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Bigger tests lie ahead for Dhoni's men as World Cup approaches

K.C. Vijaya Kumar

Dambulla: It was a welcome breather for M.S. Dhoni and his men as they scripted a title triumph in a tourist town of rolling hills and verdant views. The last few months have been a downward spiral as the Indians crashed out of the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies and then a pro-youth team slumped in Zimbabwe.

Thursday night's final, when India snatched the Asia Cup, on the back of a steady batting performance and incisive seam bowling, will surely offer some relief to a bunch of embattled men.

An Indian triumph against Bangladesh seemed set in stone and the team did well to hold its nerve in a humdinger against Pakistan.

Harbhajan Singh's winning strike off Mohammed Aamer may never acquire the historical resonance of Javed Miandad's counter-punch to a Chetan Sharma full toss in Sharjah, but it did show the way forward.

A loss against Sri Lanka in the last league match remained an aberration and in the final, the Indians silenced the Sinhalese bands in the stands.

Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir, with 173 and 203 runs each, propped up the batting through the tournament and Dinesh Karthik, stepping into Virender Sehwag's huge shoes, held his own with scores of 40 and 66.

Among the bowlers, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar bagged six wickets each and luckily for India, the seam trio delivered their most telling blows in the final.

But it is a sobering thought that the talented Ishant Sharma along with S. Sreesanth, R.P. Singh, Munaf Patel, Sudeep Tyagi and Irfan Pathan, are struggling on the wayside. In the spin department, Harbhajan Singh remains unchallenged, though R. Ashwin is a promising youngster.

Crowned as champions of Asia, Dhoni's men need to realise that there is a huge gulf between emerging as a continental champion and being the top team in the world. There has never been a better litmus test than the World Cup to confirm a team's stature and India has never replicated its jaw-dropping 1983 triumph at Lords.

Issues to address

With India gearing up for a busy season ahead, Dhoni and coach Gary Kirsten need to address a few issues besides the visible pitfalls of average fitness and lukewarm fielding. Remove the contributions of Dhoni, Gambhir and Karthik and you end up with a batting vacuum.

Suresh Raina (82 runs) and Virat Kohli (67) flattered to deceive and these are men who are supposed to put more pressure on an out-of-form Yuvraj Singh.

Another increasing worry is the fitness woes that have plagued Sehwag, who pulled a hamstring in the latest tournament to add to the shoulder injury that ruled him out of the ICC World Twenty20.

In the months ahead, Sachin Tendulkar, with a burning desire to wrest the World Cup, will add lustre to the batting, but the younger lot need to show that they belong at the highest level amidst strife and jangling nerves.

Among the youngsters, Rohit Sharma hinted that he is building a bridge between his obvious talent and consistent batting, a facet that was often missing in his earlier strides towards the crease. Building on the two hundreds in the Tri-series at Zimbabwe, Rohit's 69 and 41 in his last two jousts in the Asia Cup are encouraging signs.

India is also missing an all-rounder who can add value to the team. Dhoni is now resting his hopes on Ravindra Jadeja after the earlier faith invested in Irfan Pathan, did not yield the desired returns.

The days ahead will prove whether the Asia Cup victory is sign of bigger things to come or it was just a surprise peak in an average performance graph.

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