But against all odds, Dasun Shanaka and co. played a very brave brand of T20 cricket to clinch the island nation’s 6th Asian Cup title and deliver a sense of joy and relief to a nation in crisis.
The loss in their Asian Cup opener was their only defeat in the tournament this time, with the Lankans recording an epic turnaround, winning 5 games in a row after the loss to Afghanistan to go all the way of the 2022 edition of the tournament, which was only the second time the Asian Cup has been played in the T20I format.
While the Lankans started as dark horses at best, defending champions India were the clear favorites to at least advance to the final. Rohit Sarma and co. however, he looked uncomfortable throughout the tournament and withdrew after losing 2 of his three matches in the Super 4 phase.
While the Indian team is considered one of the best in world cricket currently and is ranked number 1 in the ICC T20I team rankings, the Sri Lankan team in the recently concluded Asian Cup showed that the shortest format of the game is all about getting together and playing as a unit.
TimesofIndia.com Here’s a look at three key areas where Sri Lanka were perfect in their execution and where the Indian side were found to be lacking in the recently concluded Asian Cup.
With the next edition of T20 World Cup now around the corner, the Indian side will be looking to quickly learn from their mistakes and learn valuable lessons from Sri Lanka’s Asian Cup triumph.
Playing eleven set
One of the main reasons for Sri Lanka’s triumph in the Asian Cup was their consistency in team selection. Supporting the same group of players and maintaining a stable playing XI helped Sri Lanka throughout the tournament. Top hitter Charith Asalanka and point guards Asitha Fernando and Matheesha Pathirana were the only players to be tried and dropped in the 6 games they played.
While Asalanka (0,1,8 and 0) was terribly out of form and was substituted, Fernando proved costly and was left out in the final game of the tournament. Young Pathirana has only played one game for Sri Lanka. Except for the trio, Sri Lanka in each of their games stuck to a steady playing XI and supported them to play.
Charith Asalanka (AP Photo)
The management of the Indian team, on the other hand, seemed to have too much on their minds and never really looked like a stable unit throughout the tournament. A short pacer before the tournament even started, skipper Rohit Sharma and the team’s management made changes to almost every game.
From being unable to choose between Rishabh Pant (played 4 out of 5 games) and Dinesh Karthik (played 3 out of 5 games) to finding a way to solve the third point guard problem, to juggling between R Ashwin ( played 2 out of 5 games) and Ravi Bishnoi (played 1 out of 5), India seemed to be experimenting a bit with one eye on the T20 World Cup.
The injury of all-around star Ravindra Jadeja (played 2 out of 5 games) and rookie Deepak Hooda (played 3 out of 5 games) failed to step up and really deliver on the big stage has also added to India’s woes at the tournament.
Avesh Khan, who was expensive in the 2 matches he played, was first kicked out then sidelined due to illness and Deepak Chahar, who for some strange reason was on the waiting list for the tournament, despite being back in full form, was eventually roped in for the final game of the Super Four. Although the T20 is the most fluid form in the sport, the constant cuts and changes have never really helped a team in any format. And this time at the Asian Cup, in a tournament, India was named as the favorite to win, it was in the spotlight.
With the squad for the T20 World Cup now announced, skipper Rohit in the next two T20I series against Australia and South Africa ahead of the showpiece event will need to focus on building a squad coherent. With Sri Lanka being a perfect example of how a stable unit can deliver, India will need to prioritize and support the players most likely to be first-choice players in the T20 World Cup by playing the XIs.
Sri Lanka Openers Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis were able to build a strong platform in most of their team’s games during the tournament. This was followed by stunning undead like Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dasun Shanaka, and Wanindu Hasaranga.
While Nissanka and Mendis finished with 173 and 155 runs respectively, Rajapaksa (191 runs at a strike rate – 149.21), Hasaranga (SR – 149.21) and Shanaka (SR – 138.75) managed to give the last blow to the Lankans. Overall, Sri Lanka were a team that always looked like they had someone who could get them out of trouble, like in the final against Pakistan when they fell to 58/5 and Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Wanindu Hasaranga put more than fifty finally brings them to a more than combative total of 170/6.
Pathum Nissanka, right, and Kusal Mendis. (AP Photo)
For India, Rohit at the top played 4 games and racked up 133 carries. Fellow fly-half KL Rahul, who has a reputation for decimating opposing bowlers, hit 132 runs in 5 games at a strike rate of 122.22.
Hardik Pandya, the versatile swordsman, was among the big guns who didn’t really shoot for India with the bat in the Asian Cup. In the 3 games in which Hardik participated, he only got 50 points. Designated finisher Dinesh Karthik, meanwhile, has never had a decent window in the three matches he has appeared in.
Rishabh Pant had 4 innings to go but looked completely out of color, scoring just 51 runs at a strike rate of 124.39. Deepak Hooda also crumbled under the pressure on the big stage, scoring 19 points in the limited opportunities he had in 3 games.
The only bright spot for India that came from the Asian Cup in the batting department was that Virat Kohli regained his lost mojo. Kohli finished second among run-getters in the tournament (276 runs in 5 matches with a success rate of 147.59). He also marked his first international century in almost three years (since November 2019) and surprised everyone, including himself, that he was scored in the shortest format in the game.
While the in-form Kohli mostly made sure India was strong early and midway through the playoffs, the heavy hitters who came later failed to finish the innings with big runs.
For India to be successful at the World Cup, the likes of Rohit, Rahul and Hardik will need to step up in a big way. Whether in powerplay or death overs, India’s power hitters were somewhat exposed in the Asian Cup while Sri Lanka’s heavy hitters thrived. Focusing on timing the ball rather than just trying to slush was a big difference between the hitters on both teams.
Toe-in remains a problem for Team India.
With 2 T20I series lined up ahead of the T20 World Cup, India will need to look at their scoring strategies at the start and end of innings and come up with some smart answers.
Precise bowling strategies and bowlers who consistently delivered
India entered the Asian Cup with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan in the pace department. While the cricket pundits were of the opinion that India were running out of pace, Avesh’s below-par performance in the first two games added to the team’s headaches. After that, his illness ruled out the pacer and India were forced to launch versatile player Hardik Pandya over their full quota of overs. Hardik has been playing at full throttle lately, but he hasn’t been very good at getting the big breakthroughs as such. He took 4 wickets in 12 overs in 3 games. Three of these wickets were taken in one game (3/25 against Pakistan in the game which India won by 5 wickets).
Along with the above, the injury to the all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has shaken up the team and there were clearly issues getting the right squad combination.
For Sri Lanka, it seemed like they were clear from the start that spinners Wanindu Hasaranga (9 wickets) and Maheesh Theekshana (6 wickets) will be their main bowlers and the point guards will play around them.
And the Lankan Pacers delivered. The likes of Chamika Karunaratne and Dilshan Madushanka shared 13 wickets between them.
Wanindu Hasaranga (Getty Images)
An inexperienced-paced bowling attack (apart from Bhuvneshwar) coupled with injuries, limited picks and an out-of-form bowler (Avesh) meant India skipper Rohit was limited in terms of the options he had. Add to that the fact that experienced campaigners like R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal only shared 6 wickets between them in the tournament failing to deliver as expected.
With pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah and undead specialist Harshal Patel now back in the squad for the T20 World Cup and the two series leading up to it, Rohit’s worries will automatically subside a little. bit and he hopes his best point guards find their groove as soon as possible.