Asia Cup 2022: Rohit’s men need a morale-boosting win

The Indian captain faces challenge of motivating his team to go out for an inconsequential battle in a premier tournament like the DP World Asia Cup



Indian pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar. — AFP
Indian pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar. — AFP
by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Wed 7 Sep 2022, 8:09 PM

Rohit Sharma may have claimed that the mood in his team’s dressing room never changes after a victory or defeat, but deep down even the most ardent backer of the Indian captain knows the challenge he faces against Afghanistan on Thursday.

The challenge of motivating his team to go out for an inconsequential battle in a premier tournament like the DP World Asia Cup, having failed to live up to the favourites tag in the continental showpiece.

“For India, there is no Asia Cup, it’s time to PACK UP,” one disgruntled Indian fan tweeted following the team’s subdued performance in the six-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka on Tuesday, which effectively ended their hopes of qualifying for the final.

And so, there will be no third round of the India-Pakistan rivalry in this tournament.

Instead, it’s Sri Lanka who will be taking on India’s arch-rivals for a shot at winning the trophy in the final on September 11, having proven to the world that you don’t need superstars to produce results.

While Sri Lanka have made a stirring comeback in the tournament after their embarrassing defeat in the opener against Afghanistan, India’s fortunes have nosedived.

Rahul Dravid’s wards did well to hold their nerve when they overcame Pakistan’s fightback in their opening game, but their bowlers have fumbled since then and the star-studded middle-order has failed to provide the spark.

If Suryakumar Yadav had not taken India to an imposing 192 for five with a 26-ball unbeaten 68, even Hong Kong would have pulled off a shock win in the tournament.

The minnows were bowled out for 38 by Pakistan just two days after they posted an impressive 152 for five against India, handling the Indian pacers as well as the spinners with remarkable ease.

Pressure on Bhuvneshwar

A month before the start of the T20 World Cup (October 16-November 13) in Australia, India are in search of some serious answers.

They would be desperate to know if Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 32, can regain his mojo as a death overs specialist, having proved ineffective while bowling the crunch penultimate overs against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the last two games.

The hugely experienced right-arm pacer still has the backing of his captain.

"Experienced batsmen get out and bowlers leak runs as well, these things are normal, and happen ... Bhuvi has been playing for so long, and has worked for us for so many years in the 'death overs' and won us games. So we should not judge him on two or three games," said the Indian captain, as he defended one of his senior bowlers after the team’s defeat on Tuesday.

With Jasprit Bumrah likely to return from injury lay-off to lead India’s charge in the World Cup, Bhuvneshwar will have six T20 Internationals against Australia and South Africa to find his top gear before heading Down Under.

In the absence of Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar delivered a superb spell against Pakistan in the opening game, picking up four wickets for 26. He was the only bowler to have done no harm to his reputation in the next match against Hong Kong whose batsmen showed plenty of spirit and skills against India.

But it’s his failure to contain the flow of runs in the make-or-break penultimate overs of the last two games that have robbed India of a chance to be in the final.

Wasim Akram, the iconic Pakistan fast bowler, has identified the problem in Bhuvneshwar’s bowling.

"Bhuvi is a very good bowler. Don't get me wrong but there is no pace. In T20, when you don't have pace, especially on this kind of pitch, he's a medium pacer, just maybe over medium pacer...135 (kmph). You need 140 (kmph) plus bowler like Jasprit Bumrah in the side,” Akram told Star Sports while analysing India’s defeat on Tuesday.

Bhuvneshwar was never known for his express pace, it was his swing, variations, discipline and yorkers in the death overs that helped him carve out an impressive career at the highest level.

The unassuming man from Uttar Pradesh will get a shot at some sort of redemption against Afghanistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Thursday.

As for the whole bunch, they can ill afford to have any more slip-ups against a fearless Afghan team a month before the start of the World Cup.

TODAY'S MATCH:

Super Four

India vs Afghanistan

Dubai International Cricket Stadium, 6 pm UAE Time

SQUADS:

India: Rohit Sharma (C), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Deepak Hooda, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravi Bishnoi, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Avesh Khan.

Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (C), Najibullah Zadran, Afsar Zazai (wk), Azmatullah Omarzai, Farid Ahmad Malik, Fazal Haq Farooqi, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Hazratullah Zazai, Ibrahim Zadran, Karim Janat, Mujib ur Rahman, Najibullah Zadran, Naveen ul Haq, Noor Ahmad, Rahmanullah Gurbaz (WK), Rashid Khan, Samiullah Shinwari.

HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Matches: 3

India won: 3

Afghanistan: 0


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