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Asia Cup: Long Road Ahead, but Returnees Rahul and Bumrah Rekindle Indian Hopes

Asia Cup 2023: It has taken all but two comebacks to uplift the mood of the nation, as India are back in rhythm.

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Just over a week ago, it appeared as if everything was lost for India – that is, Bharat – before the start of the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup.

Naysayers had predicted a massive downfall for Rohit Sharma and his side during the showpiece event. The Indian squad appeared confused about team selection, some key players were not completely tested in match situations and this resulted in major complications.

But there is something about cricket and its effect on everyone, especially in India. An upswing in fortunes can result in uplifting the mood of an entire country beset with other issues in everyday life.
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It seemed like this kind of reaction was a thing of the past. But no, it is still a prevalent emotion where everyone seems to react to their everyday situation according to the performance of the Indian cricket team, especially in white ball cricket.

Hence the performance of two key players, KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah, has brought a lot of cheer everywhere. Both were away for a long time for varied injuries and had to be operated upon. Their return was being carefully calibrated by the staff at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore along with the team management led by head coach Rahul Dravid.

For the past few months, everyone in the know kept their fingers crossed as Rahul, Bumrah and even Shreyas Iyer kept getting better quietly, far away from the cameras. If India had any hope of doing well at the upcoming World Cup, this trio needed to be fit and available.

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KL Rahul Wins Test of Time

As Dravid himself said, with these three being fit and available, India’s World Cup squad almost picked itself. In their absence, India ended up trying different combinations to prepare for any eventuality.

That is why when Rahul’s return was further delayed by a week, there was a lot of criticism about his fitness. Once Rahul’s niggle was solved, he flew straight into battle for the side against arch-rivals Pakistan in a crucial Super 4 encounter in the ongoing Asia Cup.

The format of the Asia Cup, especially in the Super 4 stage is such that you need to win at least two of the three games to make it to the final. Hence India’s first game against Pakistan was very crucial. Pakistan had already won a contest in the Super 4 thrashing Bangladesh at Lahore. With rain threatening over Colombo, India had to somehow win their first Super 4 encounter to stay in contention for the final.

Rahul’s experience proved handy for India as he slammed a hundred on return in the company of former captain Virat Kohli. Together this experienced pair showed their class as they hammered a hapless Pakistan bowling line-up. Rahul in particular upped the ante at the right time and helped India cross the 350-mark.

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Later when asked to keep while Pakistan batted, Rahul was alert, swift and very clinical with the gloves. He was shouting advice to the bowlers and even provided some gamesmanship as he halted play to talk to Kuldeep Yadav. The result was a wicket off the very next ball!

Rahul may not have played the game against Pakistan, but for Iyer being down with back spasms. With Ishan Kishan performing with the bat against Pakistan in the earlier game, it became evident that Rahul could come in only at the expense of either Shreyas or some other batter. With other batters being the skipper Rohit Sharma and Kohli, alongside Shubman Gill, Iyer’s spasms were a godsend for Rahul.

Now with Rahul and Kishan both in the line-up, it seems Iyer will have to wait longer now to reclaim his position in the line-up.

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In the second Super 4 game, it was Rahul and Kishan who teamed up to rescue India against Sri Lanka. They added crucial runs when the chips were down. Rahul once again took the gloves from Kishan and was very efficient behind the stumps. He picked up crucial catches and his swift stumping brought India right back in the game.

It is early days but Rahul’s experience with the bat, his rise in stature as a wicket-keeper in ODI cricket and his overall

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Bumrah Returns, as if He Never Left

The other big news of the week has been the return of Bumrah. India missed their bowling captain for over a year. His spells against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Super 4 have been the best news for the side ahead of the World Cup.

Bumrah has been relentless, swift and at the batter in the two games that he has bowled thus far. He had a mini-break after the birth of his son during the tournament. But his return for the Super 4 has solved a major headache for India’s think-tank.

Now with Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj bowling with the new ball, India has a surplus of resources. Imagine having a bowling attack where Mohammed Shami is warming the bench!
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Bumrah’s presence in the bowling line-up allows skipper Sharma to effectively use him as the strike bowler that he is. He strikes at the top and then there are a variety of options for Sharma to use in the middle overs. Bumrah with this quality at the start makes a whole lot of difference to India’s bowling attack. There has been a lot of talk about pace attacks of other sides, but not a squeak about India’s. With Bumrah fit and raring to go, India has a pace attack that can rival the best in the world.

The icing on the cake for India has been the form of Kuldeep Yadav, the mystery spinner. His leg-breaks have bamboozled the batters thus far. He has lured batters to their downfall with his guile. Kuldeep with his mystery along with Bumrah’s unique action plus Siraj’s wicket-taking ability gives India a definite edge.
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Team Management Deserves Credit

Credit where it is due here because the team management really planned this out. Kuldeep, Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Iyer, Shubman Gill, and Kishan were majorly used only in ODIs over the past couple of years. They were not in India’s T20 scheme of things.

Hence India had a specialist ODI line-up ready even before the other sides, the only thing missing was a chance for all of them to play together with the all-format regulars in a single series. That opportunity has finally arrived, and hopefully, it ends on a good note on Sunday in the final.

The only note of caution is not to get carried away with the results in the Asia Cup.

Very rarely does a defending Asia Cup champion end up winning the World Cup. The last side to do that was India in 2011 after they emerged world champion a few months after winning the Asia Cup. So, if you use that as a good omen then the signs are good.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Indian Cricket    ICC World Cup   KL Rahul 

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