If there is one T20 tournament that the current India cricketers would like to wipe from their memory, it is the 2021 World Cup. Tipped as one of the early favourites for the event, the Men in Blue had a forgettable outing.
From the Indian cricket board’s scheduling to the team’s preparation, the script went awry in the UAE. They were caught napping in their first two games, surprised by the strategy and aggression of Pakistan and New Zealand, and were given no chance of making a comeback in the tournament.
The poor performance didn’t come as a surprise though. The second leg of the IPL was held just before the World Cup and the squad had only got together as a team less than 10 days before their opening game (the IPL final was played on Oct 15 and India played Pakistan on October 24).
As India look to make amends for last year’s debacle at next month’s event to be played in Australia, at least the lead up to the tournament seems to be better planned.
And with that in mind, there’s nothing better than getting some tough matches under the belt. Instead of the average competition level of the IPL that they had last time, the Indian side have faced a tough challenge at the Asia Cup.
The morale of the players would have taken a bit of a hit after the defeats in the UAE in the continental tournament, but sometimes defeat can teach you more than victory.
“It’s been a good tournament, if you look at the matches it’s good for us to be playing strong teams like this heading into the World Cup,” pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar said at the end of their campaign.
A fine run of results in the recent bilateral series, against South Africa, England and West Indies had clearly led to a false sense of confidence, which, one might argue, has got punctured at the right time. The defeats in Dubai have handed them a reality check, their chinks have been exposed. They would know exactly the areas they need to step up to compete against world-class oppositions.
For former India captain, Dilip Vengsarkar, India got another reminder of how unpredictable the format is. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day. “I hope India does very well at the World Cup but in the T20 format, you can’t underestimate even Afghanistan as Sri Lanka showed (at the Asia Cup),” said Vengsarkar.
“Tough matches help. That is why I am happy that India is playing against Australia and South Africa before the tournament. It is going to be good practice for them,” he added.
By analysing why Sri Lanka and Pakistan went all the way to the final, one can learn a lot. Lanka’s template is worth following while Pakistan again showed why attacking fast bowlers are such a prized commodity even in the T20 format.
In batting, India’s top-order did a good job just like Lanka with Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in their element. The difference proved to be the two teams’ middle-order. Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Dasun Shanaka played pivotal roles at No 5 and 6. Bhanuka was the main difference as a finisher. India were banking on Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and Deepak Hooda to fill that role. All three couldn’t match up to Bhanuka’s impact. Dinesh Karthik was also an option but didn’t get the chances he needed. India’s best bets to play the impact role in the middle-order at the World Cup will be Pandya and Karthik. Pandya had an excellent run in the bilateral series leading up to the Asia Cup.
RELIANCE ON BUMRAH
While India coach Rahul Dravid expressed satisfaction at the pace bowling talent at his disposal during the tournament, Pakistan showed how their breed of fast bowlers remains everyone’s envy. Naseem Shah & Co were expensive but lethal even with the white ball when they made the ball move at high pace.
In the big matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it was the inability of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya and Arshdeep Singh’s to provide breakthroughs that cost India. Having failed to defend totals of 180 and 170 plus, shows how India will be heavily reliant on Jasprit Bumrah at the World Cup.
In the Asia Cup, the way Haris Rauf supported his new-ball attack with his bowing in the middle-overs helped Pakistan build the pressure and gave them the edge.
India tried to use Pandya in a similar role as Haris but with limited success. Pandya surprised Pakistan in their opening match with good use of the short ball, but once his tactics were understood both Pakistan and Sri Lanka batters were better prepared against him in the league matches. It was a lesson for captain Rohit Sharma on how Pandya might be best suited to the role of a surprise weapon, unlike Harris Rauf who has the skill to operate at any stage of the match. Rauf was the star for Pakistan with eight wickets in six innings at an economy rate of 7.65.
There is a fear that Bumrah may not have adequate support at the World Cup. Vengsarkar, who has also served as a selection committee chief, feels India missed a trick by not picking attacking bowlers like Umran Malik and Mohammed Shami in the World Cup squad. “Definitely, you have to learn from your mistakes, but if you continue in the same vein, it doesn’t help the team and players at all. I would have included Shami and Malik in the squad. And one of either Shreyas Iyer or Shubman Gill. You have to think out of the box, you can’t just go with the flow; you can’t have run of the mill (selection). There has to be an element in the team who could be a match-winner. I don’t see anything like that in this (team selection), the rest of the team is fine,” said Vengsarkar.
Shami has been picked for the South Africa and Australia series but is among the reserves for the World Cup.
Someone once said, ‘When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, and rebuild those plans.’ The results at the Asia Cup are no less than an invitation for India to do just that.