India cool under pressure, MS Dhoni still key and Ravindra Jadeja puts hand up: takeaways from Asia Cup
Here is a look at what the management of the victorious Indian team must factor in for future competitions
India have made a habit of confounding expectations this year.
Shortly after losing the Test series in South Africa, they bounced back to clobber the Proteas in the one-dayers. They were convincingly beaten by England in the Tests even though they were heavily fancied to win last month. And just days after arriving in the UAE - perhaps with their tail between their legs - the team rebounded again by defending the Asia Cup crown on Friday.
Changes in personnel have helped, of course, but so has a change in formats. Let’s face it: India may be ‘lions at home, lambs abroad’ when it comes to Test matches, but they are a very good 50-overs side anywhere in the world – despite their 2-1 ODI series defeat in England.
This Indian team continue to be contenders for the 2019 World Cup in the United Kingdom, but less than a year before cricket’s flagship competition gets under way, the management will be cognisant of their strengths and weaknesses.
Cool in crunch moments
At the Asia Cup, India found a way to not lose. They surprisingly dominated both their games against arch-rivals Pakistan, and dealt with Bangladesh in severe fashion in their Super Four fixture.
But they found it difficult to beat Bangladesh in the final. They also faced the prospect of an upset at the hands of Hong Kong in their opening game. And who can forget the tie against Afghanistan?
But the upside is India could have lost any of those games, and yet they didn't.
Against Hong Kong, India did the sensible thing by bowling with control against openers Nizakat Khan (92) and Anshuman Rath (73), who put on a 174-run partnership. And once they both fell, it was just a question of sustaining the pressure and waiting for the lesser batsmen to make mistakes, which they did, as Hong Kong came up short in the run chase.
India made heavy weather of the game against Afghanistan, especially after the 110-run opening stand between Ambati Rayudu and Lokesh Rahul. But towards the end of their chase, it looked like Rashid Khan and Co would pull off the unexpected. Still Ravindra Jadeja managed to save India the blushes.
The final, too, would have seen a different result had the Bangladesh batsmen batted more sensibly after a 120-run first-wicket partnership between Liton Das and Mehidy Hasan. But they panicked and collapsed to 222. And while the eventual champions struggled in their run chase, an injured Kedar Jadhav guided India to a last-ball win.
It shows India can deliver under pressure.
Middle-order woes continue
India’s biggest problem since the 2015 World Cup has been a lack of stability in the middle order. Three years later, little has changed.
Granted Manish Pandey has failed after being persisted with, but how Dinesh Karthik continues to bat at No 4 remains a mystery. This despite Rahul being left on the bench for all the matches except the dead rubber against Afghanistan.
But with Rayudu having shown versatility by batting brilliantly at No 3 throughout the tournament – and even opening against the Afghans – he could slot in at No 4 once captain Virat Kohli returns to his No 3 position.
Dhoni still key to ODI side
MS Dhoni’s indifferent form with the bat will be a cause for concern.
The last time he crossed the half-century mark was last December, and his strike-rate since then has been fair to middling with a few exceptions. Yet, the wealth of experience – he has played in 327 ODIs is a World Cup-winning captain – Dhoni brings to the side continues to make him an asset.
Dhoni, 37, also gave sound advice to stand-in captain Rohit Sharma and the bowlers from behind the stumps on many occasions. There is little doubt his tactician’s mind will come in handy during the World Cup.
Space for two all-rounders
Jadeja’s success with bat, ball and on the field gives the Indian selectors a happy headache. Does he make way for seam-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya at No 7 once the latter is fit again, or does he keep him out of the XI?
What the management could consider is finding places for both players. Sadly, it will have to come at the expense of one of the two spinners – Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal.
After all, Jadeja is a specialist spinner himself and in England’s conditions, three specialist spinners will be surplus to requirements.
Updated: September 30, 2018 08:55 PM