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Warne faces drop for deciding Test

SYDNEY, March 16 (AFP) - Australia are contemplating dropping an ailing Shane Warne for the decisive third cricket Test against India starting in Madras on Sunday, coach John Buchanan said Friday.

Warne suffered both physically and mentally during the second Test in Calcutta, won by India by 171 runs Thursday, and there are concerns over his ability to withstand the physical stress of Madras' sapping heat and humidity.

Warne also has some cracked skin on the middle finger of his bowling hand which is causing him irritation.

"Warney's quite distressed when he comes off the field all the time," Buchanan told Australian Associated Press.

"From his point of view it's hard going, very hard going. This last Test was a real test of his skill and his mental capacity to handle things."

Buchanan said Warne's fitness had him struggling in the heat and he also had to bowl a lot of overs without much preparation after missing the home Tests last summer against the West Indies with a broken finger.

"It's to do with physical fitness -- it's no secret that Warney's probably not one of the fittest characters running around in world cricket.

"But certainly at the end of India's second innings he'd been challenged mentally".

Buchanan said Colin Miller was almost certain to come into the team for the third Test but that Australia also hadn't gone away from its policy of playing three fast bowlers, meaning Warne could be squeezed out.

"The strategy is still the quick bowlers -- when we look at all the Indian players they're still susceptible to good quick bowling, there's no question about that," he said.

"But if they get through that how then do you follow it up?

"At the moment we're following it up with a third seamer and I think Michael Kasprowicz did a very good job -- certainly in the first innings.

"We had Warney's legspin that was being handled quite well by Laxman, and Mark Waugh's offspin which was steady but not threatening.

"Funky (Miller) therefore presents as a real option but it's how we balance that -- whether we go with a quick attack plus Funky only is something we have to think about."

Asked if Warne was likely to be dropped, Buchanan said: "I'm not saying he's going to be left out -- he's still in the frame.

"But when we walk into this Test we've really got to have 11 blokes who can give five days of hard cricket and not be affected by any sort of physical limitations."

Warne suffered badly in the second innings at Eden Gardens, taking 1-152, the most runs he has ever conceded in his career.

He had no answer to the footwork of Laxman and was devastated when he could not break down Rahul Dravid, a player he had dismissed seven times previously in Tests.

Buchanan said Warne had a hard time dealing with the pair.

"Mentally it was very challenging to handle players being able to use their feet to him, bowling around the wicket into rough and seeing blokes come down the wicket and hit a drive through mid-on or through cover.

"Dravid was the guy he had tied up previously but Dravid won that contest in this game."

Ricky Ponting was another player with a cloud over him after struggling to come to grips with the spin bowling of Harbhajan Singh.

Buchanan said Ponting had become confused as to the best strategy to use against Harbhajan.

"He's one critical piece in the picture as to whether he can mentally prepare himself for this game," Buchanan said of the number six batsman.

"If he does that right he'll get his technique right but he hasn't got much time.

"At the moment whatever strategy he's chosen, when he gets out to the wicket, for some reason he thinks that's the wrong strategy.

"Once that happens he's all at sea -- if you haven't got any feeling of control out there then you're out of control."

Ponting has scores of 0, 6 and 0 in the Test series.

The Australians may thus give Ponting a break to mentally freshen up ahead of the one-dayers and bring in Damien Martyn.

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