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Ind vs SL, Asia Cup 2022

Lose two Super 4s. Two lost throws. Two last defeats. Two death-overs accidents. Two mediocre meltdowns. Two undersized totals. It can go on.

All this must mean quite a bit of worry for any team, right? If Rohit Sharma is to be believed, these are not panic stations yet. Maybe not panic stations but definitely a concern? No not really. Because India has trained itself to think that winnings and losses right now are just part of a bigger picture, and that big picture is the T20 World Championship next month.

Even if those two have been lost in a multi-country tournament. Let’s be clear. These are the words of a captain who has complete confidence in his team and their ability to bounce back. Rohit spoke for over 20 minutes and answered several questions about India’s loss. The only thing he didn’t want these two losses associated with was “panic” or “nerves” or “meltdowns.” He seemed somewhat annoyed, unlike his otherwise jovial self in media interactions. So annoyed that he even offered a free invitation in the locker room to see the mood in the camp.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong, it looks like it from the outside, but we don’t look at it that way,” Rohit said. “I’ve been to a lot of press conferences, and when you lose, questions like that are asked. That’s normal. But as far as the team is concerned, you can go in. [the dressing room] and look, all the guys are relaxed and chilled. We need that kind of atmosphere whether you win or lose.”

Convinced? No? Okay, don’t worry. He wouldn’t stop there.

“We’ve worked hard to make the team atmosphere that way and all the guys are happy with it. If the mood in the dressing room is good, the performance you see will eventually happen on the ground. For the World Cup it’s important for us to keep the atmosphere good and not judge the guys on win or loss, performance and non-performance. Because whoever is here, they are all good. We have to be consistent with that thought.”

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India’s fate in the Asian Cup is no longer in their hands after their loss to Sri Lanka. They must defeat Afghanistan, but even before they get there, their fate could be sealed on Wednesday if Pakistan defeats Afghanistan. The situation is exactly like last year’s T20 World Cup, where two consecutive defeats jeopardized their campaign. Everything after that was just a formality, because deep down everyone knew it was pretty much over.

Rohit was also crystal clear “90-95% of the team was settled” and that their quest to try different things had one result in mind: finding their best XI. It doesn’t matter what coach Rahul Dravid was talking about earlier last week when he said there would be no experimentation. Frankly, India has been hampered by injuries to Ravindra Jadeja and the absence of two key fast bowlers – who can also hold their own in the death-overs – Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel.

In the last two matches, India played against two frontline sailors – Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh – along with a third against Hardik Pandya, the all-rounder. In Jadeja’s absence, they have played two front-line spinners and a third in part-timer Deepak Hooda, who has not bowled in the two games he has played to date.

“It’s 90-95% settled, there will be just a few changes,” Rohit said of the team combination. “If you’re talking about experiments, yes, we wanted to try certain things. If you look at the combination we played before the start of the Asian Cup, it was with four sailors, two spinners and the second spinner was an all-rounder. always tried to find answers to what happens when you play with three seams and two spinners, and the third spinner is an all rounder.

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“When you play against quality opponents, you want to challenge yourself. This was missing from our books; we had never tried that combination before. We wanted to try and see what happens here. [Avesh Khan] who was here was unavailable for selection for the last two games because he was ill.

“Yes, there are a lot of questions that we have to answer, and along the way, in the three-four series that we’ve played, we’ve found some answers. There will be a time when we’ll draw a line and say, ‘this is the combination we want to play for the World Cup.’ After that we have two more series and then the World Cup. Until our selection is known, we can try out a few players.”

Rohit was then asked if there was any merit in playing Hooda when he wasn’t bowling. On Wednesday, India made a tactical choice by bringing R Ashwin to the XI to try to win the match-up with Sri Lanka’s lefthanded batters. But with Pathum Nissanka and Kusal Mendis, the two right-handed openers, adding 97 in 11.1 overs, Rohit didn’t have much breathing room to introduce Hooda’s part-time offspin.

“In the three-four series that we have played, we have found some answers. There will come a time when we will draw a line and say, ‘this is the combination we want to play for the World Cup’.”

Rohit Sharma

“Yes, we have the sixth bowling option, but we also wanted to try five options and see what does and doesn’t happen,” he explained. “Today Hooda was there, but both of their right-handers [openers] were set, and I didn’t think I could bring him in then as we were looking for wickets by our attacking spinners Ashwin and [Yuzvendra] chahal. Yes, if we had early wickets I wanted to bowl Hooda, he was in my plan. But hey, six options is always nice. When we play the World Cup, it will be in the back of our minds to play with six options.”

What about Rishabh Pant vs Dinesh Karthik? It was unlikely that Rohit would leave without being asked. What was probable and perhaps predictable was the reasoning, which, as I have said, is not without merit. Due to the absence of Jadeja, India no longer has a lefthanded batter in the top six, which led to Pant gaining a lead over Karthik.

“Look, it’s simple. We wanted a left-hander to hit in the middle,” said Rohit. “That’s why Dinesh Karthik was out. Not because of form or anything. We wanted a left-handed batter in the middle to take the pressure off, but it didn’t happen. But DK certainly didn’t fall because of poor form. We always want flexibility in have the group. We will change players every now and then, depending on the opponent. There will be four-five batters playing, but there will always be those one-two changes in the at bat.”

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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