The Indian team’s propensity to play football to warm up for training nearly saw them score an own goal a day before the second One-day International in Cardiff. Their ODI batting bedrock Virat Kohli appeared to have an injury scare during one such session on Tuesday. He didn’t take any part in the subsequent training, apparently as a precautionary move. After a torrid Test series, Virat showed signs of striking form again with a timely 71 against Middlesex in a limited-overs practice match at Lord’s last week.
Virat’s state-mate Shikhar Dhawan was the most impressive player in that game of football. He showed great skill and tremendous presence of mind and even scored — none of which sadly could be said about his cricket of late. However, Cardiff is the venue where the left-hander had scored the first of his five ODI hundreds last year. On another occasion at the same ground, he had scored a 68. The scenic setting is as good a place as any for him to rediscover the touch.
Dhawan was the first one to pad up and head straight for throwdowns. About the same time, his opening partner Rohit Sharma occupied the net on the square and had a prolonged hit against spin bowling. There was no pulling the punches and Rohit straightway looked to clear the ropes, with slog-sweeps over deep mid-wicket and straight hits over the bowler’s head.
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This was the template that was followed all afternoon. The batsmen faced only the spinners or throwdowns, while the fast bowlers aimed to hit the stumps on the adjacent strip.
Cardiff is a venue that offers decent assistance to spinners, and the Indian drill looked like a plan not to allow Moeen Ali and James Tredwell settle in.
Among the bowlers, leg-spinner Karn Sharma rolled his arm over the most, and consequently he got hammered more often than the others (Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin and Suresh Raina). In between, however, he did get applause from coach Duncan Fletcher and director Ravi Shastri for the odd delivery. Nets aren’t definitive indications of what a playing XI is going to be like, and perhaps Karn bowled as much as he did because India were looking to practise against spin. However, the way Shastri singled out the leggie early on for a little pep talk triggered speculation.
After all, even if they haven’t been making run mountains, India’s batting pretty much picks itself. An Ambati Rayudu replacing Suresh Raina or vice-versa is as much room as there is for reshuffling — at least in the initial part of the series. It’s therefore their bowling, and specifically the spin department, where the think-tank would perhaps like to experiment.
Also, since both Jadeja and Ashwin were largely harmless during the Test series, India may look to send Karn ahead of one of them. However, if it was any indication, Jadeja had an extensive batting session out in the middle.
Jury’s still out
Meanwhile, with regard to the other match — the Duncan Fletcher vs Ravi Shastri one — the jury remains out as to who is the real boss of the team. Shastri, a former left-arm spinner, oversaw the spinners bowl to Rohit Sharma initially, however, it was Fletcher who looked more hands-on when it came to discussing techniques with the batsmen. At one point, with Ajinkya Rahane batting in the nets, Shastri and Fletcher had an engrossing discussion over batting stance. After which Fletcher appeared to stop Rahane and tell the batsman to try out what Shastri was suggesting.
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