For a change, the batting order in the India nets was reversed on Sunday afternoon. Bowlers padded up first, and batsmen started bowling to them. The first one to mark the run-up was Mahendra Singh Dhoni — he arrived on Saturday — training with India for the first time since the team’s arrival in Australia on November 22.
It wasn’t that Dhoni was bowling because anybody had doubted his fitness. He ran in hard, put everything behind his deliveries, some of which thudded into the batsmen’s pads. It wasn’t even his batting which needed close scrutiny. He took on the spinners to start with, leggie Karn Sharma and R Ashwin, and later moved to the adjacent nets to take a few throw downs before rounding off his session by facing Varun Aaron and Mohammed Shami.
All through his 40 minutes of batting, Dhoni looked very much part of the squad. And, it brightened the prospect of his leading the team out in the first Test on Tuesday. However, the team management is maintaining silence over his availability. Some kind of mind game is clearly at play.
The trace of rustiness was hard to detect despite his layoff after injuring his right palm that needed healing. However, he didn’t wear the keeping gloves, which that would have sent out a clear message. If that is the only remaining aspect to convince one that he will be playing, Dhoni didn’t provide it.
A BCCI source told HT that the likelihood of Dhoni playing is pretty high. “If he is there, it means he is fit to play. In any case, he was to join the team after the first Test as per the original schedule and he would have been ready by the time the second Test started. Now, with the rearranged schedule, he has got that extra time. He has travelled enough and is experienced enough to adjust to the conditions immediately.”
At the nets, the tail-enders had an extended session. When India travelled to Australia in 2007-08, when a few critical contributions came from the late order batsmen.
The last four batsmen together contributed 420 runs in the four Tests, averaging 105 runs per Test. Coach Gary Kirsten too subsequently drew the best out of tail-enders. The England tour saw Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami contributing well with the bat.
Kumar is a vital cog in the side, but is recovering from ankle pain. A team official said he could play in the first Test.
In case he sits out, India have Varun, Ishant and Shami. The odds of R Ashwin or Karn Sharma playing, in a possible four-bowler scenario, are even as the latter got close attention from the team management throughout Sunday’s session.