India underlined their intent to end their long wait for an ICC title in the upcoming World Cup with a clinical victory in the Asia Cup 2023 final on Sunday.
Though defending champions Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh posed a strong challenge, the Rohit Sharma-led side was always considered favourites to win an eighth continental title, their seventh in the ODI format.
And they lived up to that billing in the end with solid performances throughout their campaign, from their 228-run hammering of Pakistan in the Super 4s to steamrolling Sri Lanka in the final by 10 wickets in a contest that lasted a little over 20 overs in all.
As the 16th edition of the Asia Cup, which was hosted in Pakistan and Sri Lanka with the former retaining the hosting rights, draws to a close, we take a more detailed look at the performances of the Men in Blue:
Siraj, Kuldeep, Bumrah breathing fire
Plenty of performances to choose from as far as India’s positives in the tournament are concerned. But the biggest takeaway India can draw from their successful Asia Cup 2023 campaign is the manner in which they clicked as a unit. Every department, after all, had some role to play in delivering India their eighth Asian crown.
It couldn’t have come at a better time — barely a month before they host ICC’s showpiece event for the first time in a decade, hoping to win their third world title and end their decade-long wait for a major trophy.
Sunday’s final witnessed Mohammed Siraj demolish the Sri Lankan batting lineup with figures of 6/21, helping India bowl Sri Lanka out for a paltry 50 and allowing them to chase the target down in just 6.1 overs.
Record-breaking Siraj! 🤯@mdsirajofficial rewrites history, now recording the best figures in the Asia Cup!
6️⃣ for the pacer!
— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) September 17, 2023
While Siraj took centre-stage with his devastating spell that included four wickets in one over, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya also had a role to play in the demolition.
Bumrah has been consistent in building pressure from the word go throughout the tournament, and while spin remains the primary weapon for skipper Rohit in the World Cup, the Bumrah-Siraj new-ball pairing could very well be the game-changer for the Indians.
And Pandya removed any lingering doubts over his effectiveness as a bowler following a recent spate of injuries with his haul of 3/3.
As for the spin department, Kuldeep Yadav has been India’s standout bowler this year and carried his rich vein of form to the Asia Cup, where he was adjudged the Player of the Tournament for his nine wickets (average: 11.44; economy: 3.61). Those nine wickets came in two match-winning hauls in the Super Fours — 5/25 against Pakistan and 4/43 against Sri Lanka.
Ravindra Jadeja was effective in a holding role in the middle overs, but it was Kuldeep who went for the kill and is expected to be a key wicket-taking option for Rohit in the next big event that starts in a little over two weeks.
India’s top six in good shape
As for the batting department, the fact that every single member of the top six chipped in at some point makes for a great reading. India’s famed batting lineup has had its ups and downs and has appeared shaky in a couple of big events. But the way they’re shaping up at the moment is a warning to the best bowling attacks across the world.
The biggest positive among the batters was KL Rahul’s triumphant return from a thigh injury with a knock of 111 against Pakistan. What stood out in Rahul’s knock was his intent against the Pakistan attack at a time when openers Rohit and Shubman Gill had departed in quick succession, helping put the pressure back on the Pakistanis.
Virat Kohli would hit century number 77 in the same game. Though he started cautiously and was playing second fiddle for the most part, Kohli highlighted the kind of fine touch that he is in at the moment with a brilliant burst towards the business end of the innings, going past Rahul to finish the top-scorer with 122 and bag the Player of the Match award.
💯 NUMBER 4️⃣7️⃣
— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) September 11, 2023
Skipper Rohit brought up back-to-back half-centuries, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively, and it was his assault on the Sri Lankan pacers in his 48-ball 53 that ultimately proved to be the difference between the two sides in the Super 4 clash.
Shubman Gill, on the other hand, produced one of the finest knocks in recent memory with his 133-ball 121 against Bangladesh that kept the Men in Blue in the hunt till the very end. The young opener stood tall when wickets were tumbling rapidly at the other end, and highlighted his fighting spirit.
Also highlighting his fighting spirit in the opening game against Pakistan was Ishan Kishan. The wicketkeeper-batter, who is fighting for a middle-order slot with the likes of Rahul and Shreyas Iyer, fought back against the rampaging Pakistan attack that had reduced India to 66/4 and stitched a match-saving 138-run stand with Hardik Pandya to highlight the fact that India’s middle-order was in safe hands.
Iyer’s fitness among key worries
The dominant performances throughout their campaign, especially in the Super Fours and in the final, however, do not overshadow a couple of concerns that need addressing heading into the Australia ODIs and the World Cup.
The likes of Bumrah and Rahul have made successful returns from injury in the last couple of months. Shreyas Iyer, not so much. The Kolkata Knight Riders captain is seen as India’s first choice for the No 4 slot and was handed that position right away after he was available for selection in India’s opening game against Pakistan in Pallekele.
Iyer produced a couple of well-timed pulls before throwing his wicket away and departing for 14. He was part of the XI in the game against Nepal but did not bat or bowl, and has been missing from action ever since, with his back starting to give him problems again.
Skipper Rohit, however, expects him to make a return soon, indicating he’s “99 percent” fit at the moment.
India’s fielding lapses too have been a concern. As many as three catches were dropped in the first five overs against Nepal, who ended up posting 230 on the board. In the Super 4 clash against Bangladesh, the Tigers should have been bowled out for a far lower total.
Instead, a combination of dropped catches and a loss of intensity in the middle and slog overs allowed Shakib Al Hasan and Co to post 265/8 on the board which eventually proved to be a winning total.
While Iyer’s situation is expected to be resolved soon, India will have to iron out these flaws for it could cost them dear in their quest for a third ODI world title in October and November.