There is a certain charm about multinational events like the Asia Cup or the World Cup. They bring the nation together like nothing can. And when the team plays and wins in the manner the Men in Blue did in Sri Lanka, the sense of joy and happiness is unprecedented.
The past week felt exactly like that to us Indian Cricket fans, who have stuck with this magical team through thick and thin in the past few years or dare I say, the last 10 years.
India has been the most consistent team across all formats in the last decade, but one thing that has alluded them is a perfect performance in a knockout game. The last 4 years, in particular, have been hard, with the team faltering in the knockouts of 50-over & T20 World Cups and the WTC final.
However, over the last week, as Team India flexed its muscles to flatten their arch-rivals Pakistan and then hosts Sri Lanka in the final to clinch their 8th title and suddenly the Indian cricket ecosystem feels like one happy family. New dreams are taking shape: of India once again recapturing the game at its grandest stage, of Rohit Sharma joining Kapil Dev and MS Dhoni and ending the 12-year-wait of this cricket frenzy nation, of Virat Kohli becoming the 1st Asian to have 2 World Cup titles, of drowning in celebrations with their fellow countrymen on the night of the final on November 19.
But, how did all this happen? And, what are the things that we learnt from Team India's performance in Asia Cup 2023?
Here's are some of the talking points:
Mohammed Siraj's spell from hell sinks Sri Lanka
Mohammed Siraj came into this Asia Cup as the No.1 ranked bowler in the world. Yet, the talking points were Pakistan's pace trio and his partner, the legendary Jasprit Bumrah.
On Sunday, September 17, in front of a packed Premadasa stadium, Siraj forced everyone to look at him, and only him, as he breathed relentless fury on the helpless Lankan batsman. The right-handed seamer killed the contest in his 2nd over itself as he sent 4 Lankan batsmen back in the hut.
Siraj didn't just stop there. He was hungry for more victims, and like a lion, he set-up his prey with utmost precision as he went wide of the stumps and delivered a peach of a delivery that landed on middle-stump before moving away wickedly off the seam to shatter Dasun Shanaka's stumps.
Siraj completed his 5-for in just 16 deliveries- the joint fastest by a bowler in the history of the format. He eventually finished with career best figures of 6/21, paving the way for the hosts to be demolished for the lowest score in a tournament final ever, 50.
Siraj's display was just another reflection of how well all the Indian seamers bowled with the new ball in this Asia Cup. In 4 completed games, the seamers took 14 wickets in the 1st powerplay, the most by any team in the tournament.
Shubman Gill comes of age
Prior to the Asia Cup, the young Indian opener was under a bit of pressure for his record against high-quality attacks and in difficult batting conditions.
The pressure intensified when he was dismissed cheaply by Haris Rauf for 10 (32) in India's campaign opener against Pakistan.
But, like all good players do, Gill did immediate course-correction, and proceeded to dish out some of the best performances of his career.
In the Super-4 clash against Pakistan, it was Shubman who set the tone early-on in the innings by taking the attack to Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah despite the ball doing all sorts of things.
It was his counter-attack that allowed skipper Rohit to breathe easy at the other end against a rampaging Naseem Shah. Gill was eventually dismissed for a 52-ball 58, but not before he had sucked the soul out of the Pakistan attack.
Then, in the game against Bangladesh which India lost, the young opener showed exceptional temperament and skills to carve out a magnificent 121 (133) on a very difficult surface and against a high-quality spin attack from Bangladesh.
The 23-year-old finished as the leading run-scorer, with 302 runs in 6 games @ 75.50.
KL Rahul & Kuldeep Yadav's redemption
This tournament will forever be remembered for the way that KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav showcased their very best.
Both the cricketers have endured a very tough time in the past 3-4 years, and their fitness hasn't exactly been their friend either.
Rahul even missed the opening round of the tournament, and by his admission, he wouldn't have featured in the Super-4 clash against Pakistan if it was not for Shreyas Iyer's last-minute injury.
It proved to be a blessing in disguise for KL as he made the most of the opportunity by belting a classy century against Pakistan. Even in the game against Sri Lanka where the pitch was turning square, he looked the best of all the Indian batsmen.
His keeping was also on point, and the way he constantly shared his inputs with the bowlers, especially Kuldeep, gave the vibe of a very confident man who is ready to capture the world of cricket.
Speaking of Kuldeep, the left-arm wrist-spinner proved to be a delight to watch in this tournament. Ever since Yadav has increased his arm-sweep, there is a visible increased fizz and bite in his deliveries, and he was constantly on the attack, and more often than not, the batsmen had no clue whatsoever, and, as a result, he dined on wickets for fun.
Kuldeep claimed 9 wickets- including a 5-for against Pakistan in India's 228 run demolition job in a space of 24 hours during the Super-4 stage. He was eventually adjudged the 'player of the tournament'
Hardik Pandya delivers with both bat n ball
Hardik Pandya showcased his value to the hilt in this Asia Cup, and the most pleasing part is that he did it with both bat and ball.
Hardik displayed a masterclass in ODI batsmanship in the group-stage game against Pakistan, and along with Ishan Kishan, dug his side out from the hole after they had been reduced to 4-66. The right-handed batsman scored a 90-ball 87 with the help of 7 fours and 1 six.
And, with the ball, he showed excellent discipline as he pitched the ball up on a regular basis to extract movement that was on offer. In the Super-4 game against Sri Lanka, Hardik bowled a decisive spell against the well-set duo of Dunith Wellalage and Dhananjaya de Silva to tilt the game in India's favour.
He may have taken just 1 wicket but the pressure that he exerted on the Lankan duo via a string of dots, ensured that the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav benefited in the end.
Hardik backed it up with a three-wicket-haul in the final, eventually finishing the tournament with 6 scalps @ 11.33 apiece.
Ishan flatters to deceive in Shreyas Iyer's absence
Ishan Kishan started the Asia Cup with a bang as he scored a brilliant 81-ball 82 while batting in the middle-order against Pakistan.
But, he was eventually found wanting against the high-quality spin attacks of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, with his inability to rotate the strike coming to the fore.
Shreyas Iyer, meanwhile, batted just once in the tournament due to back spasm issues. His absence and Ishan's struggles at No.5 further highlighted why his availability is of utmost importance to India's fortunes in the home World Cup.
Iyer has been picked for the three-match series against Australia and this will be his last chance to prove his match-fitness ahead of the World Cup.
Ravindra Jadeja's struggles with bat and India's missing firepower at the death
Throughout this Asia Cup, a debate kept raging on around Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel's place in the pecking order in the playing XI. Both players got a decent amount of support thanks to them being absolutely brilliant in one skillset, and a liability in the other.
Jadeja struggled with the bat- 25 runs in 3 innings @ 8.33- but was irresistible with the ball- 6 wickets in 4 innings @ 25.33- while Axar showcased his prowess with the bat once again- 68 runs in 2 innings @ 34- but proved to be a liability with the ball- 1 wicket @ 76.
Jadeja's lack of form, and more importantly, his intent is a huge concern considering the fact that he bats at 7 and we have a long tail. Another issue facing the Indian management is that Axar picked up an injury during the Super-4 match against Sri 1 1, and it is yet not clear whether he will be fit for the World Cup or not.
This puts the onus on Jadeja the batsman to rise up to the occasion even more.
Virat Kohli dazzles against Pakistan amid limited batting-time
It was a strange kind of tournament for King Kohli; one where he dazzled (122* off 94) against Pakistan like always, but also endured frustration because of a couple of low scores and lack of batting-time in other matches.
Kohli was dismissed for 4 in the first game against Pakistan but he more than made up for it in the next encounter as he smashed his 47th ODI ton to lay the platform for a 228-run win for his team.
It was a typical Kohli knock where he milked the bowling for 1s and 2s during the first half before typically exploding at the death. During his knock, he also breached the 13000-run barrier in ODI cricket.
He got out cheaply in the next game against Sri Lanka, and was rested for the game against Bangladesh. And, in the final, Siraj's fiery spell ensured that there was no need for him to bat as Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill ensured they gunned down the target of 51 with ease.
Kohli has now been rested from the first couple of ODIs against Australia, starting later this week. He will be back in the squad for the final ODI, and will look to get some much-needed game-time ahead of the World Cup.
Featured Image Credit: BCCI