India came into the Asia Cup with a number of questions around the make up of their team. The preceding tour of the West Indies had seen a number of lineup changes, particularly in the batting order, which led to doubts over whether the team management knows who is going to occupy positions in the World Cup next month but at the Asia Cup, India were largely consistent with their teams. When changes were made, it was only due to injury or clearly to give players game time as was the case in the dead rubber game against Bangladesh, which was also the only match India lost throughout their campaign.
It all came to a rather sensational conclusion with India decimating a Sri Lankan side who had lost just one of their last 15 ODI matches before the final. While there were instances of fielding gaffes and batting collapses, the fact is that India managed to bounce back from almost all tricky situations they found themselves and won their first major trophy since the 2018 Asia Cup. Apart from the confidence that comes with lifting a trophy just before the World Cup, here five other positives for India to take away from winning the 2023 Asia Cup title.
It has been clear all year long that India were eyeing Kuldeep Yadav as their lead spinner going into the World Cup. Kuldeep’s appearances with the Indian team had seen a sharp decline since the 2019 World Cup – he played just 17 ODIs in 2020, 2021 and 2022 but this year alone, he has played 16 matches. He has answered that faith by having one of the most productive years in his ODI career, taking 31 wickets at an average of 15.51. Kuldeep is tied with Sri Lanka’s Mahesh Theekshana for most wickets this year in ODI cricket among full member countries and, more importantly, teams who have qualified for the World Cup. He took nine wickets at an average of 11.44 in the Asia Cup and won the player of the tournament award for his efforts. Five of those wickets came in a magical spell in the Super Four clash against Pakistan which helped India scamper to a 228-run win over their arch-rivals.
Ishan Kishan has brought himself in the reckoning for a spot in the playing XI for the World Cup by the sheer weight of his performances. In 13 ODIs this year, Kishan has scored 360 runs at an average of 40.00 and this follows up from what he did in 2022, in which he scored 417 in eight matches at an average of 59.57. He started the Asia Cup by scoring his fourth consecutive half century in the format and in the process bailed India out of a shaky situation against Pakistan with Hardik Pandya. Kishan scored 82 runs in 81 balls in a 138-run partnership with Pandya for the fourth wicket and stopped India from collapsing after they had been reduced to 66/4. With Shreyas Iyer getting injured after playing that match, Kishan and KL Rahul have emerged as the frontrunners to play in the No.4 and No.5 positions, so much so that Iyer’s return to the squad is now doubtful even if he recovers.
3. Jasprit Bumrah and KL Rahul’s recoveries
It has become clear in this tournament that a large part of the problems in the Indian team came from the fact that their first team regulars were injured. Jasprit Bumrah had given a glimpse of his fitness in the T20I series against Ireland but it is in the Asia Cup that he played his first ODI matches. It became clear pretty quickly that the premier pacer had regained the touch that made him one of the best in the world before he started getting his niggles. He took four wickets but was almost impossible to score off with the new ball. It may have been Mohammed Siraj who took a six-wicket haul against Sri Lanka but Bumrah started the decimation by picking a wicket off just the third ball of the match.
KL Rahul also gave an instant reminder of why he had made the No.5 position his own in the Indian ODI team. India’s Super Four match against Pakistan was his first on return from injury and he was unbeaten on 111 off 106 balls as part of a record 233 not out stand with Virat Kohli which helped India win the match by 228 runs.
4. Mohammed Siraj
India have preferred Mohammed Siraj this year over Mohammed Shami and that was clearer than ever in the Asia Cup. Only one of these two could play with Jasprit Bumrah returning and the pitches in Sri Lanka largely suiting spin bowlers and it was Siraj that India went with. The 29-year-old repaid this faith by either being economic in the three matches he played in the run up to the final, or taking three wickets in the one match where batters took him for runs against Nepal. In the final, though, he took things to rather unprecedented level. Siraj started off with a maiden and then took a whopping four wickets in his second over, all but sealing the title for India in just the fourth over of the match. That game had everything one needs to know about Siraj. He showed just how dangerous he can be on his day and how he doesn’t shy away from ludicrously large-hearted efforts, from chasing the ball to the boundary in the follow through of his hat-trick delivery to bowling seven overs on the trot and recording figures of 6/21.
5. Ruthless efficiency
India, along with England, were seen as the favourites to win the 2019 World Cup largely due to the fact that they had been ruthlessly efficient in bilateral ODIs in the run up to that tournament. A combination of injuries to key players and uncertainty in leadership had led to that efficiency being shaken up somewhat in the intervening years but it was on display at various points in the Asia Cup. The best example is possibly the final itself, Sri Lanka were tottering at 12/5 at the end of Siraj’s four-wicket over and captain Rohit Sharma never took his foot off the pedal. He kept Siraj at one end and sent in Bumrah and later Hardik Pandya from the other, with there being just one over of spin in that innings from Kuldeep. Once Sri Lanka were all out for 50, Kishan opened the innings with Shubman Gill and the pair chased it down in 6.1 overs. Gill and Rohit put up aggressive and succesfull opening stands throughout the tournament while Kohli and Rahul’s accelaration in their partnership against Pakistan was another example.