This was more a World Cup rehearsal than just an Asia Cup. But the sheen no doubt would have been missing had India not gone all the way, something they have struggled to achieve in the past decade.
The loss to Bangladesh notwithstanding, the hits column far outweigh India’s misses. The openers have struck form in different combinations, Kuldeep Yadav has been almost unplayable, Hardik Pandya has been an absolute workhorse with bat and ball, Mohammed Siraj has now cemented his place in the first eleven and even KL Rahul’s confident return, topped by a fine century in the Super Four win against Pakistan, has largely addressed India’s middle-order concerns.
Among the specialist batters, only Shreyas Iyer hasn’t got much game time because of a back spasm during the Pakistan game but India captain Rohit Sharma isn’t reading too much into it. “Shreyas was not available for this game because there were certain parameters that were kept for him to tick off. Today, he completed most of it,” said Sharma at the post-match press conference on Sunday. “I would say 99% he should be okay as of now, but he looks good. He batted, he fielded for long hours before we came in today. So, he’s looking good at this point in time. I don’t think it’s a worry for us.”
It however looks like Axar Patel, ruled out of the final due to a left quadricep strain suffered in the match against Bangladesh on Friday, may be unavailable for the upcoming home series against Australia. Patel was replaced by Washington Sundar on Sunday. “Axar—I’m not sure, he had a small tear,” said Sharma. “We just have to wait and see how the injury progresses. Every individual is different; some guys recover quickly. I hope that’s the case with Axar. I am not too sure if he’ll be available to play the first two games at home against Australia. We’ll wait and see.”
With Washington coming against the backdrop of India’s World Cup squad lacking an off-spinner, Sharma was asked about his role. “With the spinning all-rounder, everyone’s in line, (Ravichandran) Ashwin as well. I’ve been talking to him on the phone,” said Sharma. “He’s very much in line, so is Washy. We want those guys who can do the job with ball and bat as well. Washy, honestly that injury happened to Axar very late in the night, and then we had to call a few guys to see where they were at.”
While the batting may still need a bit of fine-tuning, India’s bowling is more sorted, especially with Kuldeep Yadav emerging as the exact blend of attack and contain in the middle overs when sides normally aim to only stem the run flow. “The last year and a half has been amazing, I’m enjoying my bowling,” said Yadav, who was named Player-of-the-Series for his nine wickets. “In ODIs you can vary your length and try a lot more different things. Been working on my speed and angles with my coach after my injury.”
Nothing however has been as pleasing as India’s fast bowling resurgence. Jasprit Bumrah has bounced back from an injury that had sidelined him for almost a year, Pandya and Shardul Thakur have proven their utility in more ways than one but it was really with Siraj’s final haul of 6/21 that everything seems to fall in place for India. “I get a lot of satisfaction when I see fast bowlers perform like this. All the captains take a lot of pride in fast bowling and I am no different. We have got a fantastic set of fast bowlers,” said Sharma.
“All of them have different skill sets and variations—one can bowl quick, one can swing the ball, one can get good bounce. When you get all of these aspects in one team, it is a feel-good factor.” Sharma also didn’t forget to mention India’s sharp fielding, especially at slips. “Our fielding was outstanding in this series. Slip catches against pacers. We will have off days on the field. It’s fine as long as you back it up with a solid performance the next day.”
Only an ODI series against Australia is left before the World Cup and Sharma believes this is just the buildup they needed.
“It gives us a lot of confidence to come here and win a tournament like this,” he said. “At various stages of the tournament we were challenged in different parts of our game and we stood up to those challenges against various conditions, various bowling types. We can take a lot of positives from the tournament, not just for one or two players but for the entire squad. They did their job.”