x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pujara on stand-by as injured back could force Laxman out

VVS Laxman, the India hero, is in doubt for the second Test against Australia days after a match-winning inning.

BANGALORE // VVS Laxman, the India hero, is in doubt for the second Test against Australia days after a match-winning innings in the one-wicket victory to open the series. 

The unlikely win at Mohali may have given India confidence, but they have since been hit by injuries and the absence of Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma and uncertainty over Laxman's fitness puts the hosts at a disadvantage for the second Test, starting today.

MS Dhoni, the India captain, said: "Laxman is much better now compared to what he was," but he was not confident the prolific batsman will play.

"Laxman did not practice today, but we would love to have him in the playing XI," Dhoni said. "We can't decide about that because in the longer format the body has to take the load over five days." 

Laxman batted at No 10 in the first innings at Mohali due to a back problem and went to the crease at No 7 in the second innings. But he played a crucial knock of 73 not out to guide India to the remarkable triumph.

He was ably supported by Ishant, who produced a gritty knock of 31 in an 81-run stand for the ninth wicket on the last day. Ishant had also taken three crucial wickets in Australia's second innings but will miss the final Test due to injury. Compounding Dhoni's concerns is India's poor record at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium, where they have not won a Test since 1995. Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, admitted after the first Test that he would always been wary of Laxman. "I hope his back's pretty sore for next week as well and he can't play," Ponting said in a half-joking kind of way.

India are likely to bring in Murali Vijay, the opening batsman, and Shantakumaran Sreesanth, the swing bowler, for Gambhir and Ishant, while Cheteshwar Pujara will be the likely replacement if Laxman does not recover from the back spasms which limited his participation at Mohali. India have drafted in two rookies as cover - Abhinav Mukund, an opening batsman, and Jaydev Unadakt, a seam bowler. Dhoni expects Australia to come back strongly in the second Test match.

"That is their culture," he said. "They do not give up easily, but we are ready." The only player in doubt for Australia is Doug Bollinger, the fast bowler, who complained of abdominal pain during the first match and was unable to bowl after lunch on the final day, when Australia only required only two wickets for victory.