Rohit Sharma, India’s victorious stand-in captain, wants those auditioning for the Nos. 4 and 6 spots in the ODI XI to get more opportunities in the next few months, even if team dynamics change when Virat Kohli takes over the leadership.
“The guys who were here had the ability to win matches for the team,” Rohit said. “They’ve won matches for their state or IPL teams. No one took extra pressure because some players weren’t available. We want to create an environment where boys come in, play carefree, and not think that this is an international match and we need to change our game.
“As a management, it is our duty to give the players that freedom to go play like they play at the club or domestic level. At the start of the tournament, we discussed this and gave them a clear message: ‘treat this like you’re playing for your domestic team, nothing to change.’ It was very important to give them this message, to ensure there’s no insecurity within.”
At his pre-tournament press conference, Rohit had advocated for continuity, and he stuck to it through the Asia Cup. India gave six straight opportunities to Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav to further strengthen their cases for a middle-order berth with next year’s World Cup in mind.
Among them, Rayudu displayed his versatility in batting at different positions. He scored a half-century apiece as an opener and at No. 3 against Afghanistan and Hong Kong respectively, while Karthik made 146 runs in five innings at No. 4, largely playing the role of an accumulator on sluggish surfaces where batting required a certain degree of patience and calm. Those included scores of 33, 31*, 1*, 44 and 37. Jadhav impressed with his wicket-taking abilities in the middle overs, apart from making a crucial unbeaten 23 in the final despite an injured right hamstring.
“I think we pretty much have clarity. Those at No. 4 and No. 6 need to get more games as the World Cup comes closer,” Rohit said. “It’s too early to judge or say they’ve sealed the spot. I shouldn’t be saying that because right now is not the time. The next few tournaments that we’re going to play will probably be ideal for us to judge as a management and see where they stand.
“When we came here, I wanted to give them the assurance first that they will play all the games. That’s how you make players. You give them the assurance of going and playing freely without taking pressure. If you know that you’re going to be dropped after two games, it’s not easy for anyone. I think it is important to keep that team consistently going, and that is something that we spoke at the start of the tournament. I wanted to give everybody a fair run and play more games. That’s how you will understand a player’s capability because in one-odd game you can’t judge. You need quite a few games.”
Rohit himself registered scores of 23, 52, 83*, 111* and 48, thereby proving captaincy had little effect on his batting. He delivered two half-century opening stands and a double-century opening stand with Shikhar Dhawan, all in match-winning causes. The flip side of this consistency was less-than-ideal batting time for the middle order.
The near-failed chase against Afghanistan in a tie and their mini-collapse in the final notwithstanding, Rohit was reasonably happy with the middle order’s performances. “As far as the batting goes, middle order didn’t get as many chances as we wanted them to, because the top-order batsmen batted quite a lot in the tournament,” Rohit said. “But whenever they’ve got chances, they’ve shown signs of handling pressure well. It’s a different issue that they didn’t finish it off, but I think they handled the pressure well.”
Kathik apart, the only batsman among those who played all matches to have not made a half-century was MS Dhoni. He started the tournament with a duck against Hong Kong, but showed glimpses of solidity in making 33 and 36 against Bangladesh in the Super Four game and the final, respectively. On Friday, Dhoni’s dismissal triggered a lower-order wobble that threatened to pull Bangladesh back into the contest, but India had vital lower-order partnerships involving Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Bhuvneshwar’s 31-ball 21 at No. 8 helped absorb pressure after India were 167 for 5 and Jadhav had hobbled off with a hamstring strain. Bhuvneshwar added 45 with Ravindra Jadeja, with the pair intent on strike rotation without taking too many gambles. In a sign of his improved power game, Bhuvneshwar also drilled an attempted yorker from Rubel Hossain over long-off for six with India needing 26 off 28.
In just the one innings, he showed what India had missed all along while he was injured, a solid No. 8 who could provide the team batting cushion in situations like these. “Bhuvi is a very crucial member of the squad. Not just now, but for a few years,” Rohit said. “In Sri Lanka too, he got a fifty and had a big partnership with MS to win the game. Even today, his runs were so crucial.
“He understands that the team wants him to bat as well, and not just bowl. If any player in your team can provide you with something else apart from their main skill, it makes your team better, so that’s what we all look forward to from each player. He takes his batting very seriously.”
Rohit was effusive in his praise for Ravindra Jadeja, who made an ODI comeback at the Asia Cup after more than a year. In his very first outing, he bagged a four-for, while his fielding and lower-order batting – the knocks where he failed to finish off notwithstanding – providing soothing signs to a unit intent on finding back-ups for every spot. That Jadeja returned was because of Hardik Pandya’s back spasms that ruled him out of the competition.
With the ball, Jadeja’s no-frills variety helped deliver crucial breakthroughs, but his impact on the field earned him plaudits. In the final, he intercepted a drive by putting in a full-length dive to his left at cover, before recovering quickly and having the presence of mind to fire a throw to the correct end. This resulted in the dismissal of the in-form Mohammad Mithun, paving way for a lower-order implosion that cost Bangladesh heavily.
Rohit quickly corrected a query on Jadeja’s forced ODI break and then explained why he thought those performances mattered. “I don’t think it was a break, Jadeja was out of the team,” he clarified. “When you’re out, you have the fire inside you, that burning desire to make a comeback and prove to yourself, rather than proving to anyone else. I think he’s proved himself in this tournament that he’s much better than what he was before.
“I clearly remember, he flew in the night before the first game and got four wickets immediately. Even today, he didn’t bowl 10 overs, but his batting and fielding abilities are very, very crucial to the team. I think what he did on the field, that run-out of Mithun was the turning point. I think that is something that gave us a way to come back into the game. Also as a team we understand what sort of a player he is, what he brings to the table. His batting again today, although he made around 25-odd, it was so crucial. In the context of a match, it was as good as scoring a half-century.”