In India’s last league game, against Namibia in Dubai, at the 2021 T20 World Cup, the then captain, Virat Kohli, sent Suryakumar Yadav at 3 instead of walking out himself. He would later explain that “Surya didn’t get much time, it’s a T20 World Cup, and I thought it might be a nice memory of him to take back. As a youngster, you want to take back some good memories from the World Cup.”
Less than 12 months later, at the same venue, Kohli and Suryakumar ensured India advanced to the Super 4 stage of the Asia Cup, with the latter scoring an imperious 68 not out off 26 balls.
India’s old-school T20 approach had duly received its comeuppance in a dismal World Cup campaign in 2021, and so, when the new home season got underway, the opportunity was there for a new attitude to take root. And Suryakumar has emerged as the heartbeat of a reconfigured T20 side.
On Wednesday, in the 13th over, with India 94 for 2 against Hong Kong, Suryakumar, the new man in, swept left-arm spinner Yasim Murtaza for two back-to-back fours off the first two balls he faced. In fact, there are very few Indian batters who prefer the sweep to tackle spin, let alone playing the reverse sweep. Suryakumar, on the other hand, can not only step out but also has control over all variations of the sweep shot, which can make setting the field for him very challenging.
The Dubai wicket was slightly sluggish and not conducive for power-hitting, but given that the batters before him hadn’t quite set things on fire and Kohli wasn’t at his fluent best either, Suryakumar took matters into his hands. He strikes at 185.54 against pace and 166.66 against spin, made him the ideal fit for the situation India found itself in.
Man for all phases
Suryakumar seems to have a preternatural sense of where the ball will be delivered and how he will hit it. Sample this. In the 16th over, Aizaz Khan bowls a length ball outside off, and Suryakumar backs away to carve the ball over the short third man for four. Next ball, Aizaz goes full on middle, and Suryakumar scoops it over the keeper’s head for six. Kohli had the best seat in the house as he willed Suryakumar on with a smile, almost in disbelief. The illusion of nonchalance Suryakumar created during his 360-degree strokeplay belied the struggles his teammates had been through on the same pitch.
Suryakumar has seven scores of 50 and more in 23 innings in T20Is. Three of them have come from No. 4, including the one against Hong Kong, and two from No.3. Suryakumar’s strike-rate at the death (17-20) is a staggering 260, in the PowerPlay 151.11 and between overs 7 to 16, he strikes at 171.42. Clearly, he is a man for all phases of the game. “I’m really flexible to bat at any number,” Suryakumar had said after the win against Hong Kong. “In fact, I’ve told the coach and the captain - ‘play me anywhere, just let me play’,” he told reporters with a smile.
There is even a case for Suryakumar at No. 3 during the ongoing Asia Cup. This tournament could well be decided by who can maximise the PowerPlay, with pitches likely to become harder to score on thereafter. Given Suryakumar’s ability to dominate spin, impervious to the ground conditions; and KL Rahul and Kohli’s lack of fluency, it would be a daring but prudent move.
Who knows, Kohli’s last call as India’s T20I captain, sending Suryakumar at 3 against Namibia, might just prove to be prophetic after all.
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