18th March, 2021, Suryakumar Yadav, who is playing only his second T20I, walks out to bat with India struggling a little at 21/1. These runs have come in 3.4 overs, meaning that Suryakumar just doesn’t have to arrest the slide, he has to transfer pressure back onto England.
His first challenge is to face up to Jofra Archer, arguably one of the most fearsome T20 pacers on the planet. Archer is bowling pretty well too, having outwitted Rohit Sharma earlier in the over. That, plus the fact that Suryakumar is batting in T20I cricket for the first time ever, should be enough to put any batter off.
It is the sort of situation that you least want to find yourself in, especially at the start of the career. If you can’t handle a quick bouncer, that information will spread like wildfire across the globe. If you throw your wicket away, your commitment and temperament will come into question. But Suryakumar does not think about these things.
The first ball is indeed short and is bowled at decent pace. The Mumbai Indians batter, though, treats it as just another delivery. He nonchalantly walks across his stumps and helps Archer over fine leg for six. Off the first ball he has faced in international cricket. That six has since become a defining image, considering it encapsulates everything the right-handed batter stands for – class, grace, skill and of course, tenacity.
Most batters would have been happy had their international cricket ended right there. Not many are able to hoist Archer for six in that fashion. But Suryakumar, if you haven’t guessed by now, is not any cricketer. He has always had that special ability to take the game away from the opposition. The only difference now is that he has made it a habit and has been able to do it whenever India have seemed in peril.
Suryakumar Yadav produced a sublime knock at Hyderabad
The whirlwind knock at Hyderabad on Sunday was a prime example. He plundered 69 runs off just 36 balls. The rest of the Indian batting unit, while chasing 187, could only manage 107 off the 83 balls they faced, striking at just under 129. Suryakumar, in contrast, struck at 191.66. He also looked as comfortable as anyone on what proved to be a slightly tricky track. Barring Cameron Green, none of the others could get into a rhythm. The MI batter, though, made batting looked awfully easy.
His range of strokes and brand of batting is what sets him apart – that much has been clear to anyone who has watched him bat at least once. The impressive thing throughout his T20I career, though, has been his consistency and how often he has registered match-winning knocks. He has crossed 50 eight times in the shortest format for India. Of those, India have won seven times, with the only exception being a masterful century at Trent Bridge.
In T20Is, he has batted for more than 15 balls on 16 occasions. Only two times has he struck at less than 130, illustrating how much of an impact he creates. Prima facie, it might seem that his ultra-attacking approach would be detrimental for his consistency. But that is what makes him special. He has been scoring runs as quickly as anyone else and he has also been doing it as regularly as anyone else.
Throughout his T20I career, he has not had three sub-20 scores in succession. For someone who takes risks, throws caution to the wind and always tries to impose himself, that is not a bad number at all.
His career T20I strike rate is also off the charts. As things stand, his strike rate is 174.71, which is the second-best in T20I history among all batters to have scored more than 500 runs. When solely talking about batters from Test-playing nations, he is comfortably placed at the top, with the next best strike rate being James Neesham’s 165.84. Of those to have scored more than 500 runs and to have struck at more than 140 throughout their T20I career, only Aiden Markram, KL Rahul and Kevin Pietersen have a better average than Suryakumar.
Thus, a case could even be made that he is already one of the greatest T20I batters. Ever. As with every cricketer, he has had his detractors too. There has been the odd murmur about him excelling only on flat tracks. He now has a hundred in England against England, a sumptuous knock against Australia on a tricky surface, a fifty at the Asia Cup, a fifty in Sri Lanka, a brace of half-centuries against the West Indies (home and away included), and another substantial score against New Zealand. That is not bad, is it?
When he made his debut in March 2021, there was a lot of intrigue. His international bow, considering how he had set the domestic stage and the IPL alight, seemed delayed. But the moment he strode out, he batted as if he owned the place. He batted as if knew every trick the bowler had up his sleeve, and most importantly, he played as if he was always meant to be a part of the highest echelon of T20I batting.
With every passing game, that narrative has only grown stronger. And if India are to quench their thirst for an ICC title in the next couple of months, you feel no one is as important to their fortunes as Suryakumar. That should be enough to tell you how special he is, considering he has not even completed two years as an international cricketer.