Swinging it like Suryakumar Yadav | Cricket

outrageous. Breathtaking. Jaw-dropping. These expressions have been used routinely to describe Suryakumar Yadav’s batting this year. Right through the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in October-November, he was fully deserving of such praise with his ability to dictate terms in the shortest format in full view on the biggest stage.

It was probably during the course of his 68 against South Africa in Perth or 61* versus Zimbabwe in Melbourne that he hit his peak, defying all coaching conventions with a range of stroke-making that made for a compelling watch. In a year when the Indian men’s team managed no commendable feat, and instead stuck to the recent trend of not winning an ICC event despite reaching the semi-final at the T20 World Cup, Suryakumar’s stupendous run of form was a refreshing and continuous high point .

The numbers bear testimony to the T20 phenom that Surya has become. In 2022, he scored 1,164 runs in 31 matches with two centuries at an average of 46.56 and strike rate of 187.43, rising to the top of the ICC rankings for T20 batters. Remember he made his T20I debut only in March 2021 at the age of 30. But right from the moment he swatted his first ball in international cricket—a short delivery from Jofra Archer—for six over fine leg nonchalantly, it was clear that India had a special player in their fold. It was only legitimate to ask, “Why did it take so long for India to give Suryakumar an opportunity to flourish?”

Now that he is getting due recognition, Surya is ensuring he makes up for lost time. Within two years of his debut, he has turned himself into the lynchpin of a batting unit that has the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul. He has done so by playing a brand of cricket that is refreshingly in sync with the ever-evolving requirements of the shortest format. The same ca n’t be said of some of his more illustrious teammates than him, which is why India have fallen short in consecutive T20 World Cups.

Take for example Surya’s innings against South Africa in the T20 World Cup. He came out to bat when India were in trouble at 26/2, the situation worsening with the loss of three more wickets in quick succession. A less proactive batter would have probably responded by nudging ones and twos. The 32-year-old though is cut from a different cloth. On a Perth surface where the jury was out on his ability to handle pace and bounce, he launched a stunning counterattack, smashing 68 off 40 balls and helping India to reach 133/9. That South Africa chased it down with only two balls to spare indicates that India were in with a chance to win because of Surya’s aggression.

By now a Surya highlights package inevitably evokes comparisons with AB de Villiers—Mr 360 for his ability to pierce gaps in any pocket of the outfield. Like the retired South African batter, Surya can go down on one knee and use dexterous hands to play a gamut of scoops, ramps and flicks behind the wicket. Remarkable as those shots are, it was a flat-batted forehand down the ground off a short delivery by Kagiso Rabada that underlined his pre-eminence of him, treating the leader of the South African attack like a club bowler from the maidans of Mumbai. At times during the T20 World Cup, it won’t be a stretch to suggest that the gulf between Surya and the rest was akin to Sachin Tendulkar’s dominance in the 1990s.

Surya’s emergence aside, this was a year of few positives for India. They started with a Test series loss in South Africa, ending it with a hard-fought 2-0 series win in Bangladesh. In between were many disappointments, the defeat to England after setting a target of 378 in the fifth Test at Edgbaston and the 10-wicket T20 World Cup semi-final loss to the same opponents rankling the most.

As India look ahead to the ODI World Cup at home in October 2023, lessons must be gleaned from their setbacks this year. This is where Suryakumar’s batting template provides a few cues. With run rates and par totals constantly on the rise, teams like England stand to benefit when the ODI World Cup comes around on flat Indian pitches. For India to not cede the home advantage, it is imperative that batters who are in Surya’s mould—audacious rather than cautious—are backed to the hilt.

Surya himself nurtures Test ambitions. Before playing for Mumbai in the previous round of Ranji Trophy—his first game in almost three years—he made it clear that his target was to play Tests. He went on to slam 90 off 80 balls, showing in a cricket world dominated by ‘Bazball’ talk that he is unlikely to alter batting style due to the format.

While Surya hopes to realize the dream of donning whites for the national team in 2023, India will hope to have a far better year.

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