THE walk from the dressing room to the ground felt different this time. All his life, Suryakumar Yadav had wanted to walk in a blue jersey at the Wankhede Stadium. The day finally arrived in 2023, 12 years after his first-class debut.
As he came down the stairs, there were officials whom he had seen while growing up, groundsmen whom he had seen over the last decade, and a few fans who waited to take his pictures. Yadav acknowledged everyone.
“Hello Sir,” was the common greeting to his seniors. To the world, he is SKY, but in this corner of the world, he is just Surya. The world is amazed by his skills but many here aren’t. Here, one finds people saying ‘I told you he will play for India.’
“He met us like he normally does. He might have become a big star, but his feet are grounded. Look how he met people here. He met everyone like he does with a smile and laugh. He hasn’t changed a bit,” says former Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) joint secretary Unmesh Khanvilkar.
Wankhede has been home for Yadav. In two years since making his India debut, he has been appointed vice-captain of the team. His phone is buzzing with ticket requests, and he hasn’t got time to respond to all of them. His family will surely be one among thousands in the stands. And if a few MCA officials are to be believed, SKY’s the crowd puller for Tuesday’s first India-Sri Lanka T20 International.
After the Ranji Trophy game a few days ago, Yadav said it was the realisation of a dream to play for India, and he had looked forward to playing in India colours at his home ground.
“Who doesn’t want to play at home in India colours! While growing up, I always dreamt of playing at Wankhede Stadium and imagined walking down those stairs to the ground. I have done that in the IPL but it will be a different experience altogether with the Indian team,” he said.
Vilas Godbole, who was coach of the Mumbai under-22 team a decade ago, recalls how he had whispered in the teenaged Yadav’s ears that he will play for India one day.
“He was very talented then too, now we can argue that he should have played for India earlier but the way he came back was remarkable. I saw him playing reverse-sweeps to medium pacers. I have seen (Sunil) Gavaskar-(Sachin) Tendulkar closely but never saw someone so special,” Godbole says.
Godbole has seen giants over several generations at the Wankhede. He has seen the transition and change in Mumbai’s batting gharana (school). Now it’s Yadav who is carrying the legacy. The best of Mumbai batsmen have their own unique features, but Yadav is probably the only one who can be called a 360-degree player.
Yadav’s confidence reminds Godbole of the late Vijay Manjrekar.
“He (Manjrekar) carried that arrogance and confidence while batting. The best players set the tone of the game. They know where the bowlers are going to bowl. This is the hallmark of a great batsman. Gavaskar had it, Tendulkar had it, and now I can see it in Surya. They know where the bowler is going to bowl. Surya is more dangerous, as he can hit behind the wicket too,” he adds.
Times have changed
Mumbai and the world have accepted his style of batting. The North Stand gang isn’t the same anymore. Former Delhi pacer Shakti Singh once recalled how he had to face the wrath of Mumbai fans when he played a scoop during a game in the 1990s.
“As I was walking back, a few regulars seated near the dressing area said, ‘just ‘f**k off. Don’t spoil our cricket.’ They were angry because I played that type of shot. Now it’s a revolution,” Singh quips.
Yadav’s has been a great success story. A few years ago, he was sacked as Mumbai captain mid-season, and a time came when the selectors felt he hadn’t done enough even to make it to the playing XI. He fought through it all.
After the Ranji Trophy game last week, a few fans waited for him outside the MCA-BKC ground. One of them rushed towards his car and asked for a selfie. Yadav obliged and the fan said “I have bowled to you at your ground.” The 32-year-old replied, “Arre wah, bhai sab theek hai na (Wow! All ok, brother)? Let me come out.”
A few metres away at the signal, a Mumbai Police escort car made a sudden halt. The cops requested for a selfie, and Yadav obliged them too. “Kya din aagaya hai bhai, dekh raha hai na Binod (See how times have changed),” he said in a happy tone. His teammate and friend Sarfaraz Khan reaffirmed that success has not gone to his head. Whenever Yadav arrives, Khan will greet him: “Dekho dekho, sher aaya (look, the tiger is here).”
“I asked him what it means to play at his home ground and he said it’s a dream come true. After the T20 World Cup, I wanted to see if he would mingle with us like he used to before. Players change after playing a few games for India, but he hasn’t. We are in the same hotel as the Indian team and he came to our room last night for a timepass. So I salute him,” Khan said.
Meanwhile, in the nets, Yadav just played a shot over the wicketkeeper. The ball sailed into the sky but Surya remained grounded.