Suryakumar Yadav on his transformation as a cricketer and reviving Mumbai's fortunes

Mumbai captain Suryakumar Yadav opens up on his transformation as a person and how he plans to change the fortunes of Mumbai over the next three months.

From being dropped mid-way through last season’s Ranji Trophy campaign to captaining the team across all three formats this season, Suryakumar Yadav has come a long way.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

From being dropped mid-way through last season’s Ranji Trophy campaign to captaining the team across all three formats this season, Suryakumar Yadav has come a long way. While he has no hesitation in admitting his exclusion last year “came as a shocker”, he looks forward to the Ranji Trophy season after a forgettable campaign in 2018-19.

The maverick batsman opens up on how he has changed as a person and how he plans to change the fortunes of Mumbai over the next three months.

Excerpts

How have you managed to be “in the zone” for so long?

Feels good to have been in the zone for a while now. I gave myself a lot of time on the field during the off-season this time. At the start of the pre-season training, I sought permission from the coach and the MCA to train outside. Idhar toh baarish itna ho raha tha (It was raining in Mumbai so much), so we were forced to train indoors. That’s how it is every year, we work a lot indoors during the off-season. But I thought it would be better to get out of my comfort zone, so I booked slots at Just Academy in Bangalore, then in Dharamsala and even had a short stint in Indore for a week or so.

I travelled for a week or two - sometimes three - to places where it wasn’t raining much, to work on my batting. Simultaneously, I also analysed videos of my batting over last couple of years and even sat down with Daddy. He hasn’t played cricket but he keeps giving me inputs all the time. He said it’s high time I showed more consistency. So I have been working towards that. I have also added the meditation-wala chapter, thought let me try it out for a week or two. Mak sir (Makarand Waingankar) advised me to and it has helped immensely. During the stint in Bangalore, I tried out the match-simulation drill and the meditation aspect helped in decision making, even off the field. So I have persisted with it. I try to do it twice every day, at least once early morning. It started reflecting in my batting.

At the start of the season, I was determined to help Mumbai win as many matches as possible. The thought was to lead from the front and help Mumbai cross the line. I have been clear in my thought-process. Perhaps that’s what has contributed to being in the zone. I have been working on all these minute details.

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What sparked the need for training outdoor?

It has been on my mind for a couple of years. With the domestic season starting early and the monsoon in Mumbai prolonging, we hardly get time to train outdoors nowadays. Indoor practice helps you remain in shape and I was working with the team-mates whenever I was here in Mumbai. Outdoor practice is very important ahead of a season. If you have at least 25 to 30 sessions before the season, it helps a lot. It just cannot happen in Mumbai so I thought of heading out. I am glad it’s worked out well for me so far.

Suryakumar Yadav: "When I walked into the dressing room, there were unbelievable players like Wasim Jaffer, Rohit Sharma, Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Amol Muzumdar."   -  vivek bendre

 

Dropped from the Ranji team last season and back as Mumbai captain in a matter of months. How has it panned out?

I played the first four matches and then wasn’t picked at all. Even when I was recalled for the last game of the league, I had switched focus to white-ball since the T20 season was going to start with the DY Patil T20. I didn’t know whether I was going to be considered again but rather than wasting time sulking over the exclusion, I started preparing for what lay ahead. I aimed to score runs. The T20 season went well - from Mushtaq Ali to IPL to Mumbai T20. That made me realise I had to plan better to help the team and myself. And having been handed the captaincy, it’s an added responsibility. I have become calmer and composed in decision-making, talking to all the players. Everything is going well, touch wood!

Can you cite an example of your calm demeanour?

(Laughs) You will see that in the Ranji season, where you will be faced with challenging situations more often. In the shorter format, since it’s so dynamic, there’s not much time to think during a game. In the longer format, you have time to come back into the game even if the chips are down. That time, your leadership will be tested more.

Do you think you have lived up to your abilities as a batsman?

That's happened in the last two years, especially in T20. In 2017-18 and 18-19, I would I say I was very close to being at my best. This year it’s going well, so I would love to continue and earn the tag of a consistent player.

What has changed in these two years?

Not much except that I have been trying to enjoy my batting. That has helped me add the missing link in my graph: consistency. Have been focussing on that only.

How do you respond to the tag of talented but inconsistent?

I used to hear this a lot. But I never doubted my skill. I never had that question mark in my mind ki boss kyun nahi kar raha hai, kaise karega, kar sakta hai ki nahi (why isn’t he doing it, how will he do it, whether he will succeed or not). I backed myself in any situation. Whatever opportunity I got - be it T20s, one-day or Ranji Trophy - I just tried to enjoy as much as possible, keep batting, and keep scoring runs. I know it has taken a lot of time but things are falling in place.

Have you had negative thoughts about the India call-up, whether it will happen or not?

Not at all. I am positive about my game. I have not started thinking the other way. It is difficult but 70-75 per cent is the mental aspect while the rest has to do with skills. How you tackle that situation... if you come out of that quickly, it will help you. If you stay there then you go deeper and it will only trouble you.

Twice you have been dropped from Mumbai’s squad in the last few years, once from T20s and then Ranji last season. How big were these setbacks?

Prithvi Shaw (right) seen with Mumbai teammate Suryakumar Yadav during the team's practice session for Mushtaq Ali Trophy at the Wankhede stadium.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

Even when I was dropped for T20s during Chandu (Pandit) sir’s stint, I was shocked because I had done reasonably well during the Ranji and one-dayers. But I decided to take it in my stride and not cross-question anyone. I said when the time comes, I would let my bat do all the talking.

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Have you lived up to your potential in red-ball cricket?

I feel I can do a lot better. The way I have been batting, I am sure I could have scored a lot more hundreds than I have. This year my goal will be to convert as many starts as possible. I feel I should be averaging at least 50. At the moment, the focus will be on getting big hundreds.

For a player with so many scoring options, do you think it took longer for you to learn to manage shots?

I have started working more on my game; figuring out strokes for a particular situation and when that situation passes, you get back to other strokes in your armoury. Of course, sometimes I do get confused. But at the same time the more you stay focused, the more it helps.

So have you cut down on any specific stroke in red-ball cricket?

It is a completely different format. The ball swings a lot, seams more than the white ball. So you have to spend time in the middle before playing your shots. I won't stop myself from playing any stroke.

While playing red-ball cricket, does T20 selection play on the back of your mind?

It is a little difficult when you see there’s a lot of white-ball cricket around and your name is doing the rounds. But you have to stay in the present. If it has to happen, it will happen anyway, in a few days or weeks or months. But for now, the challenge is to play Ranji games for Mumbai, lead the team well, perform with the bat and help the side recover from an average last season. Yes, the thoughts of an India call-up in T20 keep crossing my mind from time to time, but you have to focus on the job at hand.

What are the challenges of leading Mumbai this season?

This year, I feel things are looking much better. I have seen all the bowlers and their preparations as well. The way they have been coming up to me and having a word on how to go about this season, the pacers as well as spinners, it’s refreshing. It’s all about how you start. If we start well this tournament and get that momentum, everything will start falling in place. Yes, bowling has been a concern but I feel they will put up a good show this season.

How much have you changed as a person since your controversial Ranji captaincy stint in 2014-15?

I have become calmer, a little more composed. It gives me added responsibility and a lot of pride leading Mumbai again. I know how to go about it now, how do I make decisions, how do I tackle my players, keep them happy. I have ticked the boxes you need to when you become the leader of a team like Mumbai.

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How do you deal with the fact that there are too many former captains in the team?

It is good to have so many minds in your team. Whenever I make a decision I have a word with everyone. Having so many brilliant minds in the team helps sometimes. And going into a fresh red-ball season, it's good to have people like Aditya Tare, Shardul (Thakur), Dhawal (Kulkarni), (Siddhesh) Lad, Prithvi (Shaw) around. You get a lot of suggestions, then you pick and choose what is best for the team.

It looked like a disjointed team last year, on and off the field. How do you plan to revive it?

I have appointed a few players to stand in the slips. It is not going to change. I have told my players: 'boss, this is the bunch for the coming season, I’ll back you completely'. I've even got good backing from our chief selector and coach. I have told them clearly: this is the slip cordon, the bowling department,and the batting order. It is not going to change unless any India player comes and we have to make a change. Last year, I was only there for four games so I can't comment on that. The boys are feeling good now and raring to go.

Have you had any specific drills for team bonding?

We have done a lot of things in one-dayers and T20s. We had a lot of team activities like short quiz sessions related to Mumbai cricket, a few team dinners, some painting competitions. It was good fun. I have planned a few things to keep the team intact in the upcoming season.

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Do you think youngsters in Mumbai don’t value the Mumbai cap as much as you did when you debuted in 2010?

Back then, it was a little different. When I walked into the dressing room, there were unbelievable players like Wasim Jaffer, Rohit Sharma, Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Amol Muzumdar; Sachin (Tendulkar) sir used to come and play, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar… so many players I can’t even name all of them. I feel the value of the cap hasn’t gone down but yeah, nowadays we have to tell them what culture there was in the Mumbai dressing room before. There are a lot of young players now in the Mumbai Ranji team and with the game becoming so fast-paced, it is important we tell them how things used to be before so that they act accordingly.

Suryakumar Yadav: "I haven’t noticed any difference in attitude when players playing the IPL come back to the state team."   -  BCCI

 

For seasoned players in domestic cricket, how much does IPL help in terms of financial security?

It is an opportunity to play against the best international coaches and cricketers. I haven’t noticed any difference in attitude when players playing the IPL come back to the State team. People put the same hard yards, do the same routine and process they do during the IPL. While it has given financial support, you cannot neglect where you come from. I see it that way. Because I still remember when I went to BPCL for a job interview, they asked me, 'nowadays you have IPL, why do you want this job, focus on first-class, List A cricket'. I told them I feel IPL is just an opportunity to go out and express yourself, of course, it is the biggest tournament in the world, but at the same time, you can't neglect your roots.

Do you see younger cricketers approaching it the same way?

People want to play IPL but it is not like they only want to play IPL. Everyone wants to play IPL, everyone wants to have that security, get that exposure, but what I feel is no one is neglecting local cricket, club cricket or domestic cricket. They are putting in the same efforts that they put in IPL.

Do you think domestic contracts will help in that way?

I have heard from a lot of cricketers that it will help. I feel it will give you security but nothing changes, you got to go out, perform and achieve.

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