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India's Test preparations hit by rain; practice game called off

India's two-day warm-up match ahead of the first Test against South Africa was called off on Friday without a ball bowled. The first day against a South African Invitation XI at Willowmoore Park was abandoned early on Friday because of rain and a wet outfield. It was decided later to abandon the match altogether when the ground staff said they would be unable to get the ground ready for play on the scheduled second day on Saturday.

The ground was saturated after more than 800mm of rain fell in the past three weeks. The tourists were able to get in some preparation, however, because the pitch area was dry enough for them to hold a middle practice. The first of two Test matches starts at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

With the tour having been shortened after the Indian board refused to accept the itinerary announced by South Africa, the two-day match was the only fixture scheduled between a three-match one-day series and the Tests. India's batsmen are desperately short of match practice in South African conditions.
India were beaten in the first two one-day games and were bowled out for 217 and 146, with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni the only man to hit a half-century.

A thunderstorm prevented India from batting in the third and final one-day international. The Invitation XI match was originally due to start on Saturday but it was brought forward by a day to avoid a clash with the funeral of former South African president Nelson Mandela on Sunday.

Earlier on Friday morning, reportedly, the Indian team management had a discussion with match officials, who gave them a go-ahead to practice on the central pitch, the one slated to be used for this game. The Indian team went through their paces thereafter, setting up three groups to get the fielding and catching practice out of the way first. After that, the batsmen all padded up and took their turns batting to the Indian bowlers, as no net bowlers were made available today. There was nothing unusual in the manner the Indian team conducted their nets.

As has been the case over the years, a pair of batsmen entered the two adjacent nets. Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, took turns in pairs. Then came Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, followed by skipper MS Dhoni and R Aswhin. Ambati Rayudu and Ravindra Jadeja only took throw downs in the meantime, taking their turns to bat only in the latter stages.

Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin were first among them, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Pragyan Ojha followed shortly. Umesh Yadav bowled only in the latter stages of the session, while Jadeja didn't roll his arm over.

Does this mean a toss-up between Ajinkya Rahane and Pragyan Ojha for the first Test at Johannesburg, starting December 18? Or simply, were these the chosen players to feature in this tour game?

While that is anybody's guess, earlier, Ojha did express his expectation of making the Test XI. "One of my big aims is to play outside the sub-continent and win games for my team. It is definitely something that I am looking forward to, having played a lot of cricket in the sub-continent," he said. The left-arm spinner has 113 Test wickets in 24 Tests so far, and notably is yet to play a Test outside the sub-continent.

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