Asia Cup 2022: Standout performers and impact on upcoming T20 World Cup
Asia Cup 2022
By Amarnath Devaji
Hit For Six!
With the recent conclusion of the 15th edition of the Asia Cup, we take a look at the players who impressed and the repercussions of the tournament on the upcoming ICC Men's T20 World Cup.
It was a fairytale ending for Sri Lanka at the 2022 Asia Cup, who were crowned champions for the sixth time in the tournament's history.
The timing of the triumph couldn't have come at a better time for Sri Lanka – not just the team heading into the ICC Men's T20 World Cup but also the nation and the fans who have been going through a tough time back home.
Their tournament got off to the worst possible start where they were bowled out for 105 against Afghanistan and saw the score chased down in 10.1 overs. The Islanders were almost knocked out of the tournament in the group stage before they snatched victories from the jaws of defeat against Bangladesh.
From there on, they were an unstoppable force and more importantly, a solid well-gelled unit. They beat India and Afghanistan in the Super Four stage before defeating Pakistan two games in a row, including the final.
In this article, we take a look at the top players, the impact the Asia Cup could have on the ICC Men's T20 World Cup and more.
Highest run-scorer: Mohammad Rizwan (281 runs in six matches)
It was a memorable Asia Cup for Mohammad Rizwan, who during the course of the tournament became the No.1 ranked ICC Men's T20I batter.
The wicket-keeper batter started the tournament with a well-made 43 against India and followed it up with two-match winning fifties. Chasing 194 against Hong Kong for a spot in the Super Four, he anchored the innings with an unbeaten 78 off 57. Rizwan was once again Pakistan's highest scorer in the Super Four clash against India, where he played a match-winning 71 off 51 in a thriller.
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After a couple of below-par outings with the bat, Rizwan scored 55 off 49 balls in the final against Sri Lanka but was far from his fluent best. The six with which he brought up his fifty took him past Virat Kohli's tally of 276 runs in the tournament but the 30-year-old couldn't take his side home in the final.
Highest wicket-taker: Bhuvneshwar Kumar (11 wickets in five matches)
With the T20 World Cup approaching, India couldn't have asked for a better time for Bhuvneshwar Kumar to hit his strides.
The right-arm pacer kicked off his tournament with brilliant figures of 4/26 in the group stage clash against Pakistan, which included the scalps of Babar Azam and the dangerous Asif Ali.
He was at his economical best against Hong Kong, giving away just 15 runs in three overs while picking up a wicket. He proved to be expensive in the Super Four game against Pakistan and went wicketless in the clash against Sri Lanka.
In India's final match of the tournament, the 32-year-old caused mayhem with his swing. Bhuvneshwar secured his maiden T20I five-wicket haul, with all the wickets coming during the Powerplay. He finished the game with magical figures of 4-1-4-5. Despite playing a game less than Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he finished the tournament as the highest wicket-taker.
Standout performer: Wanindu Hasaranga (Nine wickets, 66 runs in six matches)
Wanindu Hasaranga had an indifferent start to the tournament but showed what a champion player he is by finishing on a high. He eventually ended as the second-highest wicket-taker and scored valuable runs when it mattered most.
The leg-spinner failed to make an impact in Afghanistan's whirlwind chase of 106 and proved to be expensive in the game against Bangladesh, though he did pick up two wickets. He went wicketless in the first two games of the Super Four phase but turned the game for Sri Lanka at the pointy end of the tournament.
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In the final Super Four clash against Pakistan, he broke the back of the batting order with the scalps of Babar, Iftikhar Ahmed and Asif Ali as they folded for 121. He played a three-ball cameo for 10* as Sri Lanka convincingly beat Pakistan with three overs to spare.
In the final against Pakistan, Hasaranga came out to bat in the ninth over when Sri Lanka were staring down the barrel at 58/5. He set the tone with a four of the first ball and thus turned the fortunes for Sri Lanka.
Despite being five down, Hasaranga did not back down and kept hitting the boundaries. He smashed Mohammad Hasnain for a six and four in the 13th over. He got out after smacking Haris Rauf for consecutive boundaries but his 21-ball 36 shifted the momentum in Sri Lanka's favour. His innings helped Bhanuka Rajapaksa preserve his wicket for the death overs, which eventually made all the difference as the Lions went on to post a target of 171.
With the ball, he went wicketless in his first three overs. However, he turned the game on its head when he was tasked to bowl the 17th over by snaring Mohammad Rizwan, Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah while giving away just two runs. Pakistan never managed to recover from there on and Sri Lanka went on to clinch the game by 23 runs.
What we learned ahead of the T20 World Cup
Asia Cup 2022 came at the perfect time for the Asian teams, with five of six participating nations taking part in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup in Australia next month. Ironically, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have sealed their spot in the Super 12 while Asia Cup Champions Sri Lanka will have to go through the First Round before joining the rest of the teams in the next stage.
Asia Cup gave all the teams the experience and pressure that comes with playing a multi-team tournament while also helping them figure out the possible missing pieces in the jigsaw.
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Champions Sri Lanka now have momentum on their side and if they weren't already, will now be firm favourites in Group A of Round 1 against Namibia, Netherlands and UAE. While the usual suspects performed brilliantly, the rise of Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Pramod Madushan as possible game-changers could see them going deep in the T20 World Cup.
Runners-up Pakistan have some pondering to do after a disappointing start and end to the tournament. Naseem Shah was the find of the tournament and should be on the plane to Australia while the possible return of Shaheen Afridi should strengthen their bowling further.
However, there are several question marks over their batting, starting with the poor form of Babar Azam. The middle-order too has not lived up to its billing and could see some shuffling for T20 World Cup.
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The biggest positive for India in the Asia Cup was Virat Kohli's return to form. He finished the tournament as the second-highest run-getter with 276 runs in five matches at a strike rate of 147.59. He ended his century drought with his ton against Afghanistan and seems to found his touch once again.
However, India's early exit from the tournament might force them to reconsider a few aspects, including a possible change in the opening position and who dons the gloves behind the wicket. The injury to Ravindra Jadeja will force the management to find an adequate replacement while also maintaining the balance of the team.
Afghanistan had a topsy-turvy campaign where they showed flashes of brilliance but were not as consistent as they would have liked. The rise of Rahmanullah Gurbaz in time for the World Cup addresses their top order but it is the middle order that needs to pull their socks up. Apart from Najibullah Zadran, the middle-order has failed to go big with the bat.
On the other side, while Afghanistan have no dearth of world-class spinners, they will be hoping their fast bowlers can come to the party. The bowling has particularly struggled in the death overs and have been guilty of leaking too many runs in the end.
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Bangladesh had a tournament to forget as they crashed out of the group stages without a win. In the aftermath of the Asia Cup, veteran Mushfiqur Rahim decided to retire from T20Is, leaving Shakib Al Hasan and Co. with little time to find a replacement heading into the World Cup.
The batting form of Mosaddek Hossain was the only bright spot in the tournament and they will be hoping he can carry his form to Australia.
Sri Lanka batter Bhanuka Rajapaksa: "Looking forward, we want to keep up this momentum ahead of the World Cup. With the crisis happening back home, this is a tough time for all the Sri Lankans, but hope we brought some smiles on the faces of our people. This is to the whole nation; they were waiting for this for so long."
Pakistan coach Saqlain Mushtaq: "The way we played, we reached semi-finals of the T20 World Cup last year, we got to the final of an Asia Cup here. Evidence suggests you're doing something right to get here."
India batter Virat Kohli: "I feel very blessed, very grateful right now. Last two and a half years has taught me a lot. I’m going to turn 34 in November, so celebrations are all from the past."