Why Suryakumar Yadav is bigger than Team India’s Big 3

There is no more a reassuring sight for his club and country than Suryakumar Yadav striding out to bat in a T20 game. The entry is nondescript—there is no swagger or strut, rather a keenness to start batting as soon as possible. There is no drama, he just winds his arms to unstiffen his muscles, stretches his neck this way.

But he brings with him a crest of calm, a wave of hope, and a mountain of certitude. The crowd have begun to appreciate not just the spectacular strokes he could unpack, but also the sheer value he adds. They greet him with as resounding an applause as they do for Virat Kolhi. There is a spontaneous burst of excitement, a sense of awe, and a belief that something special would unfold, something they could treasure forever.

Yadav might be only 25 games into his international career, which, for his sparkling gifts, blossomed late. But already, he has been bestowed an aura, carved his space among the T20 cricketing royalty of his time, and firmly established that in current form, he is his country’s best T20 batsman.

No one of his colleagues has kept pace with the changing demands of batting in this format as Yadav has. No one has cracked the mechanics of it as seamlessly as he has either. Some struggle to force the pace, to shift from the fourth to fifth gear. Some could zip around in fifth gear, but have little control over the vehicle. Yadav bats as though he drives a Formula One car, but he is always in utmost control behind the wheels.

The most beguiling feature of his 26-ball 68 is that he unfurled spectacular strokes, almost each one of his six sixes and as many fours were jaw-dropping, yet none of them seemed risky. Not that they were not bereft of risk, but made even the risky ones look safe. Take for instance the scoop he essayed towards the left of the wicket-keeper.

Gymnast who can bat

Aizaz Khan might be classified, at best, as a medium pacer, but that made him even more a difficult player to place behind the wicket because of his lack of pace. The ball had, at times, stopped at the batsmen and bounced low. Not that he is not aware of the risks, but he has the supreme confidence to pull off the stroke his mind had designed.

His initial intention was to execute the pick-up shot behind the square. So he shuffled across, but then realised that he was too early into the shot and the bowler had made the required adjustment at the last moment and bowled fuller. So he plunged down with the balls , legs wide apart like the two legs of a compass, got beside the line of the ball and scooped it behind him. The legs were now fully stretched like a gymnast on the floor.

All the movements had the slick grace of a dancer so much so that he made a difficult shot look easy. That’s the hallmark of Yadav’s batting; he makes even the most ungainly stroke look elegant, imparts a touch of the sublime to the banal. Even the sweep shots—which fetched the first two of his fours–acquired beauty in his hands.

But beauty is just a byproduct, or an embellishment like a Persian carpet on an Italian marble floor. The real fix is the value his runs hold at the end of the day, the impact of those runs. It is not only that he scored 68 runs, but he scored those many in 26 balls. When he united with Kohli in the middle, India were crawling at 7.2 runs an over. In the next seven overs, they raced at 14 runs an over.

Yadav was not just the difference-maker, but the difference itself. Comparisons are inevitable—KL Rahul faced 39 balls, 10 more than him, but could only score 36 runs. Virat Kohli countered 44 balls, more than twice as many deliveries as Yadav faced, yet scored 9 runs fewer than Surya.

These numbers capture the form of Yadav and the lack of it that has blighted Kohli and Rahul. If any thought lingered that the pitch was on the slower side, Yadav made it look like a silly argument.

Some of the strokes he played were fantasy cricket stuff. He admitted as much during the mid-game chat with Star Sports. “I haven’t practised those strokes before, but when I was younger with my friends, we would play a lot of rubber ball cricket on hard surfaces. So the shots have come there. When I was sitting inside with Rishabh and Rohit bhai, I told them I want to get the tempo higher to try and reach around 170.”

Sedate start

He made up for the sedate batting of the front three—Sharma was over-eager but frittered away a start, KL Rahul seemed bereft of belief as well as touch and Kohli struggled for timing yet again, though he regained some of his fluency towards the end. But it’s not the first time that he had made up for the regressive batting of the top three but perhaps he is the reason the top three could afford, at least against teams like Hong Kong, to bide their time and look to reclaim their touch. Kohli could concur—Yadav’s assertiveness took pressure off him to lift the tempo.

He could still afford to not go after every ball that he faced and could wait for the balls he could bring out his percentage shots. If Kohli manages to build on his unbeaten 59, he will have to thank Yadav for affording him the time to regain his confidence.

For most of their partnership, Kohli watched his partner in pure admiration. He would often exchange a nod of approval, sometimes clap, and sometimes stand still wonderment. As he whipped a flick, fetching the ball from outside the off-stump, a half-Tendulkar half-Dhoni shot.

Tendulkar in the way he picked the ball with that firm front foot-stride and Dhoni in the way his bottom hand whirled to generate the power. It was all the Hong Kong bowlers could do either. Just stand and admire a special knock from a special player. Like the enchanted crowd, who watched him as though they were in an inescapable trance.

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