On 25th July 2021, India found themselves in a slight spot of bother when Suryakumar Yadav strode out to the centre. Although Sanju Samson and Shikhar Dhawan had fully utilized the field restrictions, racing away to 51/1, there still remained skepticism if the Men In Blue would be able to post a competitive total.
Not just because the pitch had started showing signs of sluggishness, but also because the Sri Lankan spinners had wreaked havoc in the 3rd ODI. Thus, at that juncture, a billion hopes were pinned on Suryakumar. And, as has become the norm recently, Suryakumar barely flinched and instantly stamped his authority on the encounter.
Suryakumar caressed and creamed his way to his 2nd T20I fifty in only his 3rd innings, meaning that India, despite a wobble at the end, got up to 164. Ultimately, the visitors defended the score and took a 1-0 lead in the 3-match series. Yet, it was perhaps Suryakumar’s knock that would’ve infused the Indian faithful with unbridled joy.
Suryakumar Yadav has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket
Over the past few years, there haven’t been many batters in domestic cricket who have been as consistent as Suryakumar. However, national call-ups were hard to come by. Well, at least until the right-handed batter barged through in January 2021.
Since then, Suryakumar has captured the imagination of the cricketing fraternity and has even evoked comparisons to one AB de Villiers. To be fair to him, he has produced the performances worthy of such mentions. Rather unfortunately, there still seems to be uncertainty around his spot in India’s first-choice eleven for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
Not just because Suryakumar is their most inexperienced option, but also because India have an embarrassment of riches in the batting department. That, though, doesn’t take anything away from the unique skill-set Suryakumar brings to the fore. And, to an extent, it is this particular skill-set that might make him indispensable too.
For a major chunk of the previous decade, the Indian side has been criticized for its relatively conservative approach in T20Is, especially as teams of England and the West Indies’ ilk have come out swinging and have yielded results.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a tendency on India’s part to stack their line-up with anchors – batters perfectly capable of launching an assault at the death but batters also reluctant to go too hard too early. In the process, the Men In Blue have an enviable record in the final five overs (since the T20 World Cup in 2016).
At present, only Afghanistan have a higher scoring rate (11.05) as compared to the Indians (10.62). However, the above could also be down to the Afghans facing relatively weaker opponents. The Men In Blue, on the other hand, have confronted Australia, England and New Zealand quite frequently during this period.
Having said that, it is interesting to note that India are considered one of the more cautious batting units in T20Is when batting first, despite their pyrotechnics at the end. On further introspection, it becomes pretty clear that their resistance to taking risks in the middle phases is the root cause.
As far as India’s batting anchors are concerned, each of KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli like to gauge the situation before opening up their shoulders. On their respective best days, it is a method that bears extraordinary fruit, for they inevitably bat through the innings and increase the tempo.
However, when they fail to notch up a substantial score, it could come a cropper, especially in the T20 World Cup, which is to be held in the UAE – an environment where run-scoring might become progressively difficult, owing to the tired pitches. Numbers wise, though, the discrepancy is even more fascinating.
Rahul has played 45 innings in his T20I career so far and has crossed 25 on 22 occasions. Expectedly, he has made those knocks count. The flip side is when he eats up a chunk of deliveries and then gets out, which more often than not, puts the Indian side in trouble.
Of the 23 times he has failed to pass 25, he has gotten out between 10-25 14 times. Remarkably, when he has been dismissed during this period, his strike rate veers towards 111.16, which considering his overall strike rate of 142.19, highlights his propensity to start slow.
Though the IPL is usually not a great yardstick for T20Is, this proclivity has cost the Punjab Kings in the past couple of seasons.
Rohit and Shikhar also take time to acclimatize themselves to their surroundings. While the former has been dismissed in the 10-25 phase 24 times out of 103 innings, the latter has gotten out on 12 occasions (out of 64). The strike rates are pretty congruent to Rahul, for Rohit and Shikhar strike at 111.54 and 112.29 runs per 100 balls, respectively.
Virat Kohli is also cut from a similar cloth. The difference, though, is that he rarely gets out (18 times out of 84) after getting a start – something that is illustrated by his record of passing 25, 51 times out of 84 innings. However, when he consumes balls and gets out during the 10-25 run period, his strike rate meanders to 110.26.
Furthermore, Hardik Pandya, since the start of 2020, hasn’t been his usual self. Though he played a couple of defining essays against Australia in December 2020, even those came after he endured a teething period.
To place things into context, since the start of 2020, Hardik strikes at 110.71 when dismissed between the 10-25 run phase, indicating that he has developed a habit of chewing up deliveries. Rishabh Pant, on the other hand, in his bid to become more responsible, has not been his cavalier self in T20Is, striking at 113.51 in the corresponding period.
Thus, there could be an argument suggesting that India might not be best served fielding Kohli, Rahul, Rohit and Shikhar together. While they are bona fide match-winners in the shortest format, their approach, which might prove detrimental in their failures, could push India back.
If parallels were to be drawn, the aforementioned is quite in sync to the criticism aimed at Dawid Malan lately, for his modus operandi, especially in an English side of gung-ho cricketers gets magnified.
The Englishman has been dismissed for 25 and below, 15 times out of 30 innings. Of those, he has gotten out in the 10-25 range on 10 occasions, with his strike rate hovering around the 101.15 mark.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are cricketers such as David Warner and Jos Buttler. While neither has an average that overshadows what Kohli and Rahul have conjured, they rarely get stuck at the crease.
More importantly, even when they fail, they don’t eat up deliveries to put pressure on the other batters, which in T20 cricket is the worst possible outcome, for the game is going nowhere.
Buttler, when dismissed during the 10-25 run phase, strikes at 127.72, whereas Warner scores at 140.22 runs per 100 balls. And, though it might be a little early in his international career, Suryakumar falls into this bracket of cricketers – cricketers who aren’t afraid to throw their bat at the start and ensure that the tempo of the innings is maintained throughout.
Suryakumar Yadav has been brilliant in his brief international career
So far, Suryakumar has played 6 innings in international cricket (3 ODIs and 3 T20Is). Incredibly, he has crossed fifty in three of those, meaning that he has enjoyed a healthy introduction.
Moreover, none of those knocks have come at a strike rate below 100. Most tellingly, though, during all of those essays, Suryakumar has been proactive from the outset and has put the bowlers under immense pressure.
On his debut, Suryakumar blazed away to 27 off 14 balls, whereas he bettered that feat a game later, scoring 27 off 13 balls. In the 1st T20I against Sri Lanka, where he was far from his best, he still scored 26 runs off 17 balls.
In the ODIs, Suryakumar has managed 27 off 13, 26 off 14 and 26 off 19, hinting that he is as assured a starter as one might find in India. In fact, had Suryakumar gotten out just before crossing the 25-run barrier, he would still have contributed significantly to the run-rate.
While Suryakumar would have, under ideal circumstances, wanted to convert at least one of those knocks into a maiden international ton, the value of these innings, especially in T20 cricket, can’t be overstated enough.
Additionally, Suryakumar has shots all over the park and is India’s closest answer to a 360-degree batter. Against Sri Lanka on Sunday, a few of those couldn’t come to the fore, owing to the tackiness of the surface.
Yet, in the past few seasons of the IPL, there has been ample evidence that Suryakumar brings something different to the equation – something that the likes of Kohli, Rahul, Rohit and Shikhar aren’t too inclined to replicate regularly. In that respect, the Mumbai Indians cricketer might even be the refreshing anomaly in the batting unit.
Having said that, there will be days when Suryakumar doesn't quite get into the groove and doesn't make the kind of impact that he has created already. That, though, in light of historical evidence, would be more of a deviation from the mean, rather than personifying him as a batter.
At times, over the years, India have struggled to generate momentum during the middle phases. In Suryakumar, though, they now have an alternative that can utterly dominate the middle overs and lay the ideal foundation for India’s customary assault at the death. The fact that Suryakumar can bat in a variety of positions and situations doesn’t hamper his case either.
The Men In Blue still have the second best batting numbers at the death, meaning that a slightly earlier charge, which doesn’t necessarily compromise on their muscle at the end, could be just the tweak that defines their T20 World Cup campaign.
At this point, there are still plenty of hurdles that need to be overcome before the squad for the T20 World Cup is picked. And, of course, before India begin their campaign against Pakistan on 24th October.
However, with each passing day, it is becoming harder to ignore Suryakumar, not just from the squad but also from India’s first-choice eleven. Perhaps Suryakumar Yadav has become indispensable to India’s T20I setup, after all.