Leg-spinner Amit Mishra may be called upon to replace off-spinner R. Ashwin if he is deemed not fit to play Delhi Capitals’ next contest against Chennai Super Kings, assistant coach Mohammad Kaif revealed in a virtual interaction with mediapersons on Thursday.

Ashwin, who injured his shoulder while fielding in Capitals’ first contest, against Kings XI Punjab, is under observation and a call on his availability will be taken only after the team’s practice session scheduled for Thursday evening.

“Ashwin is going for practice today, and we haven’t taken a call on whether he will be available [for the next game]. We’ll have the practice and see how it goes. Our physio is monitoring him very closely, both him and Ishant Sharma. But if he’s not fit to play tomorrow [we might play Mishra]. Mishra is an experienced player, he has done very well in the IPL,” Kaif said.

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Fast bowler Ishant, who injured himself at training earlier this week, tested his fitness via a run on Wednesday, revealed Kaif. “Ishant had gone to the ground yesterday, he had a good run, he did some sprinting. He didn’t bowl. He’s under observation. Patrick Farhart, our physio, has been keeping a close eye on him, and also the management. About him playing the match, we’ll take a call today. We have practice in the evening, and we will see how it goes,” he said.

The Super Kings may have been the only team to defeat Capitals in the IPL last year, but Kaif pointed out such stats could be ignored. The team was determined to play better than in the first game, he said.

“It’s going to be a different ball game altogether. Stats may not give a real picture in this IPL. The IPL was 16 months ago, this is a different tournament, players haven’t played much. Some might come in form much earlier, some may take a bit longer compared to others. We’ve got a different squad from last year also, we bought some new players in the auction. Having played the first game, we had a chance to look at the conditions [in Dubai]. We’re going to play even better than in the first game.”

‘Lots of running’

The improvement will be seen in the fielding department too, felt Kaif.

“It’s a big ground, so lots of running is involved. When you’re fielding on a big ground, you have to cut those angles. It’s going to be a big factor I guess, in the UAE, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Sharjah is not a big ground. But Abu Dhabi and Dubai you need to be agile and fit as a fielder. We have been doing lots of training; it’s almost two-three weeks here, practicing hard with the boys. Fielding is something which takes a while to get into the game. But I’m sure in the next match you will see a big change from the first game,” he said.

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Fielding would be a challenge for all teams in the IPL this season, reiterated Kaif, as players would have to shed off their rust and adjust to sand-based grounds in the UAE desert.

“Soft-tissue injuries will take place a lot because after a long layoff players are back and are trying to give their best shot on a sand-based ground, which is not easy. We are not used to it, the body is not used to it. So, it’s totally different, and [Dubai is] a big ground so there is lots of running involved, lots of team sprinting, which doesn’t happen in a training session.

“Training sessions are about batting, bowling and a bit of fielding, but the intensity isn’t a lot as compared to the match day. That’s why I feel it will be a tough one on the players this year.”

No likely space for Rahane

Openers Prithvi Shaw and Shikhar Dhawan may have fallen for single-digit scores in the first game, but Kaif backed them to come good against the Super Kings. Ajinkya Rahane is not likely to get into the final XI as yet, hinted Kaif.

“Even though we didn’t play our best in the first game, but I can see a big improvement from here on. Now we have a couple of days off, we can plan things. In practice, we had spoken to the boys how they went about the first game. Rahane is a classic player but if we pick the best team we would like to stick with that. We will play a few matches and see how we go from there,” Kaif stated.

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Among the batsmen who could be a potential opener for Capitals is Marcus Stoinis, who has performed the role for the club he represents in the Big Bash League – Melbourne Stars. Stoinis scored 705 runs in 17 matches for the Stars in the 2019-20.

“Marcus has been playing for his country for a long time now. He’s very experienced, and we need someone like him - if the situation demands - to go up in the order. We have the option with him because he can float.”