Sri Lanka top the Super four group in Asia Cup 2022. Pakistan are second and that means, India are eliminated from the competition. It is a weird statement to read but if you have conjured up the bravery to watch this year’s competition, India well and truly deserve the elimination. Their inability to conquer Asia has posed several questions in the minds of fans.
But do the management have similar fears and questions on their mind? While it is hard to judge it from the face of the cool and composed Rahul Dravid, Indian skipper Rohit Sharma at the press-conference post the Sri Lanka defeat gave a definitive answer.
India have a lot of questions that need an answer to and while the Asia Cup did provide some context to it, that was about it.
Monkey off Virat Kohli’s back
This was a dilemma that was bothering India for the longest time. In the past two years, Kohli has been in and out of the T20 squad, with plenty of breaks in between but that did not subside the questions over his form. His form was at an all-time low, his batting over the past two years in the Indian Premier League did not warrant a case for him either.
Even when the management were never in doubt over Kohli’s skillset, it would have been a brave call to have him in the playing XI Down Under in this form. So, in that sense, this Asia Cup was a true litmus test: whether Kohli could adapt himself to the fast-paced nature of the game. The answer in simple terms: overwhelming yes.
Kohli’s form arguably also solves one of India’s bigger problems, run-rate during the middle-over phase. In overs 7-15, the 33-year-old averaged a staggering 113, scoring a strike-rate of 127, with 38.9% of his runs in boundaries. While they aren’t staggering numbers, it sure enough provided a platform for the middle-order to take advantage of.
India’s middle-order during the tournament, struck at 141.7 whilst still averaging 28.9, with 5.5 balls/boundary, the best ratio across the board. In short, Kohli’s form enabled the middle-order in more games than not, which is a good sign for India, considering his form was a big dilemma that they faced.
The Ravi Bishnoi question?
Someone needs to take that up, don’t they? KL Rahul did take up the question in the aftermath of the tournament, stating “He is a very promising youngster, he has been with the team, that only means that the team believes in his talent. Having said that, he has to wait for his opportunity.”
Bishnoi played just the one game in the tournament, where he ended with figures of 1/26, against Pakistan, with an economy of 6.5 with the ball. Prior to that encounter, Bishnoi over his short T20I career had shown that he has the skillset and temperament to succeed at the highest level, which was visible against the West Indies.
In ten T20Is, Bishnoi averages 17.1 with the bat, picking up 16 wickets at 7.1 RPO. India’s third-spinner question is definitely an interesting one, especially after injury to Ravindra Jadeja. That is where Ravichandran Ashwin walked into the picture but his performance with the ball was far from convincing. That is where the Bishnoi question lies, would India believe in his abilities purely as a bowler or are they looking at Ashwin, the package?
India’s pace-depth and combination
India’s combination prior to the Asia Cup was the four seamer and two spinner balance. It is perhaps a combination that they are also expected to take into the T20 World Cup in Australia but Rohit’s intent was always to find a different combination.
"I always wanted to try and find answers to what happens if you play with three seamers and two spinners, and the third spinner being an all-rounder. This was missing in our books; we'd never tried that combination. We wanted to try and see what happens here as well,” said Rohit.
Hardik Pandya as a third pacer was a big struggle. Barring the short-ball barrage-a-thon against Pakistan, Pandya suffered being the third seamer, with figures of 1/79 in eight overs. Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan – were tried out during the event but were they really convincing?
Arshdeep averaged 30.2 with the ball, picking up five wickets, conceding runs at 8.6 RPO. Whilst his numbers are outstanding during his first spell, where he averages 18.5 at 5.3 RPO, in his later spells, he has been a train-wreck. 13.2, 8.7 and 9 in his second, third and the fourth over is exactly what will be worrying the management.
On the other hand, Avesh never took off, before his tournament ended abruptly due to illness. His average in the tournament read: 36, at an economy rate of 12. He was all over the place, and he was one pacer that India desperately needed to perform well. So, this tournament really has only left India with more questions on their pace depth.
Several names have popped up since then, including a return for Mohammed Shami but it is a direction that India should not head. What about the likes of Mohsin Khan, Deepak Chahar, Umran Malik and Chetan Sakariya? That makes for an interesting debate.
Rishabh Pant and the left-hander worry
It all comes back to Ravindra Jadeja’s injury, doesn’t it? Jadeja is a left-hander, a sixth-bowling option and a glue essentially to India’s T20 plans. But his injury resulted in a hara-kiri for the management. Deepak Hooda was picked in the XI, Dinesh Karthik was dropped. Axar Patel was roped in but only played one game and Pant was backed throughout the tournament. Is having a left-hander in the setup that big a necessity?
In the Middle East and in the sub-continent, yes, owing to the shorter boundaries on one side. However, in Australia where the boundaries are huge, it might not make that big a case. That isn’t the only reason to pick a left-hander in the setup, it is also to accommodate this overused word in T20s – match-ups.
Against left-arm orthodox and leg-spinners in Asia Cup, Pant struck at just 60 and 92.9. Over the last two years too, Pant’s numbers against favourable bowling types is underwhelming – 103.5 SR against leggies and 100 against orthodox spinners. That poses the question, do India really need a left-hander just for the sake of it?
Suryakumar Yadav’s scintillating numbers against leg-spin could very well be India’s solution to the left-right conundrum. More than anything, even Karthik, who isn’t the best player of spin, has better numbers against the bowling types than Pant. Should Pant feature in the scheme of things, just because he is a left-hander?