The Indians have been a regular at the FIBA Asia Cup, participating in all but two editions (1993, 1999) since 1965.
In recent history, they have easily booked their berth at the Asia Cup by winning FIBA's South Asia sub-zone. However, following the introduction of FIBA's new competition system in 2017, their route to sealing their ticket for the Continental Championship got harder.
Under the new system, they would have to 'earn' their spot through the Qualifiers, like every other higher-ranked Asian nation (barring the hosts), rather than participate by winning their sub-zone against easier opponents.
It's certainly been harder but India is not out of the 2021 Asia Cup yet.
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Although, they haven't directly qualified to the Continental competition, they have a shot at extending their streak of consecutive appearances to 10 by finishing third or above in the five-nation Qualifying Tournament.
That said, here's a look at the journey through the three qualifying legs to the Qualifying Tournament:
Window 1 (Feb. 2020)
Window 1 provided a mixed bag of results for India. In the first game, despite leading for a majority of the game, they were upset in heartbreaking fashion by lower-ranked Bahrain (113th in the world at that time compared to India's rank of 74).
A corner three in the closing seconds of the game by guard Hesham Sarhan sealed the 68-67 victory.
A couple of days later, in Game 2, India got back on track by taking care of business against Iraq, who were ranked just five spots below them on the FIBA Men's Rankings.
They beat Iraq 94-75 by outperforming them from beyond the arc and in the paint.
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India shot 10-of-17 (58.8%) from beyond the arc while restricting their opponents to 10-of-35 (28.6%). In the paint, India nearly doubled up their opponents' points tally by outscoring them 46-26.
Window 2 (Nov. 2020)
The couple of games in Window 2 didn't go as planned for India. They could have put themselves in a strong position for direct qualification by avenging the loss to Bahrain, instead they lost both games and were on the brink of not even making the cut for the Qualifying Tournament.
In Game 1, they lost to the group's top seed and unbeaten Lebanon squad by 55 (115-60). In the second game, against Bahrain, their starters played extremely well as they led by as many as 18 in the first half and were owners of an eight-point lead (45-37) at intermission.
Alas, the tables turned in the third quarter as India only managed to score eight points and were outscored by 14 in the period. They eventually lost 88-72.
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Postgame, India's head coach Veselin Matic cited the COVID-induced seven-month gap in basketball activities as a huge reason for the drop in level of play during the second halves of both games.
Despite the losses, there was a big reason to smile for Indian basketball fans as Amjyot Singh made his return to the national squad.
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Singh regularly appearing for the national team was hard to come by over the three-year period between 2018 and 2020, however a former NBA G Leaguer, Singh's return to the national team certainly gave India more talent to put on the floor.
Window 3 (Feb. 2021)
With all of the results from Group D over the first two windows, Lebanon and Bahrain had clinched the 'direct qualification spots as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. It was all about the third 'Qualifying Tournament' spot from the group.
Going into Window 3, India's goal was simple: beat Iraq and seal that third seed. Easier said than done as in a game with seven lead changes, India found itself setting up on defence for the final 21 seconds with the scores tied up at 78.
That's when two veterans of the Indian squad came up big. Singh stole the ball and then, captain Vishesh Bhriguvnashi rushed down the court and knocked down a shot from near halfcourt.
The prayer heave not only gave India the win but sealed their spot in the Asia Cup's Qualifying Tournament. That victory made the final couple of games in the Group 'dead rubbers' as the top three teams from the group were already decided as India's 99-71 loss in the final game against Lebanon proving to hold no value.
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