India coach Ravi Shastri has revealed the team is battling major fitness issues ahead of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
India were without injured off-spinner Ravi Ashwin – who has an abdominal strain – in the Perth Test which Australia won comfortably to level the series 1-1. The Indian team received criticism for going in with four fast bowlers and no recognised spinner even though they had left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja in the final 13 and wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in the squad.
After the Perth Test, captain Virat Kohli said they might have gone in with four pacers even if Ashwin was fit. Interestingly, it was Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon who came up with a match-winning haul of eight wickets.
But on Sunday, Shastri spilled the beans on a completely different set of issues, which had not been revealed by Kohli or the Indian management. According to Shastri, Jadeja arrived in Australia carrying a shoulder injury and not only was he allowed to be a part of the final 13, he bowled regularly in the nets after taking injections and was used as a substitute fielder extensively in the Perth Test.
“The problem with Jaddu was that he had taken an injection four days into coming to Australia because of stiffness in his shoulder, and it took a while for that injection to settle down. At Perth, we felt he was about 70-80 per cent fit and we didn’t want to risk that in Perth. If he is 80 per cent in Melbourne, he will play,” Shastri said.
“When he came here, he felt some stiffness, and he felt that in India as well but he played domestic cricket after that,” Shastri said. “Still felt stiff in the shoulder, and he was injected again and it takes time to settle. It has taken longer than we expected, and we wanted to be careful.”
The revelation has put severe strain on the 19-member strong Indian contingent in Australia. Apart from Jadeja and Ashwin, batsman Rohit Sharma is recovering from a back injury while late addition all-rounder Hardik Pandya has played just one first-class match after recovering from a serious back injury.
Shastri said it is touch and go as far as Ashwin’s availability is concerned.
“As far as Ashwin is concerned, we are going to take a look and evaluate over the next 48 hours,” Shastri said. “Rohit has made a very good improvement but then again we have got to see how he pulls up tomorrow. But he looks good as of today.”
Fitness issues apart, India have a major headache in the batting department with openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul woefully out of form. Mayank Agarwal is being seen a a possible replacement opener, along with keeper Parthiv Patel and even middle order batsman Hanuma Vihari.
“It’s a big concern,” Shastri said about the openers. “It’s obvious and that responsibility and accountability has to be taken by the top order. They’ve got the experience, they’ve got the exposure over these last few years to get out there and deliver. It’s about how strong you are in the mind.”
NO ISSUES WITH KOHLI
The animated celebrations and general demeanour of India skipper Kohli have come in for criticism with many in Australia and India unhappy with the way he has confronted his counterpart Tim Paine so far.
But Shastri said Kohli has behaved like a ‘gentleman’. “What’s wrong with his behaviour? As far as we are concerned, he is an absolute gentleman,” he said.
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