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Asia Cup: A mock exam ahead of the main test in October

BySandeep Patel

Aug 29, 2023


For the first time, the Asia Cup and the World Cup are being held in the same year, and within days of each other. Pakistan begin the tournament as the No.1 team in the world, and while India would like to win it, the focus will be on the bigger challenge commencing at home on October 5. There are still slots to be filled, permutations and combinations to be tried out.

India, currently No. 3, cannot claim to have a settled team for the World Cup, which explains 18 players in Sri Lanka for their opener against Pakistan. Sanju Samson adds to the game’s lexicon as a ‘travelling substitute’, set to replace K.L. Rahul if the latter doesn’t recover fully from a niggle he picked up while recovering from his thigh injury.

Also returning from injury is Shreyas Iyer, but it might not be a bad idea to play Ishant Kishan ahead of him at number three, if only to have a left hander in the top half, and someone who can strike early and consistently.

Kohli at No. 4?

This is assuming Virat Kohli drops himself to number four from where he can control the innings better, acting as the crucial bridge between the starters and the finishers. With nearly 13,000 runs in 275 games and an average (57.32) unapproached by any of the top 50 batsmen (by aggregate), he may not need too much convincing if it is in the interests of the team.

At the 2007 World Cup, opener Sachin Tendulkar did not take kindly to being asked by coach Greg Chappell to drop himself down to No. 4 from the opening slot. If that were the plan, it should have been tried in earlier tournaments was his argument. The two modern greats did not see eye to eye; coach Rahul Dravid is unlikely to have such an issue with Kohli if he feels the move is necessary.

India have only one player who can bowl the full quota of ten overs as well as make a fifty in the middle order, and that’s Ravindra Jadeja. It’s the area they will be giving a lot of thought to.

Hardik Pandya didn’t bowl ten overs in the West Indies recently. If he is played as a batsman who can bowl a bit, India will have to look for another bowler who can bat a bit. Jasprit Bumrah is returning from injury too and may not bowl the full quota initially. This means either Axar Patel or Shardul Thakur might get the nod. Balance matters, as do specific job descriptions.

Spread out the big hitters

A Tilak Varma, who is yet to make his ODI debut, might be a better fit in some situations than an experienced player all too aware of the pitfalls of early hitting or unstructured innings. Having big hitters spread out in the order is a boon even if two out of three fail. That makes Thakur doubly important (he is, besides, the most successful Indian bowler since the last World Cup, with 52 wickets).

The worst enemy of a professional approach is sentimentality — India tend to field players for what they have done in the past, hesitate to drop senior players, and pick such players on hope rather than performance.

The team at the Asia Cup might comprise the best available talent in India (give or take), and that’s important to remember. But there is no top five batsman who can also bowl, like Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly could. Nor is there a bottom four who can be expected to make runs quickly and consistently.

Since India begin with a match against Pakistan on Saturday (and might play them perhaps twice more), their best team will have to be on show straightaway.

Five of the six teams at the Asia Cup are in the World Cup too, not all of them with a realistic chance of winning the title. While teams like India and Pakistan will look to get their teams settled (India have three ODIs against Australia before the World Cup), others like Bangladesh and Afghanistan are probably not aiming that high. A good showing here is what they are looking for.

This difference in approach might be the key to a competitive tournament.


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