The Asia Cup played out largely along expected lines with India cruising to a comfortable victory over the hosts Bangladesh. Some might argue that Pakistan or Sri Lanka underperformed but both were consistently inadequate in their performances over the past two weeks. Bangladesh provided plenty of drama and excitement with their brand of passionate cricket but India owned the tournament, breezing through to an emphatic title win without a loss.
The umpiring was spotty with some decisions leaving fans gaping in disbelief like that 19th over stumping of Thisara Perera. Overall though, it was a stitch in time for the heavyweights as they prepare for the upcoming World T20.
Here are a few takeaways for India from the Asia Cup:
The importance of being Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli, with his class and consistency, is a redoubtable asset across all formats. Whether he salvages the situation from 8-3 as he did against Pakistan or guides India home as he did against Bangladesh in the final, Kohli has shown that he is more than happy to shoulder the responsibility.
One-down is an obviously key position in cricket. Kohli's presence and the way he marshals India's batting line-up around him has obviously got a lot to do with India’s recent successes in the shorter formats of the game. The right-hander scored an impressive 151 runs in four matches at a strike rate of 110.22. Most of those runs aided India to victory, often from positions of discomfort.
The manner in which Kohli worked with Shikhar Dhawan as the two farmed a 94-run partnership (off 67 balls) in the final, showcased India's Test captain's growing maturity as the batting mainstay. Kohli's role in guiding Yuvraj Singh and Shikhar Dhawan back to form underlines his growing influence. He makes a difference and right now, it seems Team India cannot do without him.
Yuvraj Singh is working hard to rehabilitate himself into the team
There is no lack of critics who believe that the inclusion of Yuvraj is a retrograde step. Many have voived concerns that the veteran left-hander is holding up a spot that should go to Ajinkya Rahane or Manish Pandey. Yuvi has averaged 44.5 in four matches at the Asia Cup, including a convincing 35 off 18 balls against Sri Lanka. The Yuvraj we see today is clearly not the blistering version that mauled Stuart Broad in 2007 at Durban for six sixes in an over or the one we saw during India’s triumphant march to the ODI World Cup in 2011.
But credit is due to Yuvi for an obvious willingness to grind his way out of sketchy form by spending time in the middle. MS Dhoni, too, seems to have immense faith in the match-winning prospects of Yuvraj. “When you come back into the team, when you return to international cricket, there is a lot of pressure from yourself and expectations from other people,” said an empathetic Dhoni. “The first few matches go out in just figuring out what to do. Whether you want to go out and play the big shot, or not. And as you saw today, he can hit sixes at will. So, if the same thing continues gradually, he will be in a very good position before the World Cup,” said the captain.
Rahane, Harbhajan and Negi set to cool their heels
India wear a very settled look after the success in Dhaka. Both Dhawan and Rohit Sharma were among the runs sealing their positions at the top of the order. Kohli owns the No.3 slot on pure merit and Dhoni is happy to bring in Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh to deal with the middle overs. With the captain either promoting himself to four or playing at six, no place is up for grabs for a pure batsman.
Hardik Pandya has been a revelation. He has continued to impress with his swashbuckling style and chutzpah. As of now, it appears that Pandya has answered India’s quest for a bowling all-rounder. He will be followed closely in the upcoming World Cup.
The fact that Ravindra Jadeja was barely needed explains the ease with which India won their sixth Asia Cup. Ravichandran Ashwin underlined his intelligence and utility with some smart performances and his four wickets at an economy rate of 5.98 should have dispelled any doubts.
Jasprit Bumrah has been a thundering success and the Asia Cup helped turn the youngster into India's pace spearhead. Bumrah is generating pace and bounce off the deck and doing so at a healthy 140kph, unsettling opponents.
Ashish Nehra was patchy, leaving him vulnerable to the axe should Mohammed Shami regain fitness ahead of the T20 World Cup in India. That leaves the other three players in the squad warming the bench with no real prospect of getting game time.
Individual brilliance not enough; India performed as a unit
Mohammad Amir turned pied piper in his much-discussed comeback to international cricket. He made the ball sing an opera that nearly brought the formidable Indian batting to its knees at 8-3. But then one swallow does not a summer make and Pakistan sank to defeat as much due to a lack of support for Amir as it was to a brilliant knock by Kohli.
Sri Lanka had two batsmen among the top five run-getters at the Asia Cup. Obviously that did not add up to much either. The islanders are struggling to find their feet in the aftermath of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene hanging their boots. Lasith Malinga’s injury has made matters worse, even forcing a change in leadership. Angelo Mathews has his task cut out as he seeks to get his team to get their head in the right place and play with customary courage.
Mahmudullah’s scorching 33 in the final was another example of individual brilliance being laid to waste. The 30 year old played a remarkably audacious innings but with his team having struggled to force India’s hand early on, an innings of class from the batsman turned out to be too little, too late.
One-trick ponies aren’t going to be enough even in the blink and miss version of cricket. This is where India were clearly head and shoulders ahead of their competition in the Asia Cup. Whether it was fielding in the ring, some smart bowling at the top or a pair of steady batsmen on the deck — India had all the answers and it clearly helped set them apart.