India's Suryakumar Yadav had tremendous success with the bat at the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia recently. The 32-year-old was the third-highest run-getter in the tournament - second-highest for his own team - with 239 runs at an average of 59.75 and a strike rate of 189.68.
Suryakumar’s ability to execute a wide variety of shots while toying with the field placements was the talk of the town in India’s otherwise ordinary T20 World Cup campaign.
To better understand the rise of 'SKY' this year, Sportskeeda caught up with former Mumbai cricketer Vinayak Mane. It was under his mentorship that Suryakumar underwent special training at Mumbai’s Parsee Gymkhana, especially to counter the extra bounce of pitches Down Under.
After finishing a four-hour training session with his tutees on a warm afternoon in November, Mane narrated how SKY prepared for Australia’s hard, pacey wickets at the Parsee Gymkhana, which is the star Indian batsman's local cricket club.
“Whenever Surya was free from his international or MCA commitments, he always made sure he came and trained at Gymkhana. Over the years, he has played here and we, as a group, have been working at Gymkhana. I as a player/coach and him as a player,” Mane told Sportskeeda.
“He always believed in playing on good wickets and hard wickets. So that was the main requirement for him whenever he turned up for sessions, that he needs some good hard wickets which would create conditions as per domestic and international cricket,” the coach added.
Suryakumar Yadav has turned into a versatile batter who can play at any position in the line-up. He is now capable of even targeting even the best bowler in the opposition, often with a nonchalant approach.
He holds a batting strike rate of 190.41 against pace bowlers (834 runs in 438 deliveries) in T20Is, while he strikes at 161.79 against the spinners (432 runs in 267 balls).
The Mumbai batter is well-equipped to face any type of bowling. He is yet to look vulnerable against any particular bowler at the highest level. Mane spilled the beans about the confidence Suryakumar Yadav has when he takes on a formidable bowling attack.
“When we would get to know that Surya is about to turn up for a session, we would make sure there are all varieties of bowlers available. He always made sure there was a side-arm available for extra pace. There is a guy named Om who bowls him side-arm.
“Every time he would come for a session to tackle pace, then a variety of bowlers - left-arm pace, right-arm pace, off-spinners, leg-spinners, left-arm spinners, and a left-arm wrist spinner, if at all required [would be available]. So he prepared for every type of bowler and that is my intention as a coach."
"He is a player whom I have seen as an 18-year-old" -Vinayak Mane on Suryakumar Yadav's progression as a compact batter
Vinayak Mane, who played 57 first-class, 33 List A, and seven T20 matches for the Mumbai cricket team, from 2000 to 2009, has been watching Suryakumar Yadav's journey for close to 15 years now, in multiple roles.
The Mumbai-based coach talks about the technical shift in SKY's batting and the areas on which the player worked to advance his batting skills.
“He is a player whom I have seen as an 18-year-old and seen his growth as well. So I have been his colleague and also his captain at Bharat Petroleum. He is a player who has adapted technically majorly himself. But there were discussions about hitting zones, tactics, and areas of improvements.
“He developed his batting down the ground majorly and I would see that he was trying to hit more towards long-off, extra cover, and straight. And that development has given him the tactical advantage over bowlers where his lap shot becomes more effective because he plays in two-three zones."
Mane explained how Suryakumar Yadav deceptively plays with the opposition’s field placements, both against pacers and spinners.
“His tactics are to hit towards the fine leg and bring the long-off up, hit towards long-off and bring the fine leg up. That’s the way of working against pace bowlers. Against spin, he has always been good, so he sometimes sweeps, hits extra cover, and at times now, he has learnt to hit straight as well.”
"That’s more like an AB de Villiers kind of shot" - Vinayak Mane analyses Suryakumar Yadav's best shots
During his debut T20I innings against England in Ahmedabad, in March last year, Suryakumar Yadav dismissed a short ball from Jofra Archer, clocking 143.9kph, over fine leg for a six. He did so with his right leg firmly grounded and the left one swiftly moving up in the air.
That, incredibly, was the shot that recorded his first runs in international cricket. Since then, Suryakumar Yadav has been startling cricket fans by executing some audacious strokes from his repertoire, blasting them to every nook and corner of the field.
One of the most unorthodox shots played by SKY is the lap shot against the fast bowlers, which garnered a lot of attention in the recent T20 World Cup.
However, Vinayak Mane has been watching this particular shot since Suryakumar Yadav was 18. The former Mumbai player explained what made Suryakumar go for this shot, which resembles the one played by former South Africa batsman AB de Villiers.
"He played it well (lap shot) as an 18-year-old also against pace. But the major change is that the rate of execution has improved. He hardly misses it now and we hardly see him get out. He has got out before, I’ve seen him. Whenever the bowler goes wider, he hits it to the third man. He is not always hitting the lap shot but also tapping the ball towards the third man at times, which we saw in the Zimbabwe game and in previous series as well.
"That’s a variation and another variation is sweeping like AB de Villiers used to. Whenever the ball is full or outside his body, he is actually timing it and sweeping it and it’s going in the stands. That’s more like an AB de Villiers kind of shot where you understand it’s not about hitting it hard but meeting it at the right time."
Mane also dissected the psychological aspect of Suryakumar Yadav attempting a lap shot and its alternative - the sweep.
“He watches the ball very closely, [which is] very important. The focus on the ball is so much that he hardly loses it. He understands where the ball is finishing, whether inside or outside his body. If it is outside the body, he might tap it over the third man or he might just sweep it. And that’s why it becomes more of a timed sweep shot rather than a hard sweep shot like against a spinner.
“At the same time, before playing his shot, all this information goes through his mind and then he is ready for different lengths also. He covers all these points before playing a lap shot - he is ready for variation of length, variation of line, and the variation where the ball finishes. He is ready for all these and that’s why the consistency is there."
India lost just one game in the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup, against South Africa in Perth. The Proteas possessed a formidable four-pronged pace attack, comprising Wayne Parnell, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada, and Anrich Nortje.
The pitch at the Optus Stadium offered good bounce, and helped by it, the South African seamers made life difficult for the likes of KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, and even Virat Kohli.
To the surprise of Temba Bavuma’s bowlers, Suryakumar Yadav was unperturbed by their deadly bouncers and short balls. It seemed as if SKY was batting on a completely different pitch compared to his teammates.
He scored a highly-impressive 40-ball 68, including six fours and three sixes, to push India's score to a respectable 133/9.
Speaking on the tactics of Suryakumar Yadav in nullifying the threat of South Africa’s pace battery, Mane mentioned:
“He was very smart. He knew [against] that pace, he cannot hook or pull where our three batters got out. The ball was coming quick and the pitch had pace. So he understood that there was no point going hard against it. [He] might have used the pace. He got under the ball and hit over the fine leg off Ngidi once and then he flicked Rabada once with the fine leg and deep square leg being there."
Mane further added on Suryakumar Yadav's batting:
“Just timing the ball and picking it up. He used the pace and on the contrary, the other batters went hard at the ball. Then he disturbed the [set] length of the bowler, which was a go-to ball where they can trouble the Indian batters. He disturbed that length and got them to bowl fuller. And the ball was in its zone to hit in straight field."
Mane also revealed Suryakumar Yadav’s mantra to put the opposition bowlers on the back foot. He also gave his take on the comparisons between his protégé and AB de Villiers regarding the moniker of Mr. 360°.
“I have heard him saying that you have to hit one shot and the pressure is on the bowler. We have to put that doubt in the mind of the bowler and then he [bowler] is under pressure. The advantage he [Suryakumar] has is he can play the lap and the sweep. AB de Villiers is a better striker of the cricket ball than him, definitely, but he can manage to hit in those pockets, so he creates a lot of pressure on the bowler."
Suryakumar Yadav has been the best story for Indian cricket this year. While the team has seen ups and downs, the Mumbai batsman has gone from strength to strength and has emerged as his team's current best batter.