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Asia Cup - India's takeaways: Hardik not ideal third seamer, Karthik best bet as finisher

However, there is still no answer to the question who their third spinner is

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
India picked the strongest available squad they could for the Asia Cup to see how they held up against strong teams under tournament pressure. They were expected to make the final, but didn't, which suggests there are still areas that need ironing out.
India lost the toss - a massive factor in Dubai, dew or no dew - in all three matches in the Super 4s and were asked to bat first each time. At an extremely chase-friendly venue, they ran both Pakistan and Sri Lanka close but couldn't get across the line in either game.
Things clicked for India in the dead rubber against an emotionally drained Afghanistan team, but they would be aware that the middle-overs batting and death-overs bowling still need some fine-tuning.
With the selectors set to meet next week to pick a squad for the home series against Australia and South Africa, as well as the T20 World Cup, here are a few takeaways from India's performance over the last two weeks.
Hardik might not be the ideal third seamer
Hardik Pandya started the tournament in roaring fashion, bowling with pace and venom. His short-ball trick had Pakistan gasping in the team's opening match, but when Avesh Khan became unavailable and India needed the allrounder to step up as a third seamer, things didn't go so well.
Hardik returned combined figures of 8-0-79-1 as India failed to defend 181 and 173 respectively. By the time they brought Deepak Chahar from the reserves to the playing XI, India's campaign was done and dusted.
After India's twin losses, Rohit Sharma explained the rationale behind going with just two frontline seamers.
"If you look at the combination we have been playing before the start of the Asia Cup, it was with four seamers and two spinners, and the second spinner was an allrounder," he said. "I always wanted to try and find answers to what happens if you play with three seamers and two spinners, and the third spinner being an allrounder. This was missing in our books; we'd never tried that combination. We wanted to try and see what happens here as well."
It's likely India will have Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel back for the Australia series, and the T20 World Cup. Which means Hardik will once again slip back into his usual role as sixth bowler, and he excels at that.
The Hooda selection
Deepak Hooda's success for Lucknow Super Giants in the IPL had been while batting mainly in the top four. At the Asia Cup, he was the designated finisher and a sixth bowling option in the absence of Ravindra Jadeja. But in three games, he bowled just one over and that too against Afghanistan when the contest was already over. It sparked the debate over Dinesh Karthik's exclusion. Karthik has been earmarked as the finisher, but when India needed someone for that very role against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the death overs, they didn't have his services.
Rohit later explained that Hooda not coming on to bowl against Sri Lanka was mainly because he didn't want to match up a pair of batters [Kusal Mendis and Pathum Nissanka], who had put on 97 runs in just 11.1 overs, with a spinner who turns it into their hitting arc. Which is fair, but just one game earlier, India had an opportunity to pair Hooda up with Fakhar Zaman - offspin taking the ball away from the left-hander - and chose not to.
The Jadeja void
India have backed Axar Patel over the past year-and-a-half as Jadeja's all-weather like-for-like replacement. Yet, when the time came to cash in on that investment, India went in an entirely different direction and picked Hooda instead. Jadeja's absence also meant India had to play Rishabh Pant to have at least one left-hand batter in the top six. To accommodate this change, the axe fell on Karthik. Pant had an underwhelming tournament with the bat, making scores of 14, 17 and 20* in his three outings.
India commit to new T20 template
Kohli ended his century drought by hitting his first T20I ton, Rohit made a bruising 41-ball 72 against Sri Lanka, and KL Rahul overcame a sluggish start to the tournament to find form and fluency in the later outings. If the top order had been a concern coming into the tournament, they walked out of it with the issue seemingly settled. In the game against Sri Lanka, Rohit and Suryakumar Yadav kept playing positive cricket despite India being reduced to 13 for 2 inside three overs. Even though the top three didn't always go ballistic from ball one, there was a concerted effort to be as aggressive as possible. No more building platforms for the middle order to cash in. This backfired a bit in their Super 4s match against Pakistan, but India want to play this way and a couple of losses are unlikely to make them change that.
Who is the third spinner?
Yuzvendra Chahal had an indifferent tournament but kept India in the hunt against Sri Lanka by picking up three wickets. On bigger grounds in Australia, his style of bowling could make him a massive asset. If Jadeja is unavailable for the T20 World Cup, and Axar turns out to be his replacement, it could leave the selectors to choose between R Ashwin's experience and Ravi Bishnoi's novelty. Both players did fine in the limited opportunities they were handed at the Asia Cup. Bishnoi bowls the googly as his stock ball and is quicker through the air and off the pitch, something Pakistan struggled to come to grips with as the chase got tense. Ashwin more than held his own in reining Sri Lanka in after a big start to their chase. It will not be an easy call for the selectors to choose between them.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo