“We were hoping for something much more competitive in the final, but we will take this win.“ KL Rahul after India’s 10-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final.
The statement wasn’t a cocky proclamation from an uber-confident athlete. It was but a mere summary of how the Indian team had anticipated the threat that a team like Sri Lanka still possessed despite the absence of their five first-choice players for the title clash.
It was a subtle acknowledgement of the respect India have for their opponents, who endured one of their worst days in cricket history, and that too in the final of a continental tournament.
It was also a reflection of how far the Indian team has come in answering questions surrounding the fitness issues of their several first-choice stars, the middle-order muddle, and a perceived lack of batting depth with the ODI World Cup just a few weeks away.
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In a sentence, Rahul summarised India’s journey in the Asia Cup, which began with a dramatic top-order collapse against Pakistan and ended with a sensational demolition of Sri Lanka in the finale—a shaky start culminating in a resounding finish.
So have India checked all the boxes? Are they fully prepared to launch a bid for a third ODI World Cup title? Is cricket coming home after 12 years?
News18 takes a look at what the Indian team achieved in Sri Lanka.
Bumrah is Back
14 July 2022 The date when Bumrah last played an ODI
25 September 2022. The date on which Bumrah last played a competitive match was a T20I against Australia.
What followed were multiple attempts at comebacks, hoping that the back issue had subsided. Several big tournaments were missed, and surgery was necessary to deal with the issue. He returned through a three-match T20I series in August, which paved the way for an Asia Cup comeback.
He didn’t set the tournament ablaze but did enough to show that he’s still the bowler that made him a batter’s worst nightmare. Pakistan batters will testify. As will Sri Lankan batters. The doubts over him losing pace and sharpness have been cleared. A fit and hungrier Bumrah is ready to lead the attack.
Rahul Settles the Debate
A few weeks back, before the Asia Cup 2023 was to get underway, Rahul was at the centre of discussions in perhaps every nook and cranny, with the cricket fever gripping India, a country that never seems to get enough of it. He had picked up a niggle during the team’s preparatory camp in Alur (Karnataka), which meant staying back in the country and not flying with the team to Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup.
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The setback was the latest in Rahul’s recovery from a surgery he underwent earlier this year. His return to full fitness and form was crucial to India considering he will bat at the dreaded No. 4 spot, which is often blamed for their failure in the 2019 ODI World Cup, but also double up as the wicketkeeper with Rishabh Pant missing out.
A smiling Rahul on Sunday was more than happy to proclaim, ‘He has ticked a lot of boxes’. Indeed, he has.
A sublime century from No. 4 against Pakistan in a Super 4 clash in what was his first competitive match in months and an impressive show behind the stumps must have turned the frown upside down on Indian team management’s face.
Rahul is fit and raring to go.
‘Freak’ Gill is Back in Form
‘He’s a batting freak’.
India captain Rohit Sharma couldn’t have better described the talents of Shubman Gill. After managing one half-century in seven innings, Gill roared back into form in Sri Lanka, with his best effort coming in a defeat to Bangladesh.
It was an inning that showed the youngster is maturing fast and can adjust his game according to the conditions and situation. On a slow surface against Bangladesh, he used his feet effectively to produce a century-oozing class when every other Indian batter struggled.
No wonder Gill finished as the tournament’s leading run-getter, ahead of established stars like Virat Kohli and Babar Azam.
With the pitches expected to get slower as the ODI World Cup progresses, Gill has shown he can rise up to the challenge.
Kuldeep Yadav is one player whose career has witnessed a dramatic turnaround in the space of two years. A knee injury and not managing a single appearance during IPL 2021 were perhaps his lowest phases before the transformation began.
The result? He’s India’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs this year, with 31 scalps from just 16 matches.
Remodelling action to ensure less stress on the knee, he changed his approach to the crease (a much straighter run-up) and went for an aggressive rhythm. In six-seven months, he had aced the new action.
4/6 in 3 overs vs. the West Indies. 5/25 vs. Pakistan 4/43 vs. Sri Lanka. These performances have come within two months of Kuldeep. The five-for-five against Pakistan was Kuldeep at his best as he bamboozled batters with flight, drift, and spin.
With the World Cup to be played on Indian pitches, Kuldeep will have a vital role to play as the lead specialist spinner. A player-of-the-series award augurs well.
Another bowler who has shown marked improvement is Mohammed Siraj. He’s already a world-class fast bowler in red-ball cricket, but plenty of work has been done behind the scenes, which is now reflecting on his performances for India in limited overs.
That Sunday’s final turned into a blink-and-miss affair was singlehandedly engineered by Siraj, who exploited the conditions well and showed immense skills to continuously pitch in the right areas, leaving Sri Lanka batters in a haze with a flurry of outswingers. 6/21 from seven overs, with four of them taken in a single over, left the Lankan team in a deep shock, from which a recovery was nigh.
Oh, and there’s the small fact that Mohammed Shami, one of the finest fast bowlers of the modern era, played only one match and that too was a dead rubber. Pushing someone of Shami’s calibre to the bench and ensuring the status quo remains takes some doing. Siraj did much more with that spell from hell.
The Iyer Question
Like Rahul, Shreyas Iyer too made his injury comeback through the Asia Cup. Iyer was a step ahead of his teammate after Rahul picked up a niggle.
As Rahul recuperated back home, Iyer made his international return against Pakistan in what was India’s opening clash. Pakistan knew his apparent weakness against the short delivery, and one was served.
Iyer obliged and connected it too well, but it was his ill-luck that it found a fielder as he walked back cheaply with his team struggling.
He played in the second match too but wasn’t needed to bat as the openers secured a comfortable win over Nepal.
Things took a dramatic turn. He complained of back spasms, and minutes before the toss against Pakistan in the second round, Rahul was inserted into the playing XI. The rest is history.
Both Rahul and Ishan have done enough to warrant a longer run now in the middle order, and Iyer, even if he gets to full fitness, will have to wait his turn now.
India, though, have another injury issue now: all-allrounder Axar Patel missed the final with a quadriceps tear and will also sit out of the first two matches of a three-match series against Australia starting later this week.
All in all, all their batters are in form, the seam bowling has been impressive, and the spin department looks healthy too, but fitness issues, especially for Axar, remain a worry.