Sometimes, it’s the shot that a batsman doesn’t play that becomes the defining image of an innings. Like Sachin Tendulkar and the missing cover drive in his double ton at Sydney. Or now, as Suryakumar Yadav reminded the world about his absent sweep shot. It reveals much about his discipline but also about how the times have changed. Tendulkar’s was a 436-ball effort that spanned over 10 hours; the abstinence was remarkable. Suryakumar’s was a 49-ball affair and that he had to wage an internal battle to chain himself is charming and revealing of how difficult it has been for him to come to terms with his ODI record before this game.
Of the 49, he faced just seven from the legspinner Adam Zampa, and five from the offspinner Matthew Short, but when he talks about sweep shot, he doesn’t necessarily mean spinners alone, as he deploys it to pacers as well. “I think it’s the first time I haven’t played a sweep. This has come from the Chandu Pandit school of arts (on his straight drives),” he would say.
Beyond the sweep, it’s his concern about the recent past that the fans too would be sympathetic about. “I’d been wondering what had been happening for me in this [ODI] format. I was even thinking, ‘the colour of the ball was the same, the team is the same, what is happening to me?’ I went back and reflected and realized I was probably rushing things a bit; so I decided to play slower and take it deep. I want to try and bat the same way – bat deep, try and win games for India.”
Suryakumar, generally known as Mr. 360, chose to be Mr. 180 in Mohali. He was playing in front of the wicket, rather than going cheeky and adventurous. The T20 marauder morphed into a 50-over middle-overs manipulator and it paid the dividends for both him and India. He ran 22 singles and hit only one six. Surya scored 31 runs in front of the wickets out of which 22 runs came in the V. The 44 per cent of his runs came in the V, which is quite surprising for someone like him, who has made his name with his 360-degree strokeplay.
Surya’s poor form in the ODIs was a major concern for the team management. When Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul were out to injury, they had hit upon the Surya plan, but abandoned it in the middle of the series in West Indies after a few failures. Luckily, post the series, they regained the initial trust that had resulted in the plan, and returned to select him in the world cup squad and have given him chances here against Australia. Ahead of the series, Rahul Dravid the coach would say that Suryakumar doesn’t have to worry; his world cup spot isn’t in danger.
Surya walked in a peculiar middle-over setting of the ODI in the first game against Australia. India had lost quick wickets after a blistering opening partnership. At that juncture of the game, the need of the hour for the team was to build a partnership. Arguably the best T20 batsmen in the world has paid the price recently for misjudging cut shots and compulsive sweep shots.
But it was a different Surya that walked down the ground after Ishan Kishan’s dismissal. The team needed him to curb his natural instinct, he delivered it by biting his ego. He had been dismissed for a hat-trick of ducks against the same opposition not too long ago. He started off with three dots and kept pushing Zampa straighter.
A well made half-century for @surya_14kumar off 47 deliveries.
His 3rd in ODIs.
— BCCI (@BCCI) September 22, 2023
Zampa had his tail up after dismissing Shubman Gill with a rapid skidder that had beat the intended cut to clatter the stumps. He had also taken out Ruturaj Gaikwad and could have two more had he grabbed the tough return catches from KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan. He was teasing Surya with the flight and loop but Surya just pushed him down the ground for the singles.
After facing right balls, Surya had managed just three singles, then came the release shot a ramp over the vacant slips against Pat Cummins. It was a shot of reflex, not of adrenaline and the boundary eased the pressure, if any. Surya would cream three straight drives. He could have been out on 23 had Marcus Stoinis grabbed a return catch. But Surya who was battling his ego and was under immense pressure for his place, would take that slice of luck. “I was dreaming of this type of innings when I started playing this format. Trying to bat deep and finish the game, unfortunately, I couldn’t do it today, but I am very happy with the result,” he said.
The only high-risk shot Surya played went for a six off Cameron Green, a trademark scoop shot over the keeper’s head in the 44th ball of his innings. He faced only five balls after that before he holed out at deep square leg boundary. While walking back, he looked frustrated as he was intent on finishing the game, but along with KL Rahul, who is in midst of a dreamy comeback, he had put India on the brink of victory.
Surya’s feisty fifty was a testament to his mental toughness and he has shown the world that he can not only drive a swanky sports car on an expressway but knows how to drive a hatchback in crazy city traffic.