With India needing six runs off the last over to win the 2018 Asia Cup final, millions were watching the events unfold. It was a scenario that had seemed improbable before the start of the game but thanks to a gritty bowling effort by Bangladesh, the match had turned out to be anything but the damp squib that some feared it might be.

In the end, the tournament witnessed a finale to remember as India managed to limp across the finish line, pun intended.

Mahmudullah couldn’t prevent Kedar Jadhav, suffering from a hamstring injury, from hitting the winning runs on one good leg for the second time in the space of few months. Rohit Sharma was the captain at the receiving end in that IPL 2018 thriller, but on Friday night in Dubai, he was receiving Jadhav back across the boundary rope with the warmest of hugs.

The little man from Pune had done it again.

But this was a win, deserving as it was, that India earned despite of their middle order wobbles.

No middle order redemption

Rohit Sharma said before the tournament:

“Going forward we want everything to be settled, but it gives an opportunity to the guys to come and play the cricket they like to play and seal the spot. Nos. 3 [for this tournament], 4, 6 are all up for grabs. All these guys are eyeing that. Obviously, we want to give as many chances as possible to the guys to make sure the No.4 and 6 spot is sealed.   

Rohit Sharma had this to say after the tournament:

“As far as batting is concerned, our middle order didn’t get enough chance to bat because top order batsmen batted more in tournament. But whenever they got a chance, they showed signs of handling pressure really well.”

The comment after the final, made in the euphoria of winning the title, feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy (and an attempt to paper over the cracks) because the final was not a case of the players in the middle order making the most of their opportunity.

Ambati Rayudu came and went, failing to get settled after India lost Shikhar Dhawan early. Dinesh Karthik looked edgy throughout his stay in the middle, never really giving the impression that he was under control. And MS Dhoni, after briefly showing signs of being back to his composed self in a tricky run-chase, gave his wicket away during a period of commotion caused by Jadhav’s injury troubles.

In fact, the moment Rohit got dismissed on 48, you could sense the intensity build from Bangladesh because they knew this Indian middle order was there for the taking.

While Jadhav eventually scored the winning runs, it was his grit and will to succeed married with the circumstance of returning from the pavilion late in the innings that made it happen. A plucky little cameo that deserves applause. It was not exactly the case of a middle order batsman playing smart cricket to take his side home comfortably. Truth be told, a target of 223 against a Bangladesh bowling attack without Shakib al Hasan should not have been this difficult to achieve for an Indian side with lofty ambitions of winning the World Cup next year.

Exemplary comeback

In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, the bowlers’ performance to restrict Bangladesh to 222 deserves a lot more column inches on the morning after, compared to the late batting heroics. Indeed, from 116/0 at the end of 20 overs, to bowl out Bangladesh for 222 in 48.5 — 106 runs in 28.5 overs to dismiss 10 batsmen — is why India ended up on the winning side when the top three contributed just 65 runs.

Bangladesh started off the final in fabulous style, with Liton Das choosing the big stage to announce his arrival as an opener. While Mehidy Hasan’s promotion as an opener didn’t really upset the Indian bowlers’ rhythm, it was Das who took the attack to Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar early on. For the first 20 overs of this final, India were firmly on the backfoot.

But to Rohit’s credit as the captain, he never looked to be out of sorts or lost for ideas. He shuffled his bowlers around in the first 20 overs and when it didn’t pay off, brought on Jadhav in the 21st over to initiate the slide for Bangladesh.

Once the first couple of wickets fell and then Mushfiqur Rahim fell into Jadhav’s trap, India did not let Bangladesh off the hook. Backed up by some sharp fielding and Dhoni’s masterful glove-work, Kuldeep and Chahal started working their middle overs magic while Jadhav and Jadeja kept things tight.

And it was once again Bumrah who came back at the death to provide the finishing touch. He finished the Asia Cup with extraordinary death bowling numbers in the four matches he played: 9.5-0-29-7.

And did not concede a single boundary in those 9.5 overs.

Bumrah's death over magic

Opponent Bowling figures between overs 40 to 50
Pakistan (Group stage) 1.1 overs, 2 runs, 2 wickets 
Bangladesh (Super Four) 2.1 overs, 6 runs, 2 wickets 
Pakistan (Super Four) 4 overs, 15 runs, 2 wickets 
Bangladesh (Final) 2.3 overs, 6 runs, 1 wicket 

It was fitting then that the Bangladesh innings ended with a yorker from Bumrah — India’s best bowler in the tournament, while the Indian innings ended with a heroic single off the legs of Jadhav — the bowler who ignited Bangladesh’s collapse earlier. With Bhuvneshwar and Kuldeep’s crucial cameos ensuring that India did not suffer an upset defeat, in more ways than one, Rohit had his bowlers to thank for as he lifted his first major trophy as India captain.