Has India’s Demolition Act of No.1 Ranked ODI Team Set the World Cup Preparation Ball Rolling?
When was the last time a team's showing made you so happy as an Indian fan? Let me help you out: wasn't it Day 3 of the 2nd Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Delhi in February of this year? That was probably the last time India played like a team that looked like a winner on the pitch. They were still hurting, but they still had a lot of confidence.
Since then, it's been a never-ending cycle of injuries, rehab, setbacks, not making the team, feeling down, and so on. After losing the WTC final, four key white-ball players weren't sure if they would be able to play in the home World Cup. This made the Indian team managers think long and hard about who to put on the team.
India went to the Caribbean and then to Ireland, but when it got back home, fans and sceptics thought it had more questions than solutions.
On one side of the buildup to the Asia Cup 2023, there was the PCB and the fight over the hybrid model. On the other side, there was the No. 4 problem, unproven bowling power, etc.
The newly elected head of selectors spoke to the press. Yes, there were more than one press conference to name the 15-person Asia Cup team and the 15-person World Cup team. Both were good signs, but there were still questions.
KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Jasprit Bumrah's fitness, Virat Kohli's form, Shubhman Gill's declining returns, and the defensive plan of adding bowling all-rounders to give the batting more depth and leaving out real spinners.
But with an amazing attack on Pakistan in the Asia Cup Super-4 after rain delays, this Indian team showed everyone what they are capable of and why they are the favourites to win the World Cup despite all the lies.
Boom! Boom! Ready to do business
Bumrah hadn't bowled 10 overs in a game since he came back. In Ireland T20Is, he was able to bowl a total of eight overs. Yes, he looked good, but the hitters he faced were from Ireland. No offence to them, but we needed to see how he did against the best. The first game of the Asia Cup was a bust, and before the Nepal game, he went home to have his baby.
There could be 4 more games in the Asia Cup, if the weather cooperates, and 3 ODIs against Australia before the World Cup to see if Bumrah is still the same scary bowler he was before he had back surgery. Time was running out, though.
Friday was the first time in 14 months that Bumrah had the new ball in an ODI. First, the ball was hit over the wicket to Fakhar Zaman, who bats left-handed. After one more swing to the outside, he got two swings in. After throwing, the next three players moved away, and Zaman had no idea what was going on. Imam-ul-Haq almost had the same thing happen to him in Bumrah's next turn.
The 27-year-old, whose run-up was clearly shorter, was a threat. On the second delivery of his third over, he got a ball to stay on its line after throwing, and Imam hit one to the slips.
Azam, who is the best batsman in one-day internationals (ODIs), was met with an inswinger and then an inswinger that went away and hit the outside edge. The throw was so damn good that it didn't catch anything, not even Azam's nick.
When the game was over, Bumrah's numbers were 3-1-9-1. He had returned! He finished his first spell with a record of 5-1-18-1. Excellent work! Team India has checked the first box.
Putting the puzzle together
The amount of attention given to KL Rahul's form, health, and skills were talked about so much that it almost overshadowed all of India's other batting problems leading up to the World Cup, like Gill's lack of runs, Kohli's inconsistent form, and even Rohit's less-than-ideal run of runs. But the Indian team's leaders didn't lose track, and they believed Rahul would do well.
The only question was when he would start doing better. Ishan Kishan was making a strong case for himself the whole time.
Rahul missed the first two games of the Asia Cup because of a new injury. If Shreyas Iyer hadn't had a strange back spasm right before the Pakistan game, Rahul would have also missed the Super 4 game. But he got a hit out, first on Sunday to get his eye in and then on Monday to prove himself, at least to his doubters.
And he did it in a big way! Even though the Karnataka player is often disliked and teased, even his harshest critics can't deny that Rahul has a silky touch with the bat.
He started slowly, but he never lost his form, and Kohli said after the game that the traditional way of playing left little room for error or chance. Rahul played like a dream on his way to his sixth ODI hundred, and he did it while batting at No. 4.
Even if Iyer comes back, Rahul is not likely to be in the Indian starting XI, even if he is healthy. Team India has the second box checked.
Putting on the brakes:
Kohli did not have his best year in ODIs in 2022. His average of 27.45 was the lowest since he first played in 2008. Before today, Kohli had only one fifty-plus score in ten innings, which was 113 and 166* against Sri Lanka at home in January of this year.
So, the question of whether he was always the same seemed like a good one. But his 122 not out against Pakistan showed that the master still has a lot to give. He said after the game that it was a rough start, but he kept playing second fiddle to Rahul and when it was time to step it up, he did. Kohli has always had the ability to change gears when he wants to, and that was clear on Monday.
Kohli once again told everyone that, despite all the talk about moving the game forward and playing exciting cricket even in the middle overs, the most important part of batting in ODIs is still alternating strikes and running well between the wickets. And no one is better than the King, who is the most important batsman for India. Team India has checked the third box.
The unknown factor
If you look back at the five India teams that have won an ICC prize, you will notice that each one had a player with a "X-factor." And going into the 2023 World Cup, Kuldeep Yadav just showed why he could be that "X-factor." Leg-spinners can always be used to attack, and other teams are aware of this.
But no one can say that they have a left-arm spinner like Kuldeep who doesn't follow the rules. He cut through Pakistan's batting line-up in no time, and on his best day, not many people can figure out what he's going to do next. Kuldeep is back with faith and self-belief after going through the worst of the worst two years ago. He can bowl faster and set up hitters, which is good news for India. Team India has the fourth box checked.
Helping the Brigade
Shubman Gill went all out to get Shaheen Afridi the day before, which almost proved that his body doesn't slow him down. Both Gill and Afridi are very good at what they do, but Gill's attack on Afridi was a warning that he can do the same to him. On the other hand, Rohit's age of 56 was a welcome sign, a steady hand to balance out the charm of the younger man.
Mohammad Siraj, Bumrah's backup, bowled fast and hard to help his senior pro. Hardik Pandya's balance with the ball is something we've wanted for years, and with the Babar Azam wicket, he showed that he is more than just a part-timer or a stock-ball bowler when the conditions are right. He gets out of trouble.
And so is Shardul Thakur, who has taken the most wickets for India in One-Day Internationals since 2019. There is a reason he has been picked over Mohammad Shami over and over again.
Even though people talk about how useful he is as a lower-order batsman, no one can deny that he is also a real wicket-taker, a man with a golden arm who has a knack for getting wickets at the right time. Team India has the sixth box checked.
But, wait a minute! This was just one game, but let's give credit where credit is due: this was one of India's best ODI games ever. That's not always going to happen! Not to take away from the fact that India beat the No. 1 ODI team by the largest victory spread (228) ever between the two teams, but Pakistan's chances were hurt by the fact that Haris Rauf couldn't play on the reserve day and Naseem Shah was hurt.
This game showed what India can do and in many ways put to rest the early doubts that this team wasn't good enough to compete for the World Cup in their own country.
This team can definitely do it, and their win has gotten them ready for the World Cup, but the question is whether Rohit and the rest of the team will be able to do it again in October.