A fickle middle-order and some sub-par fielding affected Team India’s performance

Most analyses of India’s performance in a tournament are reduced to a hyperbolic dichotomy.

Depending on how the result pans out, India is either ‘very good’ or ‘horrible’. But qualifying India’s showing in the Asia Cup with strong adjectives needs to be done with caution.

The bottom-line might make for bad reading coming as it does after the team’s losses in South Africa and New Zealand. But if a report card analogy were to be used, India might get a ‘fair’ or ‘average’.

Considering that it was a young, relatively-inexperienced team (Amit Mishra is the oldest at 31), it isn’t a particularly bad remark. This was the first occasion, in a long time, that India had fielded a unit minus M.S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, and Suresh Raina.

Virat Kohli will easily rank as the class-topper and that isn’t only by virtue of his stupendous batting form. Captaining the side in his first major assignment, Kohli pleasantly surprised many with his composed demeanour. The 25-year-old has had a reputation of being a hothead and a few impetuous decisions were deemed to be par for the course.

But his maturity came through even in the seemingly insignificant moments. When Mohammed Shami and Ambati Rayudu collided while going for a catch against Bangladesh, an argument appeared to brew between them. Kohli stepped in immediately and asked them to enjoy the wicket and move on.

By his own admission, he has taken on greater responsibility as a batsman, and he extended the same philosophy to his leadership. It was his innings, and Ajinkya Rahane’s calmness, which helped India accomplish a tricky chase against Bangladesh.

Tactically, too, the man from Delhi has been on the ball; Mishra’s attacking leg-spin was supplemented with equally aggressive fields. Also, his press-conferences have revealed a remarkably clear mind; while Kohli would back his players, he wasn’t oblivious to India’s failings.

Even a cursory glance would reveal that India’s fielding was sub-par for the most part. The defeat to Sri Lanka was singularly owing to the number of catches it put down, not to forget a missed stumping that let Kumar Sangakkara off the hook.

The Rohit conundrum

There was also the largely unsolved riddle that was Rohit Sharma’s role as an opener. Although Kohli plumped for Rohit’s utility at the top, and the latter himself had a minor redemption with a half-century against Pakistan, there was another surprise in store in India’s last match. It was Rahane and not Rohit who walked alongside Shikhar Dhawan to open the innings against Afghanistan.

Dhawan’s approach was understated than usual, but he ended up as India’s highest scorer (192 runs) with Kohli scoring three runs fewer.

The leading wicket-taker, R. Ashwin, after beginning the tournament with a shocking Sunil Narine-impression, rediscovered some of his mojo. With Ravindra Jadeja successfully choking the batsmen, Ashwin found some latitude to attempt his variations. It is, however, inexplicable why Bhuvneshwar Kumar is used at the death where he’s a pale alter-ego of the swinging brilliance with the new ball.

Other issues remain, too, such as the fickle middle-order. While Rayudu did apply himself, Dinesh Karthik again failed to make capital of the opportunity. Also, the refusal to play Cheteshwar Pujara or Ishwar Pandey in the inconsequential game against Afghanistan — a move that was criticised by Sunil Gavaskar — was puzzling.

This Indian unit is far from being the finished article. With sustained consistency in selection, and a more concerted vision in place, the scene could be much rosier.

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