Rohit Sharma’s Indian team will be firm favourites to end its five-year trophy draught in multi-nation events when it squares off against a depleted Sri Lanka in the final of the Asia Cup here on Sunday despite a few niggling questions still remaining unanswered.
While Axar Patel is an important component in the Indian set-up and his multiple injuries remain a concern, Sri Lanka will in fact miss their premier spinner Maheesh Theekshana way more due to his right hamstring injury.
A glance at India’s trophy cabinet will reveal the uncomfortable truth of them not winning any titles in the last five years, and Sunday will be a good opportunity for them to snap that unhappy streak.
Not to forget a win before getting into the World Cup mode will be the ideal boost for a side that hasn’t yet fully ticked all boxes but is showing way more solidity than one would have thought a few months back.
India’s last title, across the three formats, came in 2018 when Rohit’s side beat Bangladesh in the Asia Cup by three wickets in Dubai.
Since that victory, India’s inability to master crunch matches and occasions has been startling.
India reached the semifinals of the 50-over World Cup in 2019 and the T20 World Cup in 2022, besides losing against New Zealand and Australia in the WTC finals in 2019 and 2023 respectively.
The Men in Blue also failed to make their presence felt in last year’s Asia Cup, which was won by Sri Lanka. That event was played in T20 format.
Whichever one looks at it, this is a seriously underwhelming record for a team that prides in its cricketing tradition and wants to set some new trends under head coach Rahul Dravid and skipper Rohit.
However, India will believe that they have a brilliant chance to add a trophy to their glittering collection come Sunday.
India are certain to recall the five players who were rested for the Super Four match against Bangladesh on Friday, which they eventually lost by six runs.
The return of Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya for the summit clash will certainly add meat to their batting unit, which struggled against the array of Bangladesh spinners.
Opener Shubman Gill made a top-class hundred, but the rest of the batsmen could not rotate strike effectively in the middle overs, leaving the late order with a tall task.
The match also revealed another area India needed to address – the lack of consistency in bundling out a side after making early inroads.
India had reduced Bangladesh to 59 for 4, but the bowlers gave away too many runs in the death overs, allowing their neighbors to post a healthy 265.
But India will hope that the issue will be solved once pacers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav make their comeback for tomorrow’s game.
India will keep a watch on Axar’s right hand which received multiple beatings in the match against Bangladesh, suffering niggles on his little finger and forearm along with hamstring injury.
Even though the team management informed that they are still monitoring the progress of the left-arm spinner, they have roped in off-spinner Washington Sundar as cover for him for the final.
Washington was training in Bengaluru with India’s Asian Games-bound squad and is expected to link with the team in Colombo by this evening.
But these are India’s immediate concerns pertaining to the Asia Cup final. But they cannot be unmindful of the larger picture as well.
Apart from the practice games, India have four more ODIs – the Asia Cup final and three matches against Australia – prior to the World Cup to tick the desired boxes.
A victory here in the Asia Cup will boost their confidence ahead of the quadrennial big bash next month, as they also seek to end a 10-year-long ICC trophy drought.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka will feel quietly confident of their chances against India, as the home side is also on a 15-match winning streak in ODIs.
Teams (India): Rohit Sharma (captain), Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumraj, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Washington Sundar (cover for injured Axar Patel).
Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (captain), Pathum Nissanaka, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis (vc), Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Matheesha Pathirana, Kasun Rajitha, Dushan Hemantha, Binura Fernando, Pramod Madushan