India’s title-winning campaign at the Asia Cup 2023 showcased their dominance among the subcontinental cricketing giants but it also ensured they were left with fewer creases to iron out ahead of the ICC Men’s World Cup starting next month.
After months of uncertainty, unavailability of some top players and several boxes unticked, Rohit Sharma and Co can finally step into the mega-event at home as one of the more confident sides.
Although the eventual champions were tested at various stages during the course of the Asia Cup, India can heave a sigh of relief, knowing that their key players looked in good touch with many others stepping up during in the six One-Day Internationals they played during the tournament.
In contrast, the other subcontinental contenders – Pakistan and Sri Lanka – were left with more questions than answers. The risk of exhausting or testing players in a high-stakes event so close to the World Cup always existed but Pakistan, in particular, suffered the most.
Pacer Haris Rauf picked up an injury during the Super Four match against India and did not feature in the tournament again. In the same match, fellow pacer Naseem Shah suffered a shoulder injury and is now doubtful for the World Cup.
Sri Lanka, who were already playing the tournament with most of their primary players out with injury, not only received a brutal reality check in the final and a major dent to their confidence, but also lost off-spinner Maheesh Theekshana.
India, meanwhile, find themselves in a better position with the cushion of the upcoming ODI series against Australia – set to begin on September 22 – to tick the remaining boxes and fill in any gaps.
Pace battery, the biggest positive
During the upcoming series, the men in blue will look to further strengthen their pace bowling which was their biggest positive from the Asia Cup.
In Sri Lanka, their initial plans against Nepal looked wayward and undercooked but as the tournament progressed, the pace battery also found its rhythm. Barring the match against Bangladesh where Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj did not feature, India’s pace bowling was spot on.
Bumrah looked comfortable on his return to the format and Siraj looked like a bowler capable of holding fort single-handedly, yet again.
Following Siraj’s six-for in the Asia Cup final, skipper Sharma said, “When I see bowlers like this bowl like this, I get a lot of satisfaction.
“I think fast bowling is something captains take a lot of pride in. In fact, all the five bowlers have a lot of skill-set and variation. When you get all this as a captain, you feel confident,” he added.
Able support for Kuldeep needed
Meanwhile, left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav also came into his own, picking up nine wickets in five matches including a four-for and a five-for.
Ravindra Jadeja had a below-par outing with the ball considering the spin-friendly tracks in Sri Lanka, picking up six wickets in six matches.
All eyes will be on him in the home-series against Australia, with back-up-option Axar Patel injured.
Since Yadav has been rested for the first two ODIs, it is a chance for others to step up. With R Ashwin back in the mix, things are bound to get interesting in the race for the final squad for the World Cup.
Batting line-up clarity
India’s middle-order also saw some respite as KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan played at least one standout innings each. Shreyas Iyer’s injury meant that there will still be some uncertainty over who really makes it to the Playing XI for the World Cup. He would be hoping to be fully fit and get back on track against Australia.
So far, Rahul’s century against Pakistan built a solid case for him and Kishan’s run in the format off-late also puts him up in the pecking order. Against Australia, the questions around India’s middle order will likely be put to rest once and for all.
The highlight for India’s batting line-up remained opener Shubman Gill’s form. With 302 runs in six matches at an average of 75.50 and with over 1000 ODI runs behind him this year, the 24-year-old will be the batter to watch out for.
Seniors Sharma and Virat Kohli both showed glimpses of brilliance in Sri Lanka but against Australia’s quality bowling attack, they will be hoping to be at their fluent best.
As if India’s confusion over whom to place higher in the pecking order wasn’t enough, India’s bench strength will be tested in the ODIs with some more options knocking on the door.
Schedule for Australia’s tour of India
India vs Australia at Mohali - September 22, 2023
India vs Australia at Indore - September 24, 2023
India vs Australia at Rajkot - September 27, 2023