A Virat Kohli-powered India will head into the Asia Cup final 2023 as firm favourites when it squares off with a depleted Sri Lanka on Sunday despite a few niggling questions still remaining unanswered. The Men in Blue will look to snap its five-year trophy draught in multi-nation events.
While Axar Patel is an important component in the Indian set-up and his multiple injuries pose a concern, the Lankans will in fact miss their premier spinner Maheesh Theekshana way more than the opposition due to his right hamstring injury.
A glance at India`s trophy cabinet will reveal the uncomfortable truth of them not winning any titles in the last five years, and Sunday will be a good opportunity for them to snap that unhappy streak. Not to forget a win before getting into the World Cup mode will be the ideal boost for a side which hasn`t yet fully ticked all boxes but is showing wy more solidity than one would have thought a few months back.
India`s last title, across the three formats, came in 2018 when the Rohit`s side beat Bangladesh in the Asia Cup by three wickets in Dubai. Since that victory, India`s inability to master crunch matches and occasions has been startling.
India reached semifinals of the ODI World Cup in 2019 and the T20 World Cup in 2022, besides losing against New Zealand and Australia in the WTC finals in 2019 and 2023 respectively. The Men in Blue also failed to make their presence felt in last year`s Asia Cup, which was won by Sri Lanka. That event was played in T20 format.
India are certain to recall the five players who were rested for the Super Four match against Bangladesh on Friday, which they eventually lost by six runs. The return of Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya for the summit clash will certainly add meat to their batting unit, which struggled against the array of Bangladesh spinners.
Opener Shubman Gill made a top class hundred, but the rest of the batsmen could not rotate strike effectively in the middle overs, leaving the late order with a tall task.
The match also revealed another area India needed to address, the lack of consistency in bundling out a side after making early inroads. India had reduced Bangladesh to 59 for 4, but the bowlers gave away too many runs in the death overs, allowing their neighbours to post a healthy 265.
But India will hope that the issue will be solved once pacers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav make their comeback for tomorrow`s game. India will keep a watch on Axar`s right hand which received multiple beatings in the match against Bangladesh, suffering niggles on his little finger and forearm along with hamstring injury.
Washington was training in Bengaluru with India`s Asian Games-bound squad, and is expected to link with the team in Colombo by this evening. But these are India`s immediate concerns pertaining to the Asia Cup final. But they cannot be unmindful of the larger picture as well.
Apart from the practice games, India have four more ODIs — Asia Cup final and three matches against Australia, prior to the World Cup to tick the desired boxes.
A victory here in the Asia Cup will boost their confidence ahead of the quadrennial big bash next month, as they also seek to end a 10-year-long ICC trophy drought. On the other hand, Sri Lanka will feel quietly confident of their chances against India, as the home side is also on a 15-match winning streak in ODIs.
Predicted playing XIs
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya (vice-captain), Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumraj, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna, Washington Sundar (cover for injured Axar Patel)
Sri Lanka: Dasun Shanaka (captain), Pathum Nissanaka, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Janith Perera, Kusal Mendis (vc), Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Matheesha Pathirana, Kasun Rajitha, Dushan Hemantha, Binura Fernando, Pramod Madushan
(With agency inputs)