India win a memorable Asia Cup of close finishes (Column: Just Sport)
The just-concluded Asia Cup will be remembered for edge-of-the-seat finishes in four matches as it culminated in India becoming champions for the seventh time, with a last-ball victory over Bangladesh in the title-clash.
Bangladesh made it a memorable final as well as the tournament for themselves. A pity, they played three finals in the biennial tournament and could not win even once. This was their second successive loss to India in the final and had lost the 2012 final to Pakistan.
Bangladesh were able to defend 246 against Afghanistan, and 239 against Pakistan in a virtual semi-final. They looked like doing so again against India and this time they had 223. They stumbled at the doorstep of history as they were up against a truly all-round side in the final. In the pool game, they were no match to India.
This the second final Bangladesh lost to India this year, both after looking like pulling them off. Six months ago, they could not stop India from getting 32 runs in the last two overs of the Twenty20 Nidahas Tournament in Colombo when Dinesh Karthik hit what he thought his karma of doing good things helped him hit a winning last-ball six.
A look at the Asia Cup scorecard shows how India got out of difficult situations in the final even though none of their batsmen scored a fifty, skipper Rohit Sharma being the closest with 48. What tilted the balance was that seven Indian batsmen had healthy double-figures, helping them in stringing crucial partnerships, particularly the lower middle order.
Any team losing the way from 128/1 in the 24th over cannot be condoned. Bangladesh's talented opener Liton Das tested the selectors' patience before showing why he is being persisted with despite repeated failures by cracking stroke-filled century. Leaving him and only two batsmen barely got into the 30s and the next best score was seven.
This is not the first time that Indian attack was taken to cleaners by the openers to post a hundred-plus partnership, Hong Kong, too, frustrated them, Nizakat Khan (92) and captain Anshuman Rath (73) putting on 174.
In both the matches, neither the captain nor the bowlers panicked. They had the wiser counsel of Mahendra Singh Dhoni from behind the stumps and the golden arm of Kedar Jadhav to pull them out of tight situations.
When the United Arab Emirates hosts any cricket it is expected to be a high-scoring. Yet, the total never crossed the 300-mark. Strangely, India posted the highest total in the tournament, 287, and made a heavy weather of defending it against qualifiers Hong Kong.
Hong Kong deserved to win after a fantastic chase, which fell short of the target by 29 runs. Hong Kong's 259 for eight is the second highest score of the tournament.
The shocking part is Pakistan's poor showing. Their morale was so low that if they had played the final they would have been staring at a third defeat against India in the tournament, after getting hammered twice.
The tragedy for them is that their match-winning pacer Mohammed Amir had to be dropped after Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan hammered him for 41 runs in five overs. Then their top-order batting was panicky, Shoaib Malik bailing them out more than once.
Talking positives is a favourtie pastime for the captains. The tournament brought Dhawan back into focus as he hit two hundreds to be named the player of the tournament. But that may not help him retain his Test place in the upcoming series against West Indies.
His miserable showing in South Africa and England will continue to be marked against him, though Rohit may be back at No.6, after missing the England tour, when the selectors sit down to pick the squad on Sunday.
The selectors may continue to rest and rotate players but it is unclear how much will that help either the players or the team. Rohit, who is being seen as white-ball cricket captain in the Dhoni mould, said after the tournament that the fourth and sixth slot in the World Cup batting order are still up for grabs. Ambati Tirupathi Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik are in the running and they had decent outings. Karthik in particular played two critical innings, including his 37 in the final.
As for Dhoni, he should play in domestic cricket, as Sunil Gavaskar suggested, and that will help him to regain his touch as a free-flowing stroke-maker, though he is still the best man to tend the wickets. He might even regain his power to be a finisher knocking around.
The bowling is pretty good, though there is place for an off-spinner to complete the attack. Whether it should be Ravichandran Ashwin or Washington Sundar is an issue to be decided after a couple of more months and matches.
The bench strength had been tested in the Asia Cup and most of them will get more opportunities to fight for their places in the World Cup in England next summer.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)