Thumping wins, firing middle order, fiery pace pack, positives aplenty for India to count in Asia Cup triumph

As Rohit Sharma sat down for the press conference grinning from ear to ear, the sound of the fireworks and crackers pounded the air. The noise was so loud that it prompted the Indian captain to pause for a moment. In his typical tongue in cheek style, he would say: “Ye sab World Cup jeetne khe bhaat phodo yaar,” filling the room with laughter. If anyone had doubts about this team, over the past week, India addressed each of those. Moreover, the performance in the Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka was so ruthless that, it only seems natural that Rohit has target-locked the World Cup that begins in a fortnight at home.

When India arrived in Sri Lanka, they had plenty of riddles to solve. With only a month to go for the World Cup, they appeared a side that was yet to figure out their best combination. They had among them batsmen whose form was yet to be ascertained. There were those that were returning from injuries.

However, for the first time in more than a year, India had a full-strength squad at their disposal. Despite not so convincing group matches against Pakistan and Nepal in Pallekele, they managed to regroup and wear the game mask that Rohit has been demanding for long. Against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Colombo, they showed all signs of peaking at the right time.

On Sunday, their performance was so clinical and ruthless that they wrapped home their eighth Asia Cup title in only 21.3 overs, bowling out for Sri Lanka for a paltry 50 in 15.2 overs before chasing it down in 6.1 overs. After their biggest margin of victory (228 runs) in terms of runs, in less than a week, they have posted their biggest margin of win in terms of balls remaining (263).

India desperately needed such performances to lift their morale before the World Cup. Of course there is no guarantee that this triumph would translate to success at the World Cup, but they tend to act as a catalyst for bigger things. “It gives us a lot of confidence to come here and win a tournament like this. At various stages of the tournament, we were challenged in different parts of the game and we pretty much stood up to those challenges,” he said.

He brooded on the positives. “On various conditions and on various bowling types, we did well. We can take a lot of positives from the tournament. Not just one or two players, but the whole team. Whoever got an opportunity, they did their job,” Rohit said.

Middle-order settling

While the win on Sunday was resounding, in the two high-pressure matches against Pakistan, India’s middle-order wore a settled look. If Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya managed to power them to a par total overcoming a rough start, in the second match their top-order showed they can bat in different gear. “Some of our batters actually batted under pressure. In the first game Pakistan, four down for nothing, two guys stood up for us. Hardik (Pandya) and Ishan (Kishan) batted brilliantly and that was a big positive because we wanted the middle order to get in and take the pressure and bat the way they wanted,” Rohit explained.

Even KL Rahul, who returned to the team after a four-month lay-off due to injury, showed why India need him in the middle-order, where he is emerging as a force to be reckoned with. Even with the keeping gloves, Rahul’s movements behind the wicket were exceptional. He has become a reliable sounding board of sorts for the spinners too. “For KL (Rahul) to score that century…it is so tough to come in and play the way he did. We told him only five minutes before the game and to get a hundred, showed the quality of the player he is and how mentally he is ready for the challenge,” Rohit said.

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Having chosen to bench Mohammed Shami in search of batting depth, India’s bowling unit once again delivered as a pack. Over the years this attack has shown its ability to strike in partnerships. Although the story was no different here, from a bigger picture, Jasprit Bumrah’s aggression and sharpness are most encouraging. In the three matches in Colombo, Bumrah was precise with his line and length, showing impeccable control with the new ball and striking key blows. Sans an out-and-out pacer in the middle-overs, Kuldeep Yadav showed how much he has evolved into a lead spinner, picking five wickets against Pakistan before following it up with a four-fer and walking away with the Man of the Series award.

Rohit praised him. “When we bring Kuldeep under pressure, he delivers. His confidence goes up every time he bowls. When you get a bowler like him in the team, it’s great. When I see bowlers bowl like this, I get a lot of satisfaction,” he said.

The multifaceted nature of the attacks bodes well for the captain. “All the five bowlers have a lot of variation. When you get all this as a captain you feel confident. We have that variety in this squad,” Rohit said.

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