Sachin Tendulkar on Thursday practised for about one-and-a-half hours at the nets ahead of Mumbai Indians' next game against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday, raising hopes of his availability for the rest of the IPL season 5 after a lengthy absence from the event due to a finger injury sustained a fortnight ago.
Tendulkar faced regular bowlers like Pragyan Ojha in the Mumbai ranks in a serious net session and did not appear to be in any difficulty while playing a number of lofted shots at the Mumbai Cricket Association's Bandra Kurla Complex Ground.
After hurting his index finger in the IPL opener against defending champions Chennai Super Kings on April 4, Tendulkar has missed Mumbai's subsequent four games which has affected the team's balance at the top of the order.
He missed the games against Pune Warriors, Deccan Chargers, Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils and as a result Mumbai have been unable to get off to the start they were looking for and slumped to defeats in two out of the four ties.
Tendulkar started practising against throw-downs on April 14 prior to the home tie against the Daredevils but did not feel comfortable enough to take the field on April 16 at the Wankhede Stadium.
The Mumbai Indians were shot out for a paltry 92, their second-lowest ever IPL score and the lowest by any team this season, which the Daredevils easily overhauled.
"Of course, it will be nice to have Sachin Tendulkar back. I'm sure he will be back by the next game if nothing goes wrong by the net session. If he is batting with any of the foreigners it makes it easier for them to score runs. He can take a lot of pressure from the other partner," team captain Harbhajan Singh had said after the humiliating defeat against the Daredevils.
While things looked bright for MI as far as Tendulkar's availabilty is concerned for the next game at home, uncertainty still looms large over another key player - pace spearhead Lasith Malinga's participation.
The Sri Lankan speedster did not practice on Thursday with his other Mumbai teammates after missing the game against the Daredevils because of a slight pain in his back.
"He's OK, but his back is not the same as it was in the last game, so we wanted to give him a break for this game as it's a long tournament. We don't want him to get hurt in playing all these games. Hopefully, he will be fine for the next game," said Harbhajan about Malinga's availability in the game against the Daredevils.
"He is resting today. Like Harbhajan said the other day he's having slight pain," a team source said on Thursday.
Though Malinga appeared in doubt for the game against Kings XI, there was some heartening news for Mumbai as left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson would be joining the team in the next couple of days.
"Johnson is expected to join the team (after flying in from Australia) in one or two days," said the source.
The 30-year-old Queenslander, who is also a handy lower order batsman capable of big hitting, was bought at his base price of USD 300,000 by Mumbai in the February auction.
Johnson, who has grabbed 190 wickets in 47 Tests and 168 wickets in 107 ODIs, is yet to play any game in the cash-rich T20 league which is in its fifth edition.