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Asia Cup debacle raises serious questions for Team India ahead of 2022 T20 World Cup

After losing to Pakistan in their opening game in the Super 4 stage, India suffered a six-wicket defeat against Sri Lanka on Tuesday and are on the brink of elimination from the Asia Cup. The Men in Blue are now dependent on other results going their way to make the summit clash. If Pakistan beat Afghanistan on Wednesday in Sharjah, India would be officially knocked out of the competition before they take the field for the final game.

Both Super 4s losses had some similar patterns — last-over defeats, death-overs mishaps, middle-order meltdowns, below-par totals — which shows Team India’s inability to learn from their mistakes and rectify that. Despite these losses, captain Rohit Sharma believes these aren’t panic stations just yet. Whether Rohit agrees or not India have serious issues in the side.

With India’s opening match in the 2022 Men’s T20 World Cup against Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) just six weeks away, IANS takes a look at the key areas which captain Rohit and coach Rahul Dravid needs to sort out before the mega event in Australia.

Wise team selection:

India’s team selections during the Asia Cup have been quite difficult to understand since the injury to Ravindra Jadeja. Axar Patel was called in as Jadeja’s replacement but he hasn’t played a game till now.

No doubt, it’s not easy to replace a player like Jadeja but star all-rounder has missed plenty of matches this year due to knee injury, so the team management had ample time to find a replacement.

In Jadeja’s absence, the team wanted a left-hander to counter the spinners during the middle overs so they played Rishabh Pant, but he didn’t look convincing at all against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Overall’s Pant’s numbers are not that impressive either in T20Is, which raises questions about another left-hander Ishan Kishan’s exclusion.

Despite him performing well in the home series against South Africa and series prior to that, the team management has completely sidelined the 24-year-old Kishan and has even tried makeshift openers in his place. On the other hand, Deepak Hooda was prefered over Dinesh Karthik in the last few games because he can bowl a few overs and gives captain and extra option but he didn’t bowl at all.

Also, Hooda’s success has mostly come as a top-order batter but in Asia Cup, he was given the job to finish the innings. So, the question is If Hooda was picked as a pure finisher and not a bowling option, why did the team not play Dinesh Karthik, who has done well in that role in recent times.

In the bowling department, Avesh Khan’s illness left India with just two proper pacers and forced them to play an extra spinner, making Hardik Pandya the third pacer. Undoubtedly, Pandya is a sure-shot match-winner with both bat and ball on his day but relying on him as a four-over bowler in every game is a risky choice. It was also unusual to see India travel to Dubai with only three fast-bowlers in the 15-man squad.

So, team management definitely needs to be wiser with their playing XI selection especially in the high-pressure situations like World Cup.

Clarity of thoughts:

History of cricket shows that too much chopping and changing in team never helps and India’s continued ‘experiments’ in the Asia Cup also proved it once again. One can argue that, Rohit-Dravid is trying to find out the best combination before the World Cup but it definitely should not come at the cost of losing crucial matches, which could hamper the confidence of the team.

Karthik was forced to sit out just after the one game to make way for left-hander Pant while Ravi Bishnoi was dropped for the clash against Sri Lanka despite doing well against Pakistan. R Ashwin, who replaced Bishnoi also has played just one in the whole Asia Cup campaign.

So, these experiments certainly didn’t help the likes of Karthik, Bishnoi and Ashwin, who would want to have more clarity on their roles going forward. On the other hand, KL Rahul also looked rusty during his outing in the Asia Cup, so team management will have to decide whether he has done enough to retain his place for the T20 World Cup or they should look for other options.

Picking right bowlers:

In absence of injured Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel, the Indian bowling line-up especially fast bowlers lacked that penetration and looked ordinary. The experienced campaigner Bhuvneshwar Kumar looked okay at the top but in the two consecutive games, a poor 19th over from him has cost India the game. So, it will be interesting to see whether the team persist with Bhuvi or go for Deepak Chahar, who will also give something with the bat.

On the other hand, Arshdeep Singh also did well in patches and needs to be more consistent with his length and lines. However, since it was the first big tournament for him, youngsters’ performance can help him retain his place for the World Cup. Meanwhile, Avesh Khan played both of India’s group-stage games in the Asia Cup but proved expensive, conceding 72 runs across six overs in the two games he played, including 1 for 53 in the 40-run win against Hong Kong. So, his place is also in danger.

Assuming that Bumrah and Harshal get fit on time and Arshdeep retains his place, India will have to do a brain-storming to pick the rest of fast bowlers. They have options in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Md Shami, Prasidh Krishna, Umran Malik, Mohsin Khan and others.

In the spin department, Yuzvendra Chahal looks certain for the World Cup but there is no clarity on the availability of Jadeja, who underwent a successful surgery on Tuesday. The likes of R Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav are the other options.

After the Asia Cup, India have a home-series against Australia and South-Africa, during which they will have to sort out their issues. The captain and coach should stop experimenting and give consistent runs to players, to give them much-needed clarity and confidence before the T20 World Cup next month.

–IANS<br>avn/cs

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