Why is Suryakumar Yadav in India's 2023 World Cup squad? He has had 24 chances in ODIs but has only managed 511 runs at an average of 24.33, with two half-centuries and a best score of 64. He scored more runs (and also a century) than that in IPL 2023 across 16 matches in the shortest format.
Sanju Samson was the other option available. He got exactly half the chances in ODIs and scored 390 runs, including three half-centuries, at an average of 55.71. If Suryakumar is loved for his batting versatility - Samson offered the same (he is the only Indian with an ODI 50 at No. 4in 2023) with just better numbers to back him.
Tilak Varma could have been chosen too. Although he hasn't played an ODI yet, provided a left-handed option in the middle-order plus some off-spin. He could have batted at any position needed and worked like an X-factor. India still chose someone who neither had form nor was the best option for the 11.
Suryakumar himself admitted recently that he hasn't been able to crack the code to score runs in ODIs. Selecting him for the biggest tournament in the format is a gamble that would turn into simple foolishness if he fails when asked to bat in the middle order for a big game as an injury replacement.
No wonder, his selection is the biggest hot topic of discussion among pundits since the squad announcement.
Here are the top-five expert reactions on the subject:
#1 Tom Moody
Former Australia international Tom Moody was blunt in calling Suryakumar "lucky" to be selected in the squad.
"He is lucky to be in that squad purely because of the case that mounts against him for someone like Tilak Varma who gives you that left-hand batting specialist in the middle order who can bowl part-time spin," Moody said on ESPNcricinfo.
Moody added that Tilak would have also given Rohit Sharma more flexibility in the batting order because Ishan Kishan wouldn't have been the only left-handed batter capable of playing that role.
#2 Sanjay Manjrekar
Former India batter Sanjay Manjrekar in the same interaction suggested that Suryakumar was selected on the basis of his T20 exploits.
The right-handed batter is ranked at the top of the ICC men's T20I rankings for batters and has over 1,800 runs in his T20I career at an average of 46.02 and a strike rate of 172.7.
"I don't think they were able to resist the temptation of a Suryakumar Yadav in 50-over cricket because of the kind of magic he has done in T20 cricket," Manjrekar said.
"The thing about Suryakumar Yadav is that he plays quality T20 innings, he plays it on the big stage. And if there's a situation similar to T20 cricket and the big stage in the World Cup, who can rule Surya playing a terrific unbelievable innings and getting India into a match-winning situation," he added.
Manjrekar added that Suryakumar's ability to handle pressure would have also been a big green flag for Rohit.
#3 Wasim Jaffer
Speaking soon after the squad announcement, former India opener Wasim Jaffer also said he was "surprised" to see Suryakumar get a chance ahead of Tilak, who he felt was more suited to the format.
"I am surprised," Jaffer said in a seperate video on ESPNcricinfo. "Suryakumar Yadav got his opportunities but he hasn't cemented his place and what the selectors and the team management expected him to do -- what he did in T20s -- he didn't translate that performance in 50 overs... I would have liked a left-hander, Tilak Varma, like I said earlier. The way he bats suits more to the 50-over format. They have gone with their gut feeling."
Jaffer added that Tilak provided an ability to bat at anywhere from number four to six. Whereas Suryakumar, having failed at four and five, would only be seen as a decent backup for Hardik Pandya at No. 6 without offering any bowling.
#4 Robin Uthappa
Former India wicketkeeper-batter Robin Uthappa also shared Jaffer's surprise. He worried that India had deprived themselves of a specialist batter who could bowl a bit in Tilak - a skillset that almost every other team would have at the World Cup.
"I am quite surprised that they have gone with Surya and not Tilak Varma. I am not questioning Surya's ability whatsoever. It's just that that left-hand advantage would have meant a lot in limited overs to any team... and the fact that he could bowl a little bit of off-spin," he said.
"Now Surya is in there they'd miss out on a possible off-spinner. Who's going to bowl if they need a batter who can bowl? Will it be Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli? We'll have to wait and see. I am just surprised," Uthappa added.
Uthappa also said that Tilak's potential "was there to see" in his debut series against West Indies, suggesting that his lack of ODI experience wouldn't have been an issue.
#5 Sanjay Bangar
The most recent comment came from former India cricketer and batting coach Sanjay Bangar. He didn't talk about the selection as such but suggested what Suryakumar needs to do to succeed in ODIs.
"...Suryakumar Yadav is a versatile player," Bangar said on Star Sports. "He definitely targets boundaries and where to hit them. He has a very good idea of where to hit them, but if there is one thing he needs to do, it is to find out how to bat between the 25th and the 40th over. I don't think he is clear in his head and heart about how to score runs in this period."
"He can play like he does in the T20 format, but if wickets fall, he needs to find out how to rotate strike between the 25th and the 40th over, and he needs to find his own method to score runs here which he is obviously thinking about," Bangar added.
Bangar further stated that although the Mumbai Indians batter needs game time, India can't force it by playing him and sitting someone else out for the sake of it.