Mature Suryakumar Yadav finally gets his due
Of his many exploits, two innings Suryakumar Yadav played in the Indian Premier League last year best displayed the repertoire of strokes at his disposal, enhancing his reputation as a T20 specialist. The first, an unbeaten 47-ball 79, came against Rajasthan Royals which helped Mumbai Indians post a daunting 193. With MI losing wickets at regular intervals, Yadav started off slowly before bringing out the sweeps, ramp shots and scoops. By the end of the innings, he had scored 51 runs behind square. The second innings, again an unbeaten 79 (off 43 balls this time) came while chasing against Royal Challengers Bangalore. This was just after Yadav was once again overlooked for a limited-overs series, this time in Australia. Like in the match against the Royals, Mumbai Indians were again in trouble early into the chase but Yadav was more conventional in his shot selection this time, unleashing a flurry of cover drives, flicks and pulls to anchor a memorable win.
Over the last three seasons, Yadav has been honing his skills, balancing conventional with unconventional, trying to spend as much time at the crease as possible while keeping the scoreboard ticking. He has put in the hard yards, perfecting his batting skills in the nets for three to four hours at a stretch across different locations in Mumbai. He also travelled across country during the off-season before the start of the 2019-20 domestic season as it wasn’t possible the train outdoors in Mumbai during the rainy season and he didn’t want to limit himself to practising indoors at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s Bandra Kurla Complex facility.
Former India batsman Pravin Amre, who was part of the MI set-up last season before moving back to Delhi Capitals as assistant coach for the next IPL, feels Yadav’s hardwork is paying off. “Previously, while he was dominant in shorter formats, there were still chinks in his armour. But the way he batted in the last IPL, it can be termed as the best of his career. He is a player who can bat at any position—from No 3 to No 6. Not many players can do that.
“Some players take time to develop and it was the same in Yadav’s case but with experience he learnt, developed his game and has reached this stage,” says Amre under whom Yadav made his Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai in 2010-11. Vinayak Samant, who coached Mumbai for two seasons (2018-20), says Yadav looked in “great shape” when he turned out for the pre-season camp during the 2019-20 season. He started that Ranji Trophy with a bang, scoring a 70-ball 102 in the second innings of the opener against Baroda that Mumbai won by 309 runs. “He had just returned from a personal training stint in Bangalore and looked in good touch from the first ball he faced. Fitness wise he was up there as well. He works a lot on his game, his fitness during the off-season,” says Samant, who backed Yadav to be the team captain.
“You can say that he has knocked down that Indian team door with his performances over the last two-three years. It not easy for a player of his age to be considered for the national side,” adds Samant. Yadav is 30. Samant feels that key to Yadav’s success is his ability to get in a “good position” to play his shots and then stay “as still as possible”. “His first instinct is to find the gaps as much as possible and we witnessed that during the IPL. Also, if he has to hit a big shot, say off a slower one, he knows exactly where to position himself to get the maximum from the shot. At the same time, he has a bank of two-three shots that he can play off a particular delivery. You can compare him to someone like AB de Villiers,” says Samant, who feels Yadav is a perfect example of the modern day T20 player who can play according to the situation, “mixing caution with aggression”.
Amre, who has helped India players like Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina, feels another area where Yadav showed improvement last season was his off-side play. “I felt that if he improved his off-side game, it would add another dimension to his game. No way I tried to change his technique but just brought that awareness, prompting him to play through off-side as well. I felt his approach was to look for runs on the leg side. I just told him to play on the merit of the ball and not just look towards the leg side,” says Amre.
If one compares Yadav’s big IPL innings from 2019 to 2020, there is a stark difference in how he has accumulated his runs. Of the big knocks in 2019, around 65-75% runs were scored on the on-side. In 2020, especially the two unbeaten knocks of 79, he scored 46% and 57% of his runs on the on-side, a marked difference as pointed out by Amre. His preferred region in the off-side was through covers if the ball is pitched up. If it’s dug short and wide, Yadav now prefers the third-man rather than trying to drag it towards on and lose control. “Our job was to improve him in that aspect. Even if its 10% improvement, it matters a lot. Those performances have brought him into the limelight and on the door of the Indian team,” says Amre.
Those who know Yadav say talent-wise he was always right up there with the best but lacked consistency. It reflects in his career as well. In 2010-11, at 20, he scored 754 runs in his maiden Ranji season for Mumbai. He then played a crucial role in MI’s success in the 2011 Champions League. After moving to Kolkata Knight Riders, he was given the role of a finisher. While his white-ball career was moving briskly, he struggled to convert starts in Ranji Trophy and even his spot in the Mumbai squad for the longer format was questioned. The occasional spats with teammates didn’t help either. “He used to speak his mind, was hot-headed as well but as the years passed he has matured a lot and has control over his temper. Mentally he is quite strong and focused on improving his game and fitness,” said a Mumbai player who has known Yadav for a long time.
That maturity has helped Yadav churn out important knocks for Mumbai and MI. In the last three editions of the IPL, Yadav has scored 512, 424 and 480 runs. Returning to MI has been a blessing in disguise as Yadav was given more responsibility by being asked to bat up the order. At the start of the 2020 IPL, the MI thinktank had asked him to anchor the innings and he managed to deliver. He was delivering for Mumbai as well. This Vijay Hazare Trophy, Yadav scored 332 runs in five matches at a strike rate of 151.59, the highest among players to have aggregated 150-plus runs. Three years of toil has helped Yadav become a consistent multi-format performer, forcing the national selectors to finally pick him for the T20 series against England. Now that he has made his debut, there might be no looking back for Yadav.