Melbourne: The doubts over Bhuvneshwar Kumar's fitness continue to be a concern for the Indian cricket team ahead of its second World Cup pool game against South Africa as the seamer looked far from convincing during a net session here on Wednesday.
Bhuvneshwar, who had suffered an ankle injury before the start of the Test series against Australia and only played the last Test in Sydney where he bowled way below his best, looked out of sorts and unfit at the Junction Oval ground of St Kilda Cricket Club here.
With Dhawal Kulkarni being kept as an additional member of the side, it seems that Bhuvneshwar's gingerly demeanour has kept the team management worried.
While the likes of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma hit their strides quickly, Bhuvneshwar cut a lonely figure standing at one end of the ground.
Even when he came on to bowl, he could not trouble either Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Ambati Rayudu, who faced most of his deliveries.
While there was a main net at the centre strip of the ground, there were four adjacent nets at one corner.
The players were first doing their routines in the corner nets before coming onto the main square where the first team bowlers were in operation.
Incidentally, Bhuvneshwar first went to the corner nets and did bat for quite a while. He batted against Yadav and took the throwdowns. After spending around 25 minutes at the nets, he did bowl at those nets with a short run-up.
However, while the trio of Umesh, Shami and Mohit were really seen bending their backs at the main net, Bhuvneshwar quietly stood in one corner of the ground (deep fine leg area for right-handers, third-man for the left-handers).
He intently watched his other teammates practise and it seemed that he won't come into bowl.
However, he did roll his arms over to Rayudu, Dhoni and Ashwin after the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina had their turns at the nets against first XI bowlers.
What one gathered from Bhuvneshwar's run-up to the crease, loading and follow through clearly indicated that there's still sometime before he can be termed match-fit.
While Yadav was seen hurrying people like Dhoni and Kohli with his pace, Shami dug in the occasional short delivery effectively, Bhuvneshwar found it difficult to hit the right length as he was a yard short and at his pace which has dropped even further, his bowling was just like cannon fodder.
From, Dhoni to Ashwin, everyone played the pull-shot against the UP seamer.
Rayudu, for one, charged down and hit him over square leg. The most disappointing aspect for Bhuvneshwar would be his sharp drop in pace from what he had till a year back.
It was evident in Sydney during the fourth Test, where his deliveries in the third and fourth spells were in the range of 110-115 kmph.
Bhuvneshwar did bowl close to 50 deliveries but not for once could he beat the bat of any of the batsmen, who faced him.
The 25-year-old, who has already played 12 Tests, 44 ODIs and 9 T20 Internationals, is for the first time in two years of international cricket facing fitness issues.
Praveen Kumar, one of his senior state colleagues and someone from whom Bhuvneshwar learnt the subtle nuances of swing bowling, recently had a word of advice as a note of caution for his junior.
"Since Bhuvi plays all the three formats for India, it's high time, he does some extra work on fitness. Otherwise, he will have issues," the UP skipper recently told PTI ahead of the World Cup.
Praveen, whose own bowling was based on ability to swing the ball on both sides wants his Meerut teammate to be fit enough so that he can bend his back.
"To get swing, you need to be able to bend your back while delivering every ball. It's just not about having the correct grip and let it flow. You have to load properly and able to exert the force to swing the ball. So Bhuvi should better be fit as Indian team needs him," Praveen had said.