Asia Cup: India seek a perfect World Cup warm-up with final victory
They face Sri Lanka in Sunday’s final, a perfect opportunity to win a multi-team tournament going into the premier championship at home.
Notwithstanding the defeat to Bangladesh on Friday, the Asia Cup has helped India tick many boxes. KL Rahul has made a successful return from injury with bat and gloves. Jasprit Bumrah has bowled like he had never been away. Kuldeep Yadav has fulfilled the role of an attacking wrist spinner by making breakthroughs through the middle overs. Shubman Gill has regained his touch and contributed runs in different circumstances.
As India — back at full strength after making five changes against Bangladesh — face Sri Lanka in Colombo on Sunday, they will be looking to tick another box: get over the line in a final. India haven’t done that on these big occasions — be it a semi-final or final — in ICC tournaments for the past decade, laid bare by their failure to win a major event since the 2013 Champions Trophy.
With the ODI World Cup beginning three weeks from now, there’s no better run-in to it than winning silverware in similar conditions. The Asia Cup has had its defects — a reserve day was arbitrarily introduced for India versus Pakistan, rain interrupted a few matches, and the standard of cricket has not been as robust as desired. But an Asia Cup final is still that of a multi-nation tournament and a victory will infuse belief about being able to turn up on the big day.
“The final holds a lot of importance. Ek aadat hoti hai jeetne ki (winning is a habit),” said Gill, who hit 121 in their six-run loss to Bangladesh on Friday. “It is important for every team to peak at the right time and not let the momentum slip away. If we win and go from here, we will take a lot of confidence into the World Cup.”
It’s precisely what India need at this stage. They have been one of the standout teams in bilateral contests for many years, but it is eventually performances in knockout games that carve enduring legacies. India haven’t delivered on this count in recent years. Since 2014, they have lost two finals and four semi-finals in white-ball cricket despite often being the in-form team through the group stages.
It has led some to wonder whether a fear of failure has clouded their mindset in these games. Only the players can tell, but what they wouldn’t want heading into a World Cup campaign is for those questions to lurk in the backdrop. Which will happen if India trip up versus Sri Lanka.
On paper, India are far stronger than Sri Lanka, who have overcome injuries to two key bowlers, Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera, to enter the final. There was a further setback for the hosts on Saturday with mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana ruled out due to a hamstring injury.
But if Gill feels “we have to be at our 100% to beat them” it’s not simply pre-match politeness. Until their 41-run defeat to India in the Super Four stage, Sri Lanka had racked up a 13-match winning run that included bowling out the opposition on each occasion. It reveals the strength in their bowling department despite a raft of injuries.
The outcome on Sunday is likely to hinge on the nature of the pitch. If the surface is a belter, the gulf in the quality of batters may work to India’s advantage. If the track is slow, as it has been in India’s last two matches, Sri Lanka may have a greater say. India were bowled out for 213 against Sri Lanka in their earlier clash and couldn’t chase down 266 against Bangladesh on Friday.
“It’s not a concern, but it’s definitely an area we are looking to improve on,” Gill admitted. “We had a camp in Bengaluru before coming here and we were practicing on similar wickets. Because the World Cup is such a long tournament. As we go deeper into the tournament, the wickets will tend to get a little slower. It’s not easy for batters who are coming in to rotate the strike and minimise those dot balls. As a batting unit, we are looking to work on it.”
Washington cover for Axar
Off-spin all-rounder Washington Sundar has joined the Indian team in Colombo as cover for Axar Patel. The left-arm spinner suffered some swelling on his forearm after being struck during his 38-ball 42 against Bangladesh on Friday. He also complained of hamstring stiffness. “Washington was informed on Friday night. He left for Colombo on Saturday morning,” said the player’s father.
Washington was to be a part of a conditioning camp at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru for the Asian Games-bound team. He’s now likely to join the camp after the Asia Cup final. The matches of the men’s teams at the Asian Games will be held from September 27 to October 7.