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Zaheer fitness still a worry

Melbourne: Pace spearhead Zaheer Khan’s fitness appears be a worrying factor for the Indian think tank ahead of the Boxing Day Test against Australia with the left-arm seamer yet to recover from his ankle injury.

The paceman, who missed the final Test against Pakistan in Bangalore due to the injury, had his right heel heavily bandaged while the Indians had their first practice session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday afternoon.

Zaheer has impressed one and all with his performance since his return to international cricket last November and is seen as the central figure in achieving India’s long-cherished aim of a maiden Test series victory Down Under.

After his stint with Worcestershire, a transformed Zaheer picked up 13 wickets at 30.38 from three Tests against South Africa in the away series and gave England a dose of their own medicine to grab 18 wickets at 20.33 in three matches.

However, Zaheer’s previous trip to Australia was not a happy one even though he picked up a five-wicket haul in the opening Test in Brisbane.

The speedster, who was not fit enough, then played the second Test in Melbourne only to return sorry figures of none for 103. He took no further part in the series.

Zaheer’s fitness worries could force the team management to get in touch with the Indian board to send in lanky Munaf Patel as replacement for the first Test.

Patel, who missed the Bangalore Test against Pakistan due to injury, has been declared fit though the board has advised him to play domestic games before putting his hand up for selection.

Meanwhile, chances of Harbhajan Singh playing the Boxing Day Test appear to be slim unless the Melbourne Cricket Ground wicket promises substantial turn for the spinners, according to vice-captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Just as Australia will make a call between playing spinner Brad Hogg and an all-pace attack in the Test, India will be careful to field a balanced bowling line-up.

The wicket-keeper batsman said both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan were bowling well and could trouble Australia.

But he conceded that India might be forced to select three fast bowlers and one spinner on Australian pitches, which would leave Harbhajan out in the cold.

“It depends on the conditions and how much the wickets will suit both the spinners at the same time, that’s a crucial decision,” Dhoni was quoted as saying by an Australian newspaper on Wednesday.

“You have to play with three fast bowlers in most of the places in Australia so you have to decide. It depends on the conditions,” Dhoni said, adding “if it’s Australia, most of the time you would go with three and one.”

“You never know, if there’s a wicket that can favour the spinners and later on you can play with two and two and Sourav (Ganguly) can also bowl a bit (of medium pace),” he said.

Dhoni was firm on what he expected from the wickets on his first tour of Australia.

“Lots of bounce. If it’s Australia, even if it’s slow and low, it will be nothing compared to the fastest wicket in India.”

He also said he and his teammates weren’t fearful of Shaun Tait, whose speed and unique slinging action could make him a tricky opponent, given India’s limited view of him.

“It’s the same as when you go and face (Sri Lanka’s Lasith) Malinga or (Pakistan’s) Shoaib (Akhtar), guys who have a very different action,” Dhoni said.

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