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Williamson hopes to return in final Test, Gambhir set to open

Williamson hopes to return in final Test, Gambhir set to open

INDORE: New Zealand captain Kane Williamson is hoping to be fit to lead his team’s bid for a consolation win in the third and final Test against India starting here on Saturday.

Laid low by a viral illness, Williamson watched from the sidelines as India registered their second successive victory in Kolkata to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series and ensure they will return to the top of the Test rankings.

“I’m certainly very hopeful of playing tomorrow. I can say I am getting better each day,” Williamson, who scored 75 and 25 in the first Test, told reporters.

India opener Gautam Gambhir is set to return to Test cricket after a two-year gap.

The left-hander, who turns 35 next week, replaced the injured Lokesh Rahul in the squad but sat out the Kolkata Test as Shikhar Dhawan opened the innings with Murali Vijay.

Dhawan fractured his left hand and uncapped Karun Nair was called into the squad as his replacement but home captain Virat Kohli confirmed that Gambhir would play in the final Test.

“That’s a natural replacement...he is the third opener,” Kohli told reporters at the Holkar Stadium which is staging a Test match for the first time.

Paceman Ishant Sharma also missed the first two Tests due to a virus but Kohli is not too concerned about the spate of injuries at the beginning of India’s 13-Test home season.

“Injury is something even the fittest of people face...The good thing is we can recognise them early and we’re able to give them time to come back as soon as possible with good rehab, good recovery and good rest,” he said.

“Because it’s a long season, it’s important to address these issues, rather then pushing someone at 70-80 per cent and losing him for the whole season.”

The workload of the Indian pacers, Kohli specifically insisted, must be managed during their jam-packed home season.

India were deprived of two of their key pacemen for the third Test against New Zealand.

Sharma and in-form Bhuvneshwar Kumar have both been ruled out of the final Test, undermining India’s chances of a clean sweep against the Black Caps and raising fresh questions about the team’s strength in depth on the pace front.

Sharma has missed the whole series after contracting the mosquito-borne disease chikungunya while Kumar was injured during the second Test in Kolkata after bagging his second five-wicket haul in the last three matches.

Kumar’s replacement is Shardul Thakur, who is yet to make his international debut, and it means Mohammed Shami will shoulder a heavier burden even though he is on the comeback trail after being plagued with knee problems.

“It’s very important to manage workload, especially for your fast bowlers,” Kohli said.

“For the one-day matches, they’ve been given rest because it’s a long Test season and we need the bowlers fresh,” he said, referring to the selectors’ decision to omit Sharma and Kumar from the squad for three ODIs which follow the Tests.

Kohli was full of praise for Shami who made his Test comeback in July against the West Indies after being sidelined for 18 months.

“Shami is someone who has come back very well, he’s worked very hard on his fitness as well. You can see he’s able to bowl those five-six over spells now,” he said.

“As captain I feel that he’s a very important bowler for us in this full season and in future, as well. Looking at the near future, his fitness and rhythm is very, very important.”

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2016

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