and the gingerness with which he finished his follow-through when bowling — were not encouraging.
Pathan too had his left thigh strapped up, but seemed to be going through both bowling and batting without much discomfort. Kaif and Yuvraj batted side-by-side in the nets, and could be vying for Tendulkar's place, although you would have to think Yuvraj would get the nod. Paul Harris did not make much of a mark in the first Test, returning figures of 3 for 203, but Gary Kirsten, India's coach, is taking no chances. He handpicked the left-arm spinners out of the net bowlers, and four of them bowled to the Indian batsmen, while no offspinner or legspinner rolled his arm over.
When the two-and-a-half hour session was done Yuvraj stayed back a bit longer, moving to a concrete pitch with Robin Singh. Yuvraj spent another twenty minutes facing Robin bowl with hard plastic from a shortened length. The plastic balls used bounce sharply, and also are light enough to swing in the wind. They're often used by Indian batsmen before a foreign tour where extra bounce is expected. While that will not be the case here, it certainly gave Yuvraj a chance to middle the ball and get his hand-eye co-ordination going, aside from practicing leaving the ball alone.