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Focus on youth brigade

- Sanju Samson, Karn sharma may get a look-in vs middlesex
Suresh Raina

Calcutta/London: Holding their last practice session before being forced to go on a break by the BCCI, outgoing bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding consultant Trevor Penney made the players sweat before the one-off practice game ahead of the five-match ODI series starting Monday. India take on Middlesex at Lord’s on Friday.

Newly-appointed team director Ravi Shastri joins the team on Saturday. By then the new support staff — Sanjay Bangar, Bharat Arun and Ramakrishnan Sridhar — would have arrived.

With Shastri “overall in-charge” of cricket matters, coach Duncan Fletcher will be reporting to the former India captain.

Shastri though was quick to dismiss any misgivings on Wednesday.

“There are no issues with Duncan... I’ve already spent a couple of hours with him and the captain (Mahendra Singh Dhoni)... It’s all good,” Shastri had told The Telegraph.

Shastri could be there at Lord’s on Friday to watch the practice match.

Looking to get into their limited-overs groove before the Bristol ODI on Monday, the Indian players are not only looking for a change in fortunes but are keen to prove their detractors wrong, at least in white-ball cricket.

Dawes and Penney took Team India through their paces in the net session with some slip-fielding practice and throw-downs taking place as the bowlers and batsmen did their respective drills.

Though only three players from the Test contingent, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Stuart Binny, made it to the practice session at Lord’s nursery grounds, the young brigade went about the drills diligently.

Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami, took the day off after attending the nets on Wednesday.

Though there’s been no talk about the one-day combination, Sanju Samson was seen practicing his wicket-keeping skills along with a slip-cordon of Binny, Rahane and Suresh Raina.

The net sessions and the way they were carried out seemed to give an impression that Dhoni may miss the Middlesex game.

The methods of Fletcher have also come under intense scrutiny and the Zimbabwean is not known to treat practice games with intensity. Many felt that India took the two warm-up games — against Leicestershire and Derbyshire — before the Tests too lightly and their lackadaisical approach did not help the team at all.

As things stand, Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli and Dhoni are likely to be in the playing XI for the first ODI.

The Indian middle-order in the ODI format was found to be shaky in both South Africa and New Zealand.

With this thought in mind, Rahane, Binny, Ambati Rayudu, Samson, Raina and even Karn Sharma had a decidedly long hit in the nets.

This practice game assumes larger significance for players like Samson and Karn. Having achieved much success in the IPL, it remains to be seen if they can replicate the same in international cricket.

It was interesting to see Bhuvneshwar Kumar work out in the nets as well. Maybe he has rested enough after being the team’s workhorse during the five-Test series.

With preparations for the ODI World Cup expected to take swing now, Kumar was not given rest from this ODI series.

It remains to be seen whether this was a good move or will it further hamper his fitness ahead of a long season ahead.

At Leicester and Derby both, the home teams had laid out the red carpet for the visiting Indian side and given the option of choosing how they wanted to play those two practice games.

It remains to be seen if Middlesex will be as kind for Lord’s does not host the Indian team for an ODI this summer and the hosts might want a serious game of cricket.