Aussies open India tour with clash against BP XI

Chandigarh: The Ricky Ponting-led Australia will be keen to get some vital match practice and key Indian players, who are returning from injuries, would assess their fitness when the visitors and the Board President’s XI clash in a three-day practice match from here on Saturday.

Skipper Gautam Gambhir and paceman S Sreesanth, who suffered injuries in the Sri Lankan tour, are making a comeback to the competitive cricket.

Eyes will also be on Cheteshwar Pujara, who replaced Yuvraj Singh in the Test squad.

The Saurashtra batsman has been a prolific run-scorer in the domestic circuit and for quite some time the right-hander was in the reckoning for a place in the national team.

His dominance with the bat in domestic circuit can be gauged from the fact that he has so far made 14 centuries and 13 half centuries in his five-year first class career.

Sreesanth, who hurt his knee in the lead-up to the first Test in Sri Lanka, would be looking to get back his rhythm back while Gambhir, who missed the second and third Tests in Sri Lanka with an injured knee, would also be keen to get some runs under his belt before the first Test.

The Australians who have been mostly confined to their hotel rooms and gymnasium courtesy inclement weather will hope to make the most of the time they get out there in the middle.

Only yesterday, Ponting and his boys seemed to be getting into the groove with some serious net sessions at the indoor facility of the PCA Stadium.

“It’s been raining here earlier on. But now sun has come out finally. Playing against India in any conditions and in any form of the game is tough.”

“We need to be as well prepared as we possibly can be and that’s why we are here so early before the first Test. To get a practice match against a quality opposition and to get that feel of the conditions is very important,” Australian vice-captain Michael Clarke said.

“We just haven’t played much Test cricket as a team in India, but we are excited about the possibilities. If we can play our best cricket, I am confident we can beat India in this series,” he said.

Doug Bollinger, Marcus North and Tim Paine haven’t played a Test in India while specialist spinner Nathan Hauritz played his only Test in the country when he made his debut at Mumbai six years back.

If one goes by weather forecasts, there is a chance of heavy downpour tomorrow.

Skipper Ponting admitted here earlier this week that he would liked to do well on this tour not having enjoyed much success during earlier assignments.

Though many players in the current Aussie squad may lack experience of playing in Indian conditions, but coach Tim Nielsen feels that is not going to be much of a bother as long as the team performs to the best of their ability.

Other than Ponting and Clarke, Aussies have some experienced hands in Simon Katich, pacer Mitchell Johnson and all-rounder Shane Watson.

“The Indian conditions, with low bounce, the heat and the humidity, are challenging for a fast bowler but I can vouch that the team wants to win both Tests,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Jharkhand batsman Saurabh Tiwary, Bengal pacer Ashok Dinda and Hyderabad spinner Pragyan Ojha were yesterday named as replacements in the Board President’s XI side.

The trio replaced Virat Kohli, Abhimanyu Mithun and Ravichandran Ashwin as their respective teams qualified for the semi-finals in the T20 Champions League.

Left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat’s performance will also be closley monitored.

Unadkat is yet to play a first class match on home soil. He played two first-class matches during India A team’s tour to UK. A good performance may open the doors in the ODI team for the coming three-match series against the Aussies.