The six-time champions open their campaign against minnows Hong Kong on Tuesday in a fixture they are expected to win comfortably. However, there are question marks over the strength of their middle-order.
Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu are among the three players aiming to press their case for selection over the next fortnight. With just eight months to go before the ICC showpiece in England and Wales, Rohit admits it’s crucial that India address their problems with particular focus on identifying their best batsmen for the number four and six slots.
“I can’t give you an answer on where people will bat where but of course there are a lot of spots up for grabs,” the opening batsman told media at ICC Academy on Tuesday.
“Like three, four and six. All these guys like (Kedar, Manish and Ambati) are eyeing those places. We have to see what the best combination is for this tournament and want to give chances to as many people as possible.
“In this tournament, we need to seal number four and six. I’m sure all those guys eyeing that spot are hungry and want to do well and grab those positions. But I still have a word with the coach and see what the best combination.”
For the third time this season, India enter a major assignment on the back of very poor or next to no regular preparation.
Keeping up with a growing tradition in Indian cricket, the men in blue take on Hong Kong in their Asia Cup opener in Dubai on Tuesday with a grand total of one complete training session as a team under their belt.
The substantial chunk of the Indian contingent was in England fighting it out in a five-Test series until last week. Last Tuesday was the final day of the fifth Test as India sunk to a 4-1 series win. Players like KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah played the last Test while Hardik Pandya played before.
The other half of the Indian team, without captain Kohli who decided to skip the Asia Cup, landed in Dubai in bits and pieces and trained over the last three days. The entire team practiced together only on Monday, a day before their tournament begins.
In a tournament that has the top Asian sides competing in the sapping September heat of UAE on pitches that are turning out to be very challenging for batsmen and bowlers, it is one of the worst preparations a team can possibly have.
But those who have followed Indian cricket should not be surprised. The Indians have made it habit of preparing poorly for important assignments.
In the beginning of the year, India played a three Test series in South Africa without a single warm-up match before it. In England, they entered the five-Test series with one truncated warm-up match and five days off before the opening clash.
A tight calendar is being blamed for such poor preparation. India were busy with an ODI and T20 series against Sri Lanka at home – days before the first Test in South Africa. Three players from that ODI series played in the South Africa Tests – Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Bumrah and Pandya.
Then in England, the entire Test team got to play one warm-up match. Limited overs matches before the Tests against Ireland and England were made to look like preparation. A few players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma played county cricket and it helped them.
But the end result was India lost the Test series in South Africa and England.
The Asia Cup will be as challenging, maybe even more. With temperature over 40 Degrees and humidity close to 40 per cent, conditions are extremely tough. To top it, the pitch in Dubai is sluggish.
And then there are the opponents who have prepared well. Pakistan held an extended camp in Lahore and played practice matches before the series. Bangladesh showed they are in peak condition as they thumped Sri Lanka in the tournament opener.
India have had one full training session. Rohit Sharma and Co, who play two ODIs in two days with the second one being against Pakistan, who would have almost three days of rest for the fixture. Best of luck to India.
The five-time champions will be missing their talismanic batsman after Kohli was rested by the BCCI following a hectic schedule.
It means there will be more responsibility for the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and MS Dhoni to score the runs but Rayudu insists there is strong talent to take them all the way in September 28’s final.
“Obviously he (Virat) is a big miss and loss to the team. However, we still have enough quality in the team to go out and win,” the 32-year-old told the media during India’s training session at the ICC Academy on Saturday night.
Rayudu finds himself part of the international set-up for the first time since June 2016. Following an impressive IPL campaign for Chennai Super Kings where he scored 602 runs in 16 matches, Ambati was initially recalled to the India squad for England’s ODI squad only to be left out after failing a mandatory yo-yo test.
He found it ‘frustrating’ to miss the England matches but is fully aware there is strong competition if he wants to add to his 34 ODI caps in the UAE this fortnight.
“It was frustrating to miss out on the England tour but I am happy that I could make a comeback to the Indian team,” he said. “To be very honest, I have not really thought about it (competition) in that way. It’s just an opportunity to go out and play my best game,” added Rayudu.
India begin their quest for Asian glory on Tuesday when they take on minnows Hong Kong in Dubai before a stern test against arch rivals Pakistan 24 hours later.
Pakistan come into the tournament on the back of a 5-0 whitewash series over Zimbabwe while Mohammad Amir is among their quality array of left-arm seamers.
“The preparation for that game is going on and now we have a new coach to prepare for the left-armers. Hopefully, we will be prepared for them.”