Ahead of the Asia Cup, barely anyone would have predicted that the reigning champions will fail to reach the finals. Rohit Sharma’s first big tournament as the full-time skipper however could hardly meet the expectations with two back-to-back defeats derailing their campaign.
The Men In Blue started on a high with an emphatic victory over arch-rivals Pakistan as Hardik Pandya led the charge both with the bat and ball. The duo of Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav steamrolled Hong Kong in the next encounter as India looked invincible in its quest for retaining the crown of Asia. However, Pakistan’s redemption in the third clash exposed Team India’s weak middle order. In the do-or-die game against Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma’s heroics with the bat could not help the team post a target that would have had the Lankan Lions under pressure in their chase. But the biggest highlight in the campaign came in the final fixture where King Kohli after a long wait of over 1000 days finally struck his 71st century in style.
The mystery over team selection
The major reason behind Team India’s shocking performance was definitely the concerns with the team combination. The team management seems to be puzzled about what the XI should ideally look like. With the WT20 coming up in just a few months, it is high time for the think tank to zero it down to build a competent side that can give stiff competition down under. Who will be behind the stumps? will it be Pant or DK? and are Samson and Kishan still in the minds of the selectors?
The Death overs distress
Chahal’s lacklustre outing also raises a lot of eyebrows as to whether Bishnoi or Kuldeep Yadav will be viable options for Rohit Sharma as the lead spinner. Young Ravi Bishnoi was India’s pick of the bowlers in their defeat against Pakistan. Apart from the missed catch that proved to be a massive turning point in the game against Pakistan, pacer Arshdeep Singh hogged the limelight for his stellar spells in the death overs. Senior campaigner Ashwin yet again missed an opportunity to seal his spot in the XI. But it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar who remained in the centre of both praise and criticism as he seemed to be a way more effective bowler at the start of the innings than in the backend.
King Kohli is back but all is still not well in the camp
Except for the last game, it was the captain and his deputy who opened the batting for Team India. After the baton of captaincy was transferred to Rohit Sharma, he and coach Rahul Dravid made it clear that the team will now look to play a more aggressive and fearless brand of cricket where each batter would chip in and try to bring significant damage to the opposition.
In the past few years, the Men in Blue have always been a more top-heavy side, where the top-order batters had to focus on building a steady partnership at first and keep wickets in hand. In the attempt to adopt the new brand of attacking cricket, it was obvious that there was a much higher risk involved and unfortunately, that’s what happened in both the matches Team India lost.
The curious case of Rishabh Pant
Each time the Men in Blue batted first, despite strong starts, the momentum only fizzled in the later part of the innings. DK did not get many chances while Pant’s inconsistency and reckless hitting once again invited a lot of heat from the critics. Pandya 2.0 though is a big plus for the side, as if he can carry along with this form, the batting unit looks way more formidable than ever. It was more of a hit-and-miss for Suryakumar Yadav, with a magnificent knock against Hong Kong and a bunch of decent starts.
Returning after injury, it was not quite a roaring comeback for KL Rahul as he looked a bit rusty but finally found some form against Afghanistan in the last game with fifty to his name. But the thing that would give India a lot more confidence was Kohli’s return to being his usual self. With 2 successive fifties and a century, every cricket fanatic rejoiced at the return of the run machine.
Mission WT20: What’s next for Team India
The WT20 is just a few months away, and most teams have even declared their squads for the mega tournament. The conditions in Australia will be drastically different from that of UAE but India still needs to decide upon a team combination that they would bank on. On the bouncy pace-friendly tracks of Australia, Dravid and Rohit definitely need a potent pace attack. The biggest blow from the Asia Cup in terms of the composition was the injury of Ravindra Jadeja. If Jadeja is ruled out, does India have a like-for-like replacement for him as the much-needed 3-dimensional player?
Is Hardik Pandya the best choice as the fifth bowler? Questions are plenty and there’s barely any time for more experimentation. The Men In Blue will next lock horns with defending WT20 champions Australia and the Proteas on their home turf before they take the flight for the WT20. A lot remains at stake for Rohit Sharma and co. as India’s balancing act in UAE does come as a major setback.
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