Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
For the now-dethroned six-time champions, the 2018 Women's Asia Cup was to be a rehearsal ahead of the World T20 in November. India's unchallenged dominance in the previous editions gave them an opportunity to experiment with their combinations, provide game time to the entire 15-member squad and gauge the best possible match-ups for the world tournament. But all did not go as planned as India went on to lose to Bangladesh twice in the tournament, including in the final on Sunday. ESPNcricinfo looks at the concerns that emerged out of India's run at the tournament.
Where is Jemimah Rodrigues?
Their two losses against Bangladesh aside, the biggest jarring point through the Asia Cup for India was the omission of 17-year-old batsman Jemimah Rodrigues from the starting XI. One of the best athletes in an otherwise inconsistent fielding unit, Rodrigues' six T20I innings since her international debut in February this year include knocks of 37, 44 and 50 at an impressive strike rate. Her maiden half-century - against Australia in March - bore testimony to her ability to adapt to sluggish conditions and respond fearlessly to an escalating asking rate and a disciplined attack.
Last month, her 23-ball 25 for Trailblazers in the IPL exhibition match validated those qualities. Thus, for her to warm the bench through all six India fixtures, not due to injury or ill health, and be the only member in the squad to not get a game questions not just the selection decisions but also the management's intent to nurture a promising young talent.
Nemesis, thy name is nerves
"It was a pressure game, and we had to control our nerves. The batsmen didn't handle nerves too well."
These words from India captain Harmanpreet Kaur after India's loss to Bangladesh in the final summed up what seems to have become a chronic ailment in the Indian side.
What is it about the all-too visible nervous energy that's been characteristic of India since their implosion in the 2017 World Cup final? Why is it that the lower-middle order is unable to arrest a collapse and it instead brings out an array of ill-judged strokes? What contributed to their four run-outs in six matches, three of which, tellingly, came in their two losses to Bangladesh?
After their league-match victory, Rumana Ahmed, the Bangladesh vice-captain and Player of the Match in the final, said, "India must have learnt a lesson on what happens when you lose two set batsmen to run-outs." In that instance, she was referring to the dismissals of Mithali Raj and Pooja Vastrakar. On Sunday in the final, Smriti Mandhana proved Rumana wrong by going for a non-existent third run in only the second over of the innings.
Besides, that No. 3 Deepti Sharma, wicketkeeper Taniya Bhatia and Shikha Pandey collected only eight runs off 20 balls between them in the final was largely because of Deepti's and Bhatia's hurried nature of strokeplay. For Pandey, the allrounder, it was just another failed effort under pressure in her prolonged dry run with the bat.
Nervous in chase, clueless in defence
Even though India mustered a fight out of their total of 112 in the final, the cluelessness on the field that marred their botched 198 defence against England in the T20 tri-series two months ago, manifested occasionally during Bangladesh's chase on Sunday.
Could the tight finish have gone in India's favour had Jhulan Goswami's beleaguered vigil near short fine leg and long leg been averted? Or if Mandhana's wayward throw at the striker's end in the 18th over, the previous extra run she conceded in the 14th over or Deepti shelling the chance to run-out Rumana at the non-striker's end in the 19th over hadn't been let-offs?
Earlier, Pandey's injury after four balls in the second over put captain Harmanpreet's prudence to test. Did she miss a trick by using a frontline spinner in Deepti to complete Pandey's over, and not herself, a part-timer? It meant Deepti could not bowl more than 3.2 overs eventually.
Having exhausted all her spin-bowling options, Harmanpreet, the right-arm-everything spinner, brought herself on for the 18th and 20th overs. While the other three overs of spin at the death went for three, five and four runs, Harmanpreet got two crucial wickets but at the expense of leaking 19 of the 23 Bangladesh required off the last 18 deliveries.
Combination conundrums and the Krishnamurthy crisis
Mandhana followed her stellar run during the South Africa tour and the home series with middling returns in the Asia Cup. At the same time, the team's thinktank backed Mithali Raj, not a quick starter, as Mandhana's opening partner. The outcome? India scored at less than six runs per over in the Powerplay in three of the four matches while batting first. Against fringe sides like Malaysia and Thailand, India laboured to 35 for 1 and 27 for 0 in the Powerplays. In the final, they chewed up 23 dots and managed only 21 for 1 in the first six overs.
In her three Asia Cup innings, quick-bowling allrounder Pooja Vastrakar's promotion to first drop fetched her a 13-ball 16 against Malaysia and a run-a-ball 20 against Bangladesh in the league stage. But the management refused to persist with the move thereafter.
Equally baffling was Mona Meshram's inclusion in the XI ahead of Vastrakar and Rodrigues. Meshram's inability to inject impetus at the top stood out in her 32 off 45 in the opening slot against Thailand.
It's not Meshram alone, though, who's been on an extended run for a while now. In Veda Krishnamurthy's own words, the WBBL "defines her game", but little has reflected in her performance since her lukewarm maiden stint in the Australian league. Her decent run in South Africa was followed by an ODI average of 8.40 in five innings, and her only significant contribution - an unbeaten 29 off 23 - in four T20Is came against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup.
Plagued by a lack of timing, her cavalier shot selection in clutch phases of play has been the hallmark of her inconsistency. In the final, two balls after Harmanpreet survived a huge appeal against a fine sweep off Salma Khatun, Krishnamurthy brought out a carbon-copy stroke only to be bowled by the offspinner. Her wicket led to India losing three wickets for 12 runs off 15 balls and an on-song Harmanpreet needing support to play out the 20 overs.
Women's T20 Asia Cup