India have won three matches comprehensively in the Asia Cup after bowling first. They struggled to defeat minnows Hong Kong in their opening match of the Asia Cup after posting 285. And against Afghanistan, they seemed to be coasting towards victory, and were well placed at 110-0 chasing 253, before stumbling to earn a tie.
India have come close to losing just once in the tournament – the first game against Hong Kong where the Associate team were 174 for no loss after 34 overs in the second innings. India have been content bowling first and chasing the target under lights.
But for the final, where they face Bangladesh on Friday in Dubai, India should look to bat first. Here’s why.
India had a world-class bowling line-up at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. They stormed into the final thanks to a solid batting line-up and top bowling that had Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh. In the final, Sourav Ganguly won the toss and decided to bowl first against a mighty Australian side on what looked like a damp surface. Zaheer’s first over went for 15 runs and with it India’s hopes.
In the 2011 World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka, the islanders won the toss and decided to bat first. They posted 274-6 and had India struggling at 31-2 in the chase before Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni hits sparkling 90s in a stupendous chase.
In the 2013 Champions final, England decided to field first after the match turned into a 20-over affair with India winning by five runs. India had won the 2007 World T20 final against Pakistan by five runs as well.
In the 2017 Champions Trophy, India decided to field first on a flat Oval surface in England. Fakhar Zaman smashed a century and Pakistan won by 180 runs. So in all recent major finals involving India, batting first has worked on all but one occasion. And the reason for it is that in really big matches, it is advisable to bat first and put the runs on board.
Sure, factors like turn in the pitch and dew factor come in but they go out of the window if the team batting first posts a big total. This Asia Cup has been a low-scoring tournament with not a single team posting 300. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done in Dubai in Friday. Some daring batting in the first hour can set the stage for a total of 300 and chasing would be next to impossible as the match wears on.
Pitches in Dubai have become difficult to bat on. Chasing a total with Mustafizur Rahman bowling under lights won’t be easy. Yes India did do that earlier in the tournament after Bangladesh were bowled out for 173 but the final will be a different proposition, with the Tigers having won defending totals against Afghanistan and Pakistan thereafter, albeit in Abu Dhabi.
India struggled to chase down 253 against Afghanistan even with dew being a factor. When the pressure is on, the ticking scoreboard makes batsmen do funny things. In the final, India should make the most of their in-form top-order and put up a big total as chasing will not be easy because Bangladesh are likely to have the lion’s share of the crowd support as well.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have been brilliant in the Asia Cup so far. The two have been instrumental in helping India remaining unbeaten in the Asia Cup. Rohit and Shikar have amassed 269 and 327 runs respectively from four matches and have looked in sublime touch.
But what has also really impressed most is the fitness the two have shown while remaining on the field for large parts of the match almost throughout the tournament. The weather in Dubai has not been easy at all for players with temperatures fluttering on either side of 40 degrees Celsius. But the two openers have showed excellent commitment to stay on top of their game in the heat.
Against Hong Kong, Rohit batted for seven overs and Shikhar 40 and the two fielded for 50 overs. The next day against Pakistan, they fielded for 43 overs before Shikhar batted for 16 and Rohit for 13 overs. Against Bangladesh, the pair fielded for 50 overs while Shikhar batted for 14 overs and Rohit for 36.
Against Pakistan, they again fielded for 50 overs before Shikhar batted for 33 overs while the skipper batted for 40.
In the match against Afghanistan, both players were rested as India had already reached the final. But as India went about chasing tricky total of 253, it was Dhawan who brought out the drinks and instructions in the second innings a few overs apart.
Being fit as an athlete and having match-fitness are slightly different traits. Both Rohit and Shikhar have shown great overall fitness to remain on the field for a majority of the matches. And Rohit has had to burden the responsibility of captaincy as well. Two thumbs up to the duo.
India batsman KL Rahul said the team knows what the conditions will be like in the final of the Asia Cup and said the players know enough about the pitch to succeed on Friday.
India and Afghanistan played out a thrilling tie in their inconsequential Asia Cup Super Four clash on Tuesday.
The Men in Blue were bowled out for 252 chasing 253 to win. Openers KL Rahul (60) and Ambati Rayudu (57) added 110 for the first wicket but the fragile middle order crumbled on a slow pitch that offered a lot of turn to Afghanistan’s spinners.
Rahul said the Indians know what they need to do to win in the final as they have chased and defended totals on different pitches in the tournament.
“Today was the only game when batting second felt more difficult. I don’t want to take anything away from the Afghanistan bowers. They are a quality spin attack. We will have to see what kind of wicket we play on in the final,” Rahul said after the match.
Have been saying for a long time. KL Rahul has the pedigree & potential to emerge as India's best batsman, after Virat Kohli, across formats. Backed him to the hilt despite failure in 3 Tests in England. Ton in last Test, now a fluent fifty. Cementing my belief in him #INDvAFG— Navneet Mundhra (@navneet_mundhra) September 25, 2018
“Going to the World Cup, we have only 14 or 15 games so each one is very important. So we are all looking forward to win one more tournament. Overall we know that wicket will be slow and help spinners, batting or bowling first. We know exactly what to expect in the final. The boys have had a good hit in the middle and we will use that experience to do well in the final.”
IN AND OUT
Rahul has been in and out of the Indian team across formats and has moved up and down the order numerous times. Such uncertainty never helps the confidence of a player but the 26-year-old said all he can do is make the most of the opportunities and work on his game when away from the team.
“It has been challenging to bat different positions. I have always batted at the top of the order from junior cricket and that is the most comfortable position for me. But in a team sport you need to be flexible and whatever the responsibility the team gives you need to put your hand up and do the best job you can. Unfortunately the chances I have got in the middle-order haven’t gone my way,” Rahul explained.
“The team management explained what they expect out of me. I needed to know personally which direction I am heading. We had a chat and they gave me a clear idea and plan of what they are expecting me to do.
“I know how I have to work on my game. Whatever position I get I have to make best use of it. It is disheartening and frustrating at times. But given the competition, nobody is a sureshot. So you have to wait your turn. You have to be patient and work hard. Whenever I am not playing, it’s easy for me to sit and sulk why am I not playing. But I use that time to improve my fitness and game.”