India bowed out of the Asia Cup with a 101-run win against Afghanistan in its last Super 4 match in Dubai on Thursday.
Rohit Sharma’s men were not at full strength in this Asia Cup, with pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah sitting out due to injury. Yet there are only six games – the series against Australia and South Africa later this month – left to finalise India’s squad for the T20 World Cup in Australia in October.
Here is what went wrong for the team at the Asia Cup and how it could go about addressing it ahead of the World Cup.
The bowling combination
India’s biggest question mark was with regards to the balance of the bowling attack and how many bowling options it needs heading into the World Cup.
In two out of the three games of the Super 4 round of this year’s Asia Cup, India used a five-bowler attack with two specialist spinners and three seamers; all-rounder Hardik Pandya doubling up as the third fast bowler and conceding 79 in eight overs with a solitary wicket. He can be India’s sixth bowler, not a fifth option.
However, a five-bowler attack is unlikely the structure India will use in Australia. If Deepak Chahar makes the cut, it will give India three bowling options – Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Since Chahar and Kumar are both similar types of bowlers, relying on swing with the new ball, India could even try the left-arm pace of Arshdeep Singh for variety. Either way, it will liberate India to pick Hardik as a batting all-rounder, who can bowl four overs, if needed, as the fourth seamer.
In the last year, India has oscillated between five and six bowling options. With Ravindra Jadeja’s injury putting him in doubt for the T20 World Cup, India can pick a like-for-like replacement in Axar Patel. Four specialist bowlers and two all-rounders - one spin bowling and one seam bowling - could be the way forward.
The top three
India also suffered because of opener KL Rahul’s poor returns with the bat - save a 41-ball 62 against Afghanistan. Rahul struck at 113.43 - before the game against Afghanistan, it was less than 110 - while opening the batting in this Asia Cup, so he needs to ramp up his scoring rate, or it is hard to see how he can be the standard-bearer for India’s new, aggressive T20 philosophy.
Virat Kohli is likely to accompany Rohit Sharma and Rahul in the top three. He ended the Asia Cup with 276 runs at a strike rate of 147.59 with two fifties and a hundred. His century came while opening the batting, in the absence of Rohit, against Afghanistan, raising questions about whether he should start the innings in Australia.
The pace plus bounce of Australian conditions would also seem a good fit for Kohli’s strength against pace bowling. The large boundaries there could be to his advantage, placing value on his excellent running between the wickets.
There is also a sense that No3 is the position best-suited for India’s most in-form batter, Suryakumar Yadav. Batting at three would give him the greatest opportunity to make an impact on the innings.
What helps his case is that he can not only go after spin from the get-go, but he also has the technique to face the pacers with the new ball should a wicket fall early. Suryakumar has a strike-rate of 155.96 against pacers in all T20s.
However, it is unlikely India will change the makeup of its top three.
The greatest scope for improvement in India’s batting is, perhaps, with its finisher. At this stage, it is as much a case of personnel as of flexibility.
Dinesh Karthik had been India’s preferred finisher in T20Is until this Asia Cup, where Rishabh Pant got the nod ahead of Karthik because he was a left-hander; the paucity of left-handedness in India’s line-up working to Pant’s advantage.
But the southpaw had an underwhelming tournament, scoring 51 runs in four matches at a strike-rate of under 125.
Karthik has been India’s finisher of choice in T20Is this year, boasting of a strike rate of 170.73 in the death overs in 2022.
Karthik was also instrumental in winning games for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL this year and has a strike rate of 198.45 between 17-20 in all T20s this year.
The No. 7 is well-suited to Karthik for his marked preference for pace bowling rather than spin – he has an outstanding strike rate of 170.93 against pace in all T20s this year, compared with 123 against spin – and a penchant for fast starts.
But if India does want to bat deeper with a specialist left-hander while compromising on attacking bowling options, there could be a place for both Pant and Karthik in the XI, which would come at the expense of Axar Patel. Then Pant could bat at 5 and Karthik at 7.
The spin department
Yuzvendra Chahal had an average Asia Cup by his standards. In four matches, he took just four wickets at an economy rate of 7.93. Before the match against Afghanistan, Indian pacers had picked up only three wickets in the PowerPlay overs at an economy rate of 8.06. So, Chahal’s inability to prise out wickets in the middle overs compounded India’s problem.
But his skill and guile will be essential in Australia. Spinners have often excelled with the new ball down under, and Chahal could be asked to bowl an over inside the first six if need be.
However, it’s in the middle overs that Chahal really comes into his own. In all T20s, Chahal has 202 wickets between overs 7-16.
Chahal had a highly productive IPL 2022 with the Rajasthan Royals, topping the bowling charts with 27 wickets in 17 matches.
India might rely on Axar as a secondary option. Axar’s prowess with the bat and in the field strengthens his case as a backup. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi, both part of India’s Asia Cup squad, could also be part of the larger squad.