A piece of black cloth served as the ‘iron curtain’. Cameras were intruding into ‘dressing room’ privacy and the Indian cricketers must have felt a little uncomfortable.
The Sher-e-Bangla academy ground has two concrete structures that double up as makeshift locker rooms during practice. Shikhar Dhawan’s left ankle was getting tended to by physio Patrick Farhart and lenses zoomed. There was enough time to capture a heavily strapped left foot of the Indian opener before the curtain dropped. Dhawan missed the last game against Pakistan because of the injury. Maybe it’s a little premature to say he is ruled out of India’s next match against Sri Lanka on Tuesday as well.
But the sequence of events during India’s nets Monday didn’t inspire confidence.
With his team mates sweating it out in the middle, the left-hander decided to take his time before Farhart took him to the other end of the ground, ostensibly for a fitness test. Only a few paces, a pat on the back from the physio and Dhawan gingerly walked across the field to do some tennis ball knocking. Some catching practice followed before Dhawan eventually put his pads on and took throw-downs.
His regular opening partner didn’t even turn up, still bearing the brunt of a Mohammad Amir toe-crusher. News from the Indian camp is that Rohit Sharma is recovering from the bruise. However, a question mark remains over his availability.
Dhawan and Rohit have forged a strong association upfront which contributed immensely to their team’s recent winning streak in the shortest format. In the three T20 internationals in Australia, they had opening partnerships of 40, 97 and 46 as India achieved a clean sweep. In the home series against Sri Lanka, they posted 0, 75 and 29. The only time both openers failed — against Sri Lanka — in Pune, India lost.
With World T20 round the corner, the team management, however, is expected to be judicious in picking the playing XI against Sri Lanka and the way Ajinkya Rahane and Suresh Raina were put through their paces during today’s practice suggested a backup plan.
Raina was first to hit the nets, taking throw-downs from batting coach Sanjay Bangar. Negotiating bounce from back of a length was the brief. Even after over a decade of international cricket, the Uttar Pradesh batsman struggles against the short ball. He looked uncomfortable in Pune, was softened up by the Bangladesh seamers before off-spinner Mahmudullah breached his defence in the first match here and then hopped against Mohammad Amir’s pace in the last game. India have to tweak if both their regular openers are unavailable. The injured players, however, have one full day for recovery and will have the allowance to decide late.
Ajinkya Rahane won’t mind another opportunity though. Not an automatic pick in this format, he has failed to make an impact in the four matches – three against Sri Lanka at home and one against Pakistan here – he played. A tally of 51 runs against the Islanders, batting at No.3, was below par by his standards. Against Pakistan, however, he might have been a tad unlucky to get a beauty from Amir so early in his innings. Rahane, trained alongside Raina and then, team director Ravi Shastri took him near the centre square to have a one-on-one with the Mumbai batsman. The conversation apparently centred around some technical issues. Rahane was seen doing some adjustments to his elbow positioning. Rahane is too good a batsman not to score runs for long. He has the technique and skill to change his game according to situations and conditions. Maybe, he needs to relax a bit and shouldn’t look over his shoulder.
Parthiv Patel provides another option up the order. But as per the tournament rules, he can only play if someone is out injured. His peripheral presence in the nets dropped a hint that his services would probably not be required.
In the mid of a T20 golden run, India have retained almost an unchanged side for the last eight matches. Ahead of the Asia Cup, Dhoni, however, had spoken about giving everyone an opportunity in the lead-up to the World T20.
India have all but sealed a spot in the final in this tournament, thanks to their back-to-back wins in the first two matches. Now, with Dhawan and Rohit facing fitness issues, it would be interesting to see what the team management decides.
Lasith Malinga has been walking wounded. He played through pain in the first match against UAE but missed the next one against Bangladesh. A loss to the hosts has complicated the matter a little. Sri Lanka would be playing a must win game tomorrow but it is a big call for their captain whether to fit in or opt out. “We will assess his fitness about an hour before the game. He hasn’t fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out for three months. He played against UAE but he wasn’t 100 per cent. The main focus is the World T20 and he will decide accordingly,” a Sri Lanka team source said.