The group stage of the Asia Cup 2022 has been wrapped up, and the fixtures of the upcoming Super-4 stage are now clear, with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka joining Team India in progressing to the next stage. Notably, India shall play Pakistan once again in the Super-4 which is also a round-robin stage that shall see the top 4 teams from Asia battle it out for a chance to make it to the final.
So let’s have a look at Team India’s journey so far and assess what the mood in the camp might be on the back of their progression.
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India vs Pakistan (India won by 5 wickets and 2 balls to spare)
India was primed for a high-octane start to the tournament as soon as the fixture list came out. This was because India was set to meet Pakistan in their very first game and thus reignite a box-office rivalry that has been the centrepiece of this sport for the last few decades. The match did not disappoint at all.
After India won the toss and put Pakistan into bat, the Indian bowlers validated the call with some steady bowling all around. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in particular did some serious damage to Pakistani hopes early on when he dispatched the dangerous Babar Azam early in the innings. Apart from that all-important wicket, Kumar took 3 further wickets to finish with figures of 4/26.
He was ably supported by the irrepressible Hardik Pandya who, it seems, had decided early on to stamp his mark on this game. Pandya took 3 crucial wickets in his 4-over spell sending back the well-set opener Mohammad Rizwan as he neared his half century, before also sending Iftikhar Ahmed, who was threatening to take the game away from India, and fellow middle order batsman Khushdil Shah back to the pavilion.
By taking regular wickets through the innings, India managed to restrict Pakistan to a relatively modest total of 147, although the Pakistani tail did wag its way to adding an explosive 30 plus runs to what might have otherwise been a measly T20 total— something that will be a cause of concern for the Indian team management.
The game was India’s to lose with a very reachable total in front of them, but the Pakistani bowlers were fired up and ready to give it their all to peg the Indians back. KL Rahul was sent back for a duck and Rohit Sharma tried to build his innings slowly but was undone as he tried to pick up his pace.
It was former captain Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja, promoted up the order, who steadied the ship for the Indians and consolidated the innings to get the run chase back on track, with both scoring 35. Kohli departed prematurely as the match was hanging in the balance, and when Suryakumar Yadav fell for 18, Pakistan must have been eyeing a famous win.
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But the mercurial Hardik Pandya stole the show again and took the game away from them, this time with the bat as he dragged India over the line. And he did so with style—slamming a 6 in the last over, after hilariously telling non-striker Dinesh Kartik to calm down when the latter wanted to scamper for a single with India needing 6 runs from just 3 balls.
While the result will have boosted morale no end, particularly on the back of India’s first ever defeat to Pakistan in a World Cup when the two met last in the 2021 edition, there are still plenty of areas for the team to work on if they seek to repeat these heroics in the Super 4.
India should arguably have not made such a meal of chasing a modest total, even though the Pakistani bowlers did bowl their hearts out on a pitch that wasn’t all that favourable for batsmen. This is because the Pakistan team themselves are capable of a lot more than what they showed in this encounter, and with low-scoring games for Babar Azam coming at a premium he is unlikely to give up his wicket as cheaply as he did the next time.
Pakistan did lose, but they may have gained some heart from the defeat, particularly when they note that had they not been forced to bring in an extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle in the last 3 overs due to their slow over rate, the match result might have been completely different.
India vs Hong Kong (India won by 40 runs)
Team India’s second opponent was Hong Kong, and the Indian batsmen went about working on their form once they were sent in to bat first. The openers got going this time, which will have been a heartening sign for the Indian fans, although neither could capitalise on their strong starts.
The ones that did capitalise on their starts were Virat Kohli, who finally got himself into the numbers after having endured a sustained period of indifferent form, and Suryakumar Yadav who was simply on a demolition mission against the tiny Asian country. Kohli who scored 59 runs in quick time, was happy to play second fiddle to Yadav as the latter went about unboxing his entire array of shots and unleashing himself on the despairing Hong Kong bowlers. Yadav’s 68-run rampage from just 26 balls led India to a total of 192.
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The Hong Kong batsmen put up a good account of themselves, however, and it will have been a defeat they took with their heads held high. This after Hong Kong went after the Indian bowlers with a wanton fearlessness to put together an impressive, if unsuccessful chase. Avesh Khan and Arshdeep Singh were in particular battered around the park- two bowlers who had also seemed to be the weaker links in the game against Pakistan, and India will have been mildly concerned by the fact that Hong Kong was able to put together a total of 152/5 as tougher challenges await.
As Team India prepares for the Super 4, there will be areas to work on. While the team can take confidence from the wins so far, the management will also be aware that it cannot stand still and that it needs to iron out the chinks in its armour if India wants to claim the Asia Cup. Every Indian batsmen has made a start in one game or the other, which will be something to carry forward and build on into the tournament.
With regards to the bowling, there’s work to be done with regard to the confidence of Arshdeep Singh and Avesh Khan. They’ve both not enjoyed their bowling so far and India will need them to click and find their rhythm as well because upcoming opponents will already be identifying them as potential easy pickings in our bowling lineup.