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Asia Cup 2018: Opening acts, spinners can’t hide India’s chinks

Unreliable middle-order, MS Dhoni’s inconsistency main concerns ahead of 2019 World Cup as hunt for batting all-rounder continues.

cricket Updated: Sep 30, 2018 08:25 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
asia cup,asia cup 2018,team india
India's stand-in captain Rohit Sharma (right) and Shikhar Dhawan played brilliantly at the top of the innings in the Asia Cup.(AP)

With the Asia Cup win, India continued their impressive run in ODIs that began with the series win in West Indies last year immediately after the Champions Trophy. The 2-1 series loss in England this year was the only blip, coming after five successive bilateral series wins.

But while India have been driven by a strong top-order and spinners, there have been weak links too. The Asia Cup, where India’s performance oscillated between brilliance and ordinariness, revealed India’s strengths and weaknesses once again. While they were clinical against Pakistan in the two matches, the last two games, against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, exposed a few chinks.

With the World Cup less than a year away, India have only a few ODIs left to sort things out — five vs West Indies, three vs Australia and five against New Zealand. Here’s a look at the highs and lows from Asia Cup, something India would ponder on ahead of the final stretch to the World Cup...

Highs

Opening batsmen

While India’s opening was a worry in Tests in England, there have been no such problems in ODIs. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma ended as top-scorers of the tournament, scoring almost half of India’s total runs. The Super Four win over Pakistan, where they put on a record 210, showed how dominant they can be together. While on many occasions in recent past, only one of the two clicked with the other getting out early, this time the duo did well together, putting up one century and two fifty partnerships in five games. Ambati Rayudu and KL Rahul put up a century stand in the game against Afghanistan.

New ball and death bowling

Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been effective together, both at the start and death. They bring variety with swing and change in pace. In key games, they managed to not only restrict the batting but also remove at least a couple of batsmen in the first 10 overs. The historic ODI series win in SA too was shaped by India’s ability to take early wickets. Importantly, whenever they failed early, they’ve come back well at the death like in the final against Bangladesh where India conceded just 44 in the last 10 overs and picked five wickets.

Spinners

Last year in West Indies, Virat Kohli emphasised the importance of having wrist spinners in the side to win games. While both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have continued to do well, building pressure and also picking wickets, part-timer Kedar Jadhav has introduced variety and cashed in on the pressure built by others by his unusual bowling style.

Lows

Dhoni and finishing with tailenders

Though MS Dhoni has missed catches, he is still quick while effecting stumpings. Dhoni’s reputation, however, was built on his ability to finish games with the bat and if the last year is anything to go by, he has struggled to pace the innings and failed to carry India home on many occasions. Probably realising that he can’t hit big boundaries regularly anymore, the team management pushed him up to No. 4 to shore up the middle-order. However, it hasn’t always paid off. The last two games showed how India have struggled to find a replacement finisher with even Ravindra Jadeja failing to do the job.

Middle-order

India’s success has been built on openers’ ability to lay a strong foundation with Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul succeeding at various stages over the last year. What India lacks is a reliable middle-order as was exposed against Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the last two Asia Cup games where they struggled to chase modest totals against ordinary attacks. While Virat Kohli will be back at No. 3, the Nos 4 to 7 remain a worry. India did well in the 2015 World Cup because Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni played some good knocks in the middle at various stages. After that, it has mostly been a struggle.

All-rounder slot & role of part-timer

Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav and Ravindra Jadeja are three all-rounders who will, most likely, fight for all-rounder’s slot for next year’s World Cup squad. None of them, unfortunately, have played an innings of note over the last one year in whatever opportunities they have got. Though Jadhav — a part-time bowler — has been providing the breakthroughs, it is mainly because the batsmen have tried to take him apart and not milk him. If the batsmen get a hang of him, pressure will definitely fall on others.

First Published: Sep 30, 2018 08:25 IST