India's campaign in the Group Stage of Asia Cup 2023 was marred by inclement weather, but it could not stop the Men in Blue from qualifying for the Super-4.
Their 1st match against Pakistan ended in a washout as the rain never relented after the end of their batting innings.
The 2nd match against Nepal was also heavily affected by rain, but a conclusion was eventually reached after their target of 231 was reduced to 145 in 23 overs. The total was easily gunned down by the opening duo of skipper Rohit Sharma (74* off 59) and Shubman Gill (67* off 62) in just over 20 overs.
India will now square off against arch-rivals Pakistan in their Super-4 opener on September 10.
Here is a look at some of the talking points from India's campaign in the Group Stage:
1) Top-order's issues against left-arm pace
The Indian top-order's issues against quality left-arm pace during the powerplay is well documented. And, this was once again exposed to the hilt in the game against Pakistan as Shaheen Afridi had them all at the sea, especially the openers.
Shaheen prized out both Rohit and Virat Kohli, while making life extremely tough for Shubman Gill, whose issues against the swinging ball continue.
Not only Shubman, but Rohit too looked very tentative against swing bowling in both the games. However, a decent work out for both of them against Nepal will have given them a lot of confidence heading into the business end of the tournament.
2) Ishan Kishan & Hardik Pandya showcase India's middle-order strength
Before this tournament started, the major talking point around the Indian set-up was if their middle order was competent enough to handle an early collapse in a high-pressure game.
With Shreyas Iyer coming in after a long injury layoff and with KL Rahul not available, it looked as if their famed top-3 would have to do all the heavy lifting.
But, in the first game itself, the Men in Blue found themselves at the mercy of their middle-order as their top 4 were dismissed by the likes of Shaheen Afridi at the score of 66.
That said, it proved to be a blessing in disguise as their makeshift No.5 batsman, Ishan Kishan (82 off 81) and all-rounder Hardik Pandya (87 off 90) proceeded to carve out a masterclass in ODI batsmanship.
Ishan, in particular, was hugely impressive as he fought fire with fire initially against a red-hot Pakistani pace-attack, before taking full toll of their weaker links: their spinners.
Hardik too was absolutely professional in his approach as he respected the good balls, and rotated the strike regularly while at the same time, dismissing 'hit-me' deliveries.
The duo went on to add 138 priceless runs for the 5th wicket, which is the most that any Indian pair has ever added against Pakistan.
With KL Rahul's fitness still under scanner, this effort by Ishan and Hardik's matured knock would have settled a lot of nerves in the Indian camp as they build ahead for the World Cup.
A special mention to Shreyas, who, even though scored just 14 (9), but in that brief stay, he looked like a million dollars. However, work needs to be done on his execution of pull shots in future outings.
3) Butter Fingers
Indian catching has been on a decline for some time now, and once again it was on full display during the game against Nepal.
As many as three extremely simple catches were shelled by the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Virat Kohli and wicketkeeper Ishan Kishan at the start of the Nepal innings. The reprieves allowed Nepal openers to break free and add 65 runs in just under 10 overs.
Though Rohit and Kohli later in the innings did take a couple of good catches.
India did pull things back as the game progressed, but as Rohit admitted in the post-match presentation, they need to work very hard on their catching as such blips against a quality opposition could prove to be terminal.
4) Undercooked Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli has batted just once since scoring his 29th Test hundred against the West Indies back in July. Kohli didn't bat in the 1st ODI against the same opposition due to India's experimentation policy, and was rested for the remaining two games.
He didn't feature in the T20I against WI and Ireland either. So, when Kohli took guard in the Asia Cup opener against Pakistan, it was pretty evident that he was rusty. Even his dismissal- where he was neither forward or back while trying to feel ball on bat- was an apt reminder that the legendary batsman desperately needs time in the middle.
Kohli again didn't get to bat against Nepal as the openers wiped off all the runs without breaking a sweat. This means that when Virat strides out to bat against Pakistan on September 10, he will have faced just 7 deliveries in this format since the end of March, 2023. Indian fans will hope that King Kohli survives the initial phase and settles into some much-needed rhythm.
5) Rusty Bowling & Collapse-Prone Batting
India's decision to bowl first in the game against Nepal proved to be a brilliant call as it gave them an opportunity to have a look at what is clearly a rusty pace attack.
Mohammed Shami was returning after a gap of 3 months, and while he did create plenty of chances, he looked short on pace at times. Similarly, Mohammed Siraj also blew hot and cold in his maiden outing after a month. The workout against Nepal would have definitely helped them get some miles in their legs and gain a bit of rhythm before the business end of the tournament and the upcoming World Cup.
Meanwhile, Hardik Pandya looked the best among the Indian pacers against Nepal, as he consistently pitched the ball up to allow it to swing, unlike others, who were guilty of being too short at times.
The game against Pakistan showcased India's penchant to dramatic collapses. Not only did their top-order fall like a pack of cards, but their lower-order too could not build on the platform laid by Ishan and Hardik.
India lost their last 5 wickets for just 27 runs, and while Jasprit Bumrah (16 off 14) did show some fight with the bat, the failure of Jadeja (14 off 22) to give his side a final push was alarming. It is an aspect which the Men in Blue desperately needs to work on in the coming games.