In a world grasped by a deadly pandemic, top tier international cricket is hard to come by. So as you would naturally expect, the Indian squad selection for the tour of Australia became a pretty high-profile affair. Experts were quick to give out their estimates, speculations were drawn, debates were raged and finally, when the squads did officially come out, eyebrows were raised.
Though the squads looked familiar on paper, well as much familiarity you’d expect after a gap of six and a half months, there were some glaring omissions. Why wasn’t Rohit Sharma included in any of the squads? Though the ‘official rumours’ were that he had suffered a hamstring injury during the IPL, Mumbai Indians posted a cryptic tweet of Rohit practising in the nets just hours after he was announced as “injured” by the BCCI. However, he hasn’t played a single game since he first sat out.
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) October 26, 2020
And more importantly, as you are already probably aware unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days, the exclusion of Suryakumar Yadav has become a serious talking point. Seriously, that’s all the subset of netizens and cricket fans have talked about in recent days. Especially so, after his innings against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Especially so after he did what he did in that game. But more on that later.
First, we’ll take a look at India’s desperate T20I team and its performances in recent years. Though India has won five bilateral T20I series of the last six, which includes a whitewash of New Zealand away from home, you could definitely argue that there is an air of unpredictability and inconsistency in the squad, especially in foreign conditions. They are third in the ICC rankings behind England and Australia and the middle order, in particular, has been doldrums for a while now.
In Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and even the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, the Men in Blue have a lot of batting firepower. And while the top three is expected to deliver in most games, having a strong top order isn’t nearly enough. With the T20I World Cup postponed till next year, India would be eyeing exactly long-awaited World Cup glory after a series of near misses.
However, the defeat in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy and in the semi-final against New Zealand in last year’s World Cup is still fresh in everyone’s memory. It’s a template we’re all too familiar with. When the top order fails, the relatively inexperienced middle-order crumbles under the pressure and caves in. Since the 2019 World Cup, India have strongly bet on Shreyas Iyer and even Manish Pandey to address the issues. During this phase, Iyer has scored six ODI half-centuries and one ton in 12 games. He also averages 50.99 in T20Is, scoring 417 runs in 22 T20Is.
Pandey was impressive in the series against New Zealand, and he remained unbeaten in the series. He also scored an important half-century in the fourth T20I. Though these options look reliable on paper, the issue surfaces in practicality. Both Shreyas and Manish Pandey bat at number 3 or 4 for their IPL sides, but it’s almost given that they’d have to come lower down the order for India. They’ll be required to finish games on their own accord and that is where the problem lies.
Though both Shreyas and Manish have decent T20I strike rates at 129.5 and 127.62, it isn’t nearly enough when they’d be asked to put their foot on the gas and accelerate. Also now that MS Dhoni has retired from international cricket, there are considerable doubts over the Indian middle order finishing games. This is where Suryakumar Yadav comes in as an X factor.
Suryakumar Yadav and his game are similar in style to both Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer but the stats suggest something else. Since the 2018 IPL, Sky has scored 1298 runs at an average of 36.46 and at a strike rate of 139.85 (including the numbers from the season so far at the time of writing). In the same time, Delhi Capitals skipper Shreyas Iyer has scored 1263 runs at an average of 34.54 and a strike rate of 126.86 whereas Sunrisers Hyderabad southpaw Manish Pandey has scored 982 runs at an average of 34.73 and a strike rate of 124.37.
In 2018, Surya was the top scorer for Mumbai Indians in IPL, with 512 runs at an average of 37 and a strike rate of 133. The following season, his 424 runs at an average of 33 and a strike rate of 131 proved to be extremely crucial as Mumbai Indians became the first side to lift 4 IPL trophies. Even in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2019, he was the second-highest scorer for Mumbai, behind Iyer, scoring 360 runs at an average of 51 and a strike rate of 145.
In light of all this it is pretty clear that while Iyer and Pandey have gotten their chances in the Indian team, Suryakumar Yadav hasn’t even come close to a sniff of international representation. Following the squad announcement, several legends and peers of the sport expressed their disappointment including the likes of Ian Bishop, Scott Styris, Mitchell McCleneghan, Harsha Bhogle, Danny Morrison, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Manoj Tiwary and phew, the list goes on a little longer.
Right then, coming back to the knock against Royal Challengers Bangalore. This was the first time “Sky” was in the limelight after the details on the squad were officially released to the public.
“When the lights are brightest, the pressure is highest, the crowd is loudest, only the greats will thrive.”
Suryakumar Yadav was up against the franchise led by his national team captain and he had a point to prove. Chasing a total of 164 at the tricky Sheikh Zayed Stadium, mainstays in Quinton de Kock and Ishan Kishan had to return to the pavilion inside just 55 runs and the pressure was mounting on Mumbai.
But once Yadav entered the fray, outside noise slowed down and his quality and class took over. With his back to the wall, boy did he put on a show for everyone to be in awe of. He scored a six off a slog sweep over midwicket, a boundary that came via fine sweep behind the fine leg and another six that came inside out over extra cover, hitting the spin department 360 degrees all over the park.
The legendary Ian Bishop described him as an oil painting, that’s beautiful to watch and a player that is worth every second of our time. When a West Indian great is so articulate while describing a player’s talent, what else is left for us to comment on.
Towards the end of the game, there were subtle attempts from Captain Kohli to break Surya’s concentration. But he remained undeterred, singularly focussed on getting to his goal. The likes of Krunal Pandya, Saurabh Tiwary and Hardik Pandy came and went but Suryakumar Yadav stayed. He stayed until the end and when all of it was over – when Mumbai Indians had registered a five-wicket victory with five balls left and when he remained unbeaten at a match-winning 79 off just 43 deliveries – he casually pointed at himself and by gestures, suggested that ‘he’s got this.’
With 362 runs from 12 games already this season and his side Mumbai Indians looking like the favourites to add another jewel to their crown, the player has definitely ‘got this.’
The only issue? How long will it take for the national selection committee to ‘get it’?