Ishant, Zaheer are fit for first Test, says VVS Laxman

Melbourne: In good news for India, their bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan and fellow pacer Ishant Sharma appeared to be fit to play in the opening Test against Australia beginning here on Monday.

Both the pacers, who have been nursing injuries, bowled vigourously at the nets after which Indian middle order batsman VVS Laxman said "they were fit and raring to go".

Former Australian cricketer Dean Jones, who watched them at the nets, said the two bowlers looked impressive and seemed to have "hit the nets very hard".

Laxman gave enough indication that the pace duo could feature in the starting line-up.

"Ishant didn`t finish the first practice game in Canberra, but the way he bowled in the second innings of the (Cricket Australia) Chairman`s XI in the second match, and also the way he bowled today at the nets is proof that they (Ishant and Zaheer) are both fit and raring to go," Laxman said.

"When you are playing the international game, injuries become part and parcel of a player`s life.
"If you see, even the Australians are missing their frontline bowlers because of the injuries. But it`s good to see the way Zaheer Khan has come back after his ankle surgery. He is lean and fit, and you can see he has really worked hard on his fitness," the sylish Hyderabadi added.

Since their arrival here, Zaheer and Ishant`s fitness have been a cause of concern for the Indian team management, which has preferred to keep the updates about the duo under wraps.

Jones, who watched the pacers closely at the nets, was impressed with their effort.

"I watched them at the nets today, Zaheer and Ishant hit the nets really really good. Ishant was particularly impressive to me. He was really hitting the deck well. Batting was impressive too with Sachin, VVS Laxman and the great Rahul Dravid, they all are in good form, all in good nick", Jones said.

"The only problem which I feel is that are four Indian bowlers good enough to take 20 Australian wickets? I know we have middle-order batsmen out of form. But it does not take too long for these guys to turn it around. I think Australia`s batting will get better as the series progresses. Our bowlers are better than your bowlers, " Jones said.

Former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar reckoned that it was India`s best chance to put it across the Australians.

"It`s India`s best chance in Australia, best chance ever for the simple reason that it`s an unsettled Australian side. This is a vulnerable Australian side, this is an out-of-form Australian side as well", he said.

"I believe the Indians have the ability, the Indians have the variety and it`s for Zaheer and Ishant to click. As Jones was saying they have been impressive in the nets and obviously the more they bowl in the nets, the better they bowl in the matches.

"If they do that and get the ealy wickets.... you know if the spinners are not going to be easy to tackle. There might be not much spin, not much turn for the spinners but if they get the bounce, then that will result in wickets", Gavaskar said.

"I think India certainly have the bowling and the bounce could get the wickets. On paper, because of the uncertainity about Zaheer and Ishant's fitness, it raises a question mark", Gavaskar said,

"If both of them do not play or both of them do not survive, then India will have the problem in getting those 20 wickets. But if both of them remain fit, and with Ashwin and Ojha to come in and the young Umesh Yadav as well, I think we have the bowlers to take 20 wickets", he said.

Meanwhile, Laxman said this time India's decision to arrive early for the tour Down Under will hold them in good stead in the upcoming series.

"Last time we had one side game against Victoria team but it was rained out, so we directly went to a Test match without preparation," he said.

"So we are quite happy with the way we have prepared (this time). Also we are able to spend a lot of time together, especially with the one-day boys who have recovered from the tough schedule they had.

"I think it was quite good the way we spend around 10 days in Canberra and we are quite happy with our preparations, and hopefully we can start performing from the word go," Laxman insisted.


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