The Asia Cup was meant to offer the perfect testing ground for the ICC men’s T20 World Cup which commences in Australia in a little over a month. For India, a stop-start campaign here raised more questions than answers for the bigger challenges ahead.
The side, no doubt hampered by injuries to Jasprit Bumrah, Harshal Patel and Ravindra Jadeja, fell below expectations by crashing out in the Super 4 stage.
The inconsequential tie against Afghanistan on Thursday gave India the chance to tinker with the batting order. Skipper Rohit Sharma took the day off, allowing Virat Kohli to open the innings.
The promotion worked, as Kohli ended his century drought with a smooth unbeaten 122. Taking first strike is not new to Kohli, as he has opened for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and the Indian team in the past. Kohli may not provide breathtaking pyrotechnics in the PowerPlay, but if he sticks around, there will be big returns.
Kohli’s knock on Thursday made a case for him to play as an opener, alongside Rohit, at the World Cup. He could take the place of K.L. Rahul who, despite a 62 against Afghanistan, didn’t have a great tournament.
Rahul not amused
Rahul was asked at the press conference after the win over Afghanistan if Kohli is best suited at the top of the order. Quite naturally, Rahul was less than enthused.
“So should I sit out? I’m really happy that Kohli batted so well… we have seen him over the years. It is not as if Kohli will score five centuries only if he opens. He can score six or seven centuries batting at number three,” Rahul said.
India also needs to take a call on the finisher spot. Dinesh Karthik, the specialist finisher in the squad, made three appearances, but faced only one delivery. Rishabh Pant and Deepak Hooda, meanwhile, were anything but convincing.
Pant, naturally aggressive in Tests, has once again been unable to showcase this approach in T20s. With scores of 14, 17 and 20 (not out) coming at a middling strike-rate of 124.39, questions must be asked about Pant’s spot in the XI. Karthik can don the big gloves and a form batter can be added to the team.
The move to include Avesh Khan in the eleven for the first two games did not pay off, as the pacer leaked runs. Avesh, who fell ill midway through the tournament, is unlikely to secure a World Cup berth. The fast bowling attack is likely to consist of Bumrah, Harshal and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with Hardik Pandya as the seam bowling all-rounder.
Hardik showcased his triumphant return from injury, in a match-winning performance against Pakistan in the tournament opener. Hooda, the second all-rounder, was called to bowl only one over in his two appearances.
There is plenty of work to be done before India can claim to be ready for the World Cup. There are six T20Is remaining before the mega event — three T20Is each against Australia and South Africa at home for head coach Rahul Dravid to identify the right personnel for the job.