Having exited the tournament, India has nothing more than pride to play for in its last Asia Cup Super 4 outing against Afghanistan here on Thursday.
India, with two losses in two Super 4 clashes, will use the match to solve a few team combination puzzles that have stumped the team. The most pertinent among them is the curious case of Dinesh Karthik.
During the death-overs of India’s Asia Cup Super 4 match against Sri Lanka here on Tuesday, substitute Karthik came onto the field with a pair of gloves and a word of advice for the batters. If ever one needed tips on how to finish with a flourish, Karthik is the man for the job.
Why then was Karthik carrying drinks and not batting in the middle? The Indian team management believes that the batting line-up needs a left-hander to fill the spot left vacant by injured all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. Enter southpaw wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant - the match-up answer to tackling leg-spinners and left-arm orthodox spinners.
While this reads well in theory, it did not produce the desired results. Walking out in the 15th over, Pant only managed a scratchy 13-ball 17. His partner, Hardik Pandya, was not at his best either, resulting in India losing the tempo.
There would be no acceleration provided by Deepak Hooda, who came in at number seven. Hooda normally bats in the top-order, and was therefore bound to find it tough to succeed in the unfamiliar role of finisher. Hooda only lasted four balls, before being cleaned up by pacer Dilshan Madushanka in the 19th over.
Hooda, a handy off-spinner, has not been used as an all-rounder. The 27-year-old has not been called to bowl in the two matches he has played in Asia Cup 2022.
India sorely missed a finisher of the calibre of Karthik. The Tamil Nadu cricketer has not been given a fair go, having faced just one ball in this tournament.
According to captain Rohit Sharma, Karthik’s only drawback is that he is a right-hander.
“We wanted a left-hander to bat in the middle. That’s why Dinesh Karthik was out. Not because of form or anything. We wanted a left-hand batter in the middle to take pressure off, but it didn’t happen. But by no means has Karthik been dropped because of poor form,” Rohit said after the defeat to Sri Lanka.
If Pant must feature in the eleven, he is perhaps best used as an opener. He can replace KL Rahul, who is struggling for runs. After showing signs of regaining his touch with a 20-ball 28 against Pakistan, Rahul was back to jabs and pokes in the Sri Lanka encounter.
The silver lining for the Indians was Rohit’s fine 72. The skipper looked fluent, picking the lengths early and attacking with venom. His individual brilliance, however, was not enough to mask bigger team failings.