Siraj-inspired India fire warning shots at World Cup rivals

Everyone expected Pakistan's pace attack to dominate the Asia Cup. But it was the Indian bowlers that produced the fireworks

By Team KT

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India's Mohammed Siraj celebrates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka's Dhananjaya de Silva during the Asia Cup final. — AFP
India's Mohammed Siraj celebrates after taking the wicket of Sri Lanka's Dhananjaya de Silva during the Asia Cup final. — AFP

Published: Sun 17 Sep 2023, 7:43 PM

Less than three weeks ago, the Asia Cup started in anticipation of a Pakistan pace assault on rival batting line-ups.

But the star-studded Pakistan attack imploded after the early bursts of pace and swing.

As Pakistan left the stage with question marks hanging over the fitness of their pacers, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf, and the team's ability to cope with the pressure of big matches, India seemed to have found solutions to all their problems.

For a team that started their Asia Cup campaign on an inauspicious note, giving away 230 runs to minnows Nepal, India produced the fireworks at the business end of the continental showpiece.

And it was the modest Mohammed Siraj who emerged the hero with a stunning spell of fast bowling in the final against Sri Lanka.

Siraj is not the leader of India's attack, but he was the destroyer-in-chief on Sunday, reducing the Sri Lankan top-order to rubble in front of the stunned home fans.

Siraj's career best 6-21, including four wickets in one over at the R Premadasa Stadium, helped India bowl Sri Lanka out for 50 in 15.2 overs, the 1996 world champions' second lowest total in one-day internationals history.

Shubman Gill (27 not out) and Ishan Kishan (23 not out) then completed the formalities in just 6.1 overs to end the most lopsided Asia Cup final of all time.

The emphatic 10-wicket victory not only earned India their eight Asia Cup title, but it also helped Rohit Sharma's team underline their credentials as the top favourites for next month's World Cup.

India's batting looks in good health with their big names producing match-turning knocks during the course of the rain-hit tournament.

In the bowling department, all eyes were on pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah who was making a comeback after a long injury layoff.

While Bumrah bowled with tremendous control and swing in Sri Lanka, Kuldeep Yadav, the man-of-the-tournament, stole the show with his superb left-arm spin, always probing the batsman with his turn and length.

But in Sunday's final, it was Siraj who produced the performance of a life-time.

Unleashing his outswingers at great pace, the 29-year-old Hyderabad pacer proved his class less than three weeks before the start of the World Cup in India.

Siraj was unplayable in his second over when he dismissed Pathum Nissanka, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka and Dhananjaya de Silva to silence the home crowd as the Lankans slumped to 12 for six.

"It's like a dream," said Siraj, who became only the fourth bowler to take four wickets in an over in ODIs.

"I got four early wickets last time I played Sri Lanka (earlier this year) but unfortunately I could not register a five-wicket haul.

"I realised you get whatever is in your destiny. I just tried to bowl my line and length, and wickets kept coming.

"The ball did not swing much in the early matches here but today it swung a lot. My effort was to draw the batters forward and make them play the ball."

India will now enter the World Cup with three genuine wicket-takers in Bumrah, Kuldeep and Siraj with support from seasoned all-rounders Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya and Axar Patel.

"Our seamers are actually working really hard for many years, so it's pleasing for the side to see them rewarded like that. Very clinical. A performance like that will be cherished for a very long time," skipper Rohit said.

While Siraj said he was well supported by the pitch conditions, Rohit felt the devastating spell was the result of the bowler's own hard work and skills.

"I never thought the ball was going to be doing that much (on that pitch), again it comes back to the skillset of the individuals. That's very rare, you don't see many guys who can move it in the air and off the pitch," Rohit said.

The prospects are alluring now for Rohit's team which will be brimming with confidence when they face Australia in a three-match ODI series starting on September 22 in Mohali, before opening their World Cup campaign against the same opponents in Chennai on October 8.


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