As was the case for the majority of matches in the Super Four stage, the Asia Cup final proved to be an intense and hard-fought affair as India laid their hands on a seventh title with a last-ball victory over Bangladesh.
The thrilling win marked an unbeaten campaign for Rohit Sharma and his men who beat arch-rivals Pakistan twice on their way to the title.
While the crown of Asia’s best is no small feat given the heightened competition and diminishing gaps between the teams, the tournament was also an opportunity for the Men in Blue to fine tune their preparations for the 2019 World Cup in England.
As such, we take a look at the three things India can take away from their Asia Cup triumph.
MIDDLE-ORDER CONUNDRUM STILL UNANSWERED
Before the start of the tournament, Rohit Sharma had stated that the number four and six batting positions were up for grabs. The two positions have, in fact, been up for grabs for some time now with several players being auditioned in the roles but none have been able to stake a permanent claim.
Those questions still remain unanswered despite India’s unbeaten campaign in the UAE. With Virat Kohli being rested, the opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit was in such fine form throughout the tournament that the middle-order was barely tested.
On the rare occasion when the middle-order was indeed tested in the games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, it failed to really stand up to the occasion with some unconvincing displays from the batsmen concerned.
MS Dhoni’s move to number four did not really pay off while Dinesh Karthik blew hot and cold. Manish Pandey failed in his single outing while Kedar Jadhav did not get much chance to make a difference.
The middle-order remains a pressing concern and it is one the team management will need to figure out quickly in the coming months.
JADEJA CAN STILL PLAY A ROLE
While Hardik Pandya’s tournament was cruelly cut short with an unfortunate back injury, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Ravindra Jadeja.
A poor showing in last year’s Champions Trophy in England along with a wicketless display in the tour of the West Indies had spelled the end of Jadeja’s stay in India’s limited-overs setup.
With the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal establishing themselves as India’s frontline pairing since, the doors seemed well and truly shut for Jadeja.
However, a fine individual display in the Test series against England coupled with injuries to Pandya and Axar Patel meant that the all-rounder was flown in as a late replacement.
It is an opportunity that Jadeja has grasped with both hands after picking up seven wickets in four matches at an economical rate. His sensational bit of fielding in the final to run-out Mohammad Mithun summed up the added abilities apart from his bowling and batting that he brings to the table.
While Kuldeep and Chahal remain the go-to spin options for India, Jadeja might have just worked himself back into contention for a spot in the World Cup squad as the third spinner.
RAYUDU SHOWS HIS WORTH
While the Asia Cup turned out to be a boon for Jadeja’s World Cup hopes, it also reignited the international career of Ambati Rayudu.
The top-order batsman had not played an ODI for India since June, 2016, but a stupendous showing with the bat for champions Chennai Super Kings in the IPL this year had propelled him back into the squad for the tour of England.
Unfortunately for the 33-year-old, a failed yo-yo test meant his England ticket was cut. With Kohli being rested after his England sojourns, Rayudu was given a path back into the team and he has not looked back since.
Though he might have failed in the final, he showed what he brings to the table with two fluent half-centuries against Hong Kong and Afghanistan, respectively. With a career-batting average now approaching 50, Rayudu deserves to remain in the setup even when Kohli returns.
The Proteas pacer last played an ODI for his country in October, 2016 but a spate of injuries over the last two years has seen him sidelined for a long time. He will now be hoping to play a big part in the three-match series against Zimbabwe which gets under way on Sunday.
While Steyn had been sidelined with injuries, the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi have established themselves in South Africa’s limited-over setup. Despite the intense competition for places among the pacers leading up to the 2019 World Cup, the 35-year-old is more than ready for the challenge.
“It’s good to have challenges,” said Steyn.
“I think Lungi and KG (Rabada) would also appreciate the fact that I’m coming back into the side because they would also know that their positions are under threat. We all are. You can only take a handful of these fast bowlers to the World Cup and we’re all fighting for a spot.
“Everyone wants to go to the World Cup and I would love to go to the World Cup, but individually I would love nothing more than to see the Proteas win a World Cup. And if that means that I don’t go, then so be it.”
The pace stalwart’s return from a fractured shoulder at the start of the year was short lived with another injury in the first Test against India consigning him to another extended spell on the sidelines.
He made his return to competitive cricket recently with a stint at Hampshire in England’s county circuit.
“Having played my last game only two weeks ago for Hampshire, I feel like I’m going, I’m flying,” he said.
“But white ball is a whole new challenge. I’ve been playing red ball in the UK, so white ball is going to be a different challenge. All the skills, batters coming at you, the Powerplays all of that kind of stuff. And I haven’t played white ball international cricket for quite some time.”
Mathews was asked to step down as Sri Lanka’s limited-overs skipper following the team’s group-stage exit in the Asia Cup. The 31-year-old had said that he was being made the ‘scapegoat’ of Sri Lanka’s debacle in his resignation letter to the board.
Mathews was then dropped from the limited-overs squad for Sri Lanka’s upcoming series against England with Test skipper Dinesh Chandimal being reinstated as the ODI captain.
The official reasoning for dropping the former skipper was said to be ‘fitness’ related with Hathurusingha bringing up Mathews’ record of being involved in run-outs in public.
Sangakkara, on his part, has urged Hathurusingha and Mathews to patch up their differences at the earliest.
“I think this breakdown of communication needs to be sorted quickly,” Sangakkara was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo.
“It needs to be sorted through direct, honest and clear conversations between captain, the management and the player concerned. They need to make sure, also, that the public has the right idea of why this decision has been taken, especially at an emotional time.
“What they have to be careful is that it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to the team’s performance at the Asia Cup, but it’s actually a worthwhile decision for the side. But I really think that with Hathurusingha’s strategy, Angelo will find himself back in the side very soon.”
Once an all-round force for his country, Mathews has been relegated to playing purely as a batsman in recent times after injuries and fitness-related concerns took a toll on his bowling. Sangakkara believes getting Mathews to bowl again is the key to Sri Lanka’s chances in next year’s ICC World Cup in England.
“Angelo’s performances in the past suggest that he’s a player of great value to the side. I think it’s very important to get Angelo bowling again,” the Sri Lankan batting great said.
“I think it does his confidence a lot of good. It does the Sri Lankan side a lot of good. And whoever is captain – whether it’s Angelo or Dinesh Chandimal – it gives them a lot of options to use a multi-skilled cricketer in different situations. All of that is going to be absolutely vital to their chances at the World Cup,” he added.