India’s Asia Cup 2022 campaign is over, and it was a disappointing one for the defending champions. After starting the tournament as favourites and with two strong wins in the group stage, India suffered back-to-back losses in the Super 4 stage to be knocked out of reckoning.
While it might not have been the ideal campaign for the Men in Blue, there were plenty of talking points. And, being just a month away from the T20I World Cup, we look in this article at a few important factors which the team should address before heading to the World Cup.
The biggest takeaway for Team India from the 2022 Asia Cup has to be the fact that their talisman batter, Virat Kohli, has regained his old form.
Kohli finished the tournament with 276 runs and a stunning Average of 92, having produced two fifties and one long-awaited hundred. Heading into the Asia Cup, Kohli’s previous five T20I scores were 2*, 17, 52, 1 and 11; that’s 83 runs at an Average of 16.6, which just isn’t something one normally associates with him.
Kohli’s form has been a major talking point recently, and low scores in last year’s T20I World Cup as well as a poor IPL outing this year raised questions about whether he should be in the team at all. Heading into the Asia Cup, Kohli even took a month-long break to recharge his batteries, which seems to have done the trick.
While it would be wrong to say that Kohli hasn’t scored at all during the COVID pandemic era (85 vs Australia in December 2020, 73* v England in March 2021, 77* v England in Mar 2021 and 57 v Pakistan in October 2021 are but a few examples), one can easily say that it wasn’t a fluent Kohli. The former India skipper himself stated that, during his lean period between 2020 and 2022, he was trying to do things that weren’t a part of his game and has even spoken about the importance of mental health during this time and how that affected him.
During his lean patch, even through the low scores, one could see patches of brilliance from Kohli, but it seemed like the Indian superstar just needed a break. He has more or less been playing continuously at the international or franchise level since 2011 without any break. It was only natural that he needed to switch off for a while in order to continue performing at his best.
After the break he took before the Asia Cup, Kohli has looked rejuvenated and seems to be enjoying his game a lot more. Issues with captaincy also didn’t help the star batter during his tough period, but now, with Kohli looking like he is regaining that old form which made him one of the finest to have ever played the game, things look promising India.
The timing couldn’t be better as well: India have two home series left before they head to Australia for the World Cup, and Kohli returning back to form will help them check a lot of boxes. His return to form will also take the pressure off the openers and middle order behind him.
India might not have made it to the final of the 2022 Asia Cup, but their biggest positive from the tournament has to be the return to form of their star batter.
Another positive for India from their otherwise-underwhelming 2022 Asia Cup campaign was certainly the emergence of the young Arshdeep Singh.
After an impressive IPL season earlier this year, the young left-arm seamer was called up for the England tour in July. Singh impressed on his debut and earned a place in the squad for the West Indies tour, where he further made his name as a death-overs specialist. With the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel not in the squad, the Asia Cup was Arshdeep’s chance to make a case for himself and book a possible ticket for the World Cup later this year. While he might not have single-handedly won a match for India, Arshdeep certainly showed that he has the skills and temperament to perform at the highest level.
Team India captain Rohit Sharma went to Arshdeep twice, against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, in the last over of both the games as they went down to the wire, and while Arshdeep couldn’t defend the scores of seven in either game, he did show enough glimpses to prove that he belongs at the highest level.
For far too long, India have been searching for a left-arm seamer, and while the likes of Khaleel Ahmed and T Natarajan have come and gone, the search still goes on. In Arshdeep, India finally seem to have found an answer. The shortest format of the game seems to be suited to perfection for the left-armer, and his inch-perfect yorkers at the death are probably exactly what the team have been looking for given that their death-over Economy Rate in T20Is has been alarmingly high.
While Bumrah, Harshal Patel and Bhuvneshwar Kumar seem certain to be on the plane to Australia for the World Cup, Arshdeep Singh has done his chances no harm with a strong showing at the 2022 Asia Cup.
Where’s the XI?
One of the biggest issues which should worry the Indian cricket team is the fact that even though there are only a handful of matches left before the World Cup gets underway, it looks like the management still hasn’t figured out a starting XI for the World Cup.
While the top three look certain, with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli, the middle order still isn’t finalised, and Ravindra Jadeja’s injury has further put a spanner in the works. Jadeja was used up the order, being a left-hander and someone who could bowl, which allowed Dinesh Karthik to be used as a specialist finisher. Jadeja’s injury forced Deepak Hooda into the squad, and while Hooda did not bowl, it also meant Karthik lost his spot.
Not only is there no clarity over the roles in the middle order, the bowling line-up doesn’t seem to be certain either. While Hardik Pandya’s return to bowling has allowed India to play two spinners and two seamers, it isn’t clear who the first-choice spinners are. Yuzvendra Chahal seems to be one option, while Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi seem to be fighting out for the other spot. Playing two spinners in Australia, however, will be a bold move.
With only the home series of Australia and South Africa left before the World Cup, the management and captain Rohit Sharma would need to finalise their starting XI soon to give the players ample time to get used to their respective roles.
The opening combination for Team India is more or less certain, yet there still remain a few doubts over it. While captain Rohit Sharma is a lock-in, his partner and deputy KL Rahul has had a tough couple of games. Coming back from injury, Rahul had a poor outing against Zimbabwe before the Asia Cup, where he once again had a mediocre campaign by his high standards.
Rahul managed 132 runs at an Average of 26.40, with only one fifty and a Strike Rate of 122. He failed during the key clashes against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and his relatively slow Strike Rate has been putting a lot of pressure not only on himself but his partner(s) at the other end as well.
While Rahul is most certain to start the World Cup with Rohit Sharma, India do have another option should Rahul’s lean patch continue.
During India’s final game of the Asia Cup, captain Rohit Sharma rested himself, which saw Virat Kohli open the innings. This wasn’t the first time Kohli opened the innings though, and the superstar batter duly showed his class. He scored a stunning 122* and raised the question whether it should be Rahul or himself opening with Sharma.
Given that Kohli seems to have found his mojo, offering the management an extra opening option, this could be something to look at should Rahul struggle in Australia as well.
The Rishabh Pant conundrum
One of the major headaches for the Team India management and captain before the T20I World Cup will be the matter of the wicket-keeper.
India started their Asia Cup 2022 campaign against Pakistan with Dinesh Karthik as the wicket-keeper, while Rishabh Pant didn’t find a spot in the playing XI. Pant then returned for the second game against Hong Kong and was behind the stumps, while Kathik played as a specialist batter. Ravindra Jadeja’s injury turned the whole thing upside down, however, and, in an attempt to accommodate a player who could bowl to replace Jadeja, India brought in Deepak Hooda for Karthik, which was a bit surprising given that India had been using Axar Patel as Jadeja’s replacement whenever he didn’t play. While Hooda didn’t bowl against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he did roll his arm over in India’s final game against Afghanistan, where Dinesh Karthik played as well and got an over to bowl himself.
The main issue here, though, isn’t Hooda or Karthik bowling; it’s Rishabh Pant. As good as the young southpaw has been in Tests and ODIs for India, Pant’s T20I numbers are shockingly underwhelming. He is Averaging a low 23 in the game’s shortest format, and a Strike Rate of 126.21 doesn’t help his case either.
Pant’s Asia Cup 2022 scores were nothing extraordinary. With returns of 14, 17 and 20, his place has been put under scrutiny, With Karthik being labelled as the finisher and a player India missed especially in the two crucial losses against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Super 4 stage, the team management may need to make a tough call heading into the T20I World Cup.
Karthik is a more-than-handy wicket-keeper, and his recent form as a finisher warrants his inclusion in the starting XI. Him filling in as a finisher and keeper also opens up another spot for the team management to play an extra all-rounder, batter or bowler.
Where’s the pace?
With Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel injured, India went into the Asia Cup with three seamers and Hardik Pandya as the extra option.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was a certainty alongside Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan, but he fell ill midway through the tournament, making the Indian pace-bowling options look severely depleted. While Deepak Chahar was brought in as Avesh Khan’s replacement, it was too late.
Kumar had a decent tournament and was the highest-wicket taker; a reliable option for the captain. His partners, however, were anything but. Arshdeep Singh was used by Rohit Sharma mainly in the death, which meant he didn’t have a seam-bowling option to fall back on if needed in the middle overs. If he did go to either Kumar or Singh in the middle overs, they would come short during the death overs.
Hardik Pandya, touted as the third seaming option, did start the tournament well, with three wickets in the opening game against Pakistan, but after that he struggled. Not only did he not get wickets, Pandya also leaked runs. He went for 1-44 and 0-35 against Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively over the two Super 4 matches. Having his fifth bowling option leak runs significantly hurt Rohit Sharma and India.
For the T20I World Cup in Australia, though, India will most likely shift back to the four-seamer template, with Bumrah-Kumar-Patel being the front-line bowlers and Pandya being used as the sixth bowling option. What will play on the management’s mind is that, should any of the first-choice bowlers become unavailable, the backup options haven’t had a lot of exposure in high-pressure situations and haven’t been putting in stellar performances either.
While it might look like the cons outweigh the pros at the moment, what we must keep in mind is that India have been on a tremendous run of form over the last ten months; a run of two losses doesn’t change that.
While there are questions that need to be answered, India still remain one of the favourites for the T20I World Cup given the arsenal at their disposal.