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Chander Shekhar Luthra

Why dropping Suryakumar Yadav from ODI Playing XI doesn’t bode well for Team India

On the eve of the first One Day International against Sri Lanka in Guwahati, Team India skipper Rohit Sharma dropped enough hints to justify why Suryakumar Yadav could not be part of the team’s Playing XI despite his excellent form in the shortest white-ball format.

But despite Sharma’s reasoning, cricket fans were expecting India’s best batter on current form to take the field at the Barsapara cricket stadium on Tuesday. In 45 T20I games and 43 innings, SKY has scored 1,578 runs, averaging 46.41. He has three centuries, 13 half-centuries, and a strike rate of 180.34 in the format. His best individual score is 117.

Not just this, SKY has also scored the second-fastest century by an Indian batsman, taking just 45 balls to earn his third century in the 20-over format. And he was competing against the likes of Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul for his place.

Going by sheer numbers in the ODI cricket, one could say that this 32-year-old Mumbaikar has not done enough to be there – 384 runs in 16 matches at an average of 32 and a strike rate of 100.52. Iyer, on the other hand, had 1,537 runs in 39 ODIs at 48.03 and a strike rate of 96 until Tuesday.

But one should not forget that in cricket it’s the current form that matters more than the past record. 

How would someone justify the preference for Rahul over SKY despite scoring just 251 runs in his last 10 outings at a mere average of 27.88? Rahul’s best score was 73 and his strike rate has also been down at 80.19. His poor form continued against Lanka too as he could score just 39 off 29 balls on a good placid batting wicket despite a great start by two openers and centurion Virat Kohli. Iyer’s 28 also proved that Team India’s think tank faltered in benching an in-form player.

Even the last ODI’s double centurion Ishan Kishan was not spared to accommodate Rahul.

Past perfect, future in question

When SKY played against England in March 2021, he was already 30. But it was his determination to reach this level that explains why he continued to score runs in domestic cricket – despite the lengthy wait – and knock on selectors’ doors. He had played 170 T20 matches by the time he made his India T20I debut at the age of 30, which is the most for any player before making it to a national team. 

This lengthy wait made him hungry after his debut was postponed, but the time he has spent playing domestic cricket and the IPL allowed him to master his craft. Despite having a T20I career strike rate of 180, he hardly ever attempts to force the ball. He relies on his strength of timing the ball well and does not really try to hit each one over the boundary.

Records and consistency

SKY altered the course of history during the third and final match of the T20I series against Sri Lanka with his third unbeaten T20I century; the previous two came against England and New Zealand in Nottingham and Mount Maunganui, respectively. He accomplished this feat while being the first player to score 1,500 runs in the shortest format with the fewest number of balls – just 843. 

He is also the first player in history to have accomplished this with a 150 or greater strike rate, and the third-fastest to reach 1,500 runs in T20Is in terms of innings played. Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Aaron Finch, and Babar Azam reached this milestone the fastest – each needing 39 innings to make 1,500 runs in T20Is. Mohammed Rizwan of Pakistan, the wicketkeeper, completed this in 42 while SKY completed it in 43 innings.

He is different

Yadav has three hundreds in 43 T20I innings, and all three have come while batting at No. 3 or lower. These many centuries have only been scored by openers who get to play for the maximum amount of time with deliveries inside the park.

But SKY is different because he finds his rhythm much faster than others. He showed his class by hitting six off his first ball in international cricket, and that’s how his first-ball strike rate stands at 154.55. Compared to others, only Marcus Stoinis (172.73) and James Neesham (156.82) are quicker off the blocks among hitters if a minimum of 100 balls are considered.

But one has to understand that both Stoinis and Neesham bat at No. 5 or lower where they are expected to throw their bats at anything and everything in T20Is. On the other hand, SKY is always expected to build the innings around him as he comes in at No. 3 or No. 4.

For instance, on Saturday against Sri Lanka, he entered the batting order in the sixth over at No. 4, and with 11 balls remaining in the innings, he still got his century. His nine sixes were the second-most by an Indian batter, trailing only Rohit Sharma’s 10 in Indore.

This Mumbai-hitter manages to pace his innings so quickly despite the high demands that each of his hundreds has only required less than 50 balls. In fact, he had a strike rate of over 200 on eight of his 16 scores of 50 or above. Despite taking extraordinary risks and playing premeditated shots on numerous occasions, SKY possesses a sound technique to last longer at any level of international cricket.

That’s why legendary Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev has described him as a “once in a century player”. He went on to say that SKY plays unbelievable shots and he can hit the ball anywhere, an ability that is possessed by very few cricketers. The 1983 World Cup-winning skipper was referring to SKY’s ability to use his wrists in a way that allows him to play 360-degree shots.

He has smacked 27 sixes over the fence since his T20I debut; Mohammad Rizwan comes in second with 13. Only two of those 27 sixes – 25 of which SKY controlled – came off a top edge. After the match, he described how all those shots were “his own”. He also has the ability to carve a full delivery over deep third man region, or close them to scoop the same ball over fine-leg. That also helps him find the shortest boundaries around his bat because the boundaries behind the wickets are actually 50 to 60 yards, depending upon the venue.

Practice and execution

The frequency with which SKY performs these shots sometimes gives the impression that they are easy to imitate, but that is not the case. Players like him, or AB de Villiers, had spent hundreds of hours in practice before executing these on the ground.

In his own words, SKY says, “Naturally, there is a lot of labour involved, but you also need to practise effectively. You should be aware of your strategy and how you want to score runs before the conclusion of the day.”

Ask any cricketing great and he will tell you how demanding this white-ball cricket has become. The batsman has to be ready with Plan B or C if he fails to execute Plan A during the game. The bowlers prepare hard to do so by watching video recordings of such hitters.

“There are a few strokes that are predetermined. But, at the same time, you got to have other shots as well in your armoury, because if the bowler bowls some other delivery, then you also have to be ready with other strokes,” SKY explained after one such innings against Sri Lanka last week.

He also makes use of the field by attempting to predict what a bowler might do next. Sometimes, he is content to time the ball over extra cover or mid-off for a four instead of going for a six because there is innately less risk involved. He employs the scoop to take up the boundaries in the death overs – when fast bowlers typically have the fine leg inside the 30-yard circle.

ODI World Cup year

With the focus now shifting to 50-over cricket because of the upcoming World Cup, which will be held in India from October 10 to November 26, every cricket fan anticipates that SKY will continue his form in the ODI format too. The pressure is on the No. 1 T20I hitter in the world and the leading T20I run scorer of 2022 to perform well in the 50-over format now. 

However, his performance in the ODIs so far has been far from convincing, with 384 runs in 16 matches at an average of 32 and a best score of 64. Only two half centuries have been made by SKY in the total 15 ODI innings he has played, and his highest score in his last nine ODI innings was an unbeaten 34. 

However, it might be a mistake to delve too deeply into this data. The Mumbai native has what it takes to be successful in all formats – he hit a few quick 90s for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy before the last T20 series against Sri Lanka.

His struggle against New Zealand in the recent ODI series on their pitches was a learning experience for him. In three innings, SKY got out twice in a similar fashion, poking his bat at a delivery bowled outside off-stump.

But while T20, ODI, and Test cricket are different ball games, SKY can become not just a match-winner in ODI but also a permanent member of India’s Test squad if he makes necessary adjustments to his batting style – he is already good at spin bowling. This is a 50-over World Cup year. And no better time than now for Yadav to set his ODI numbers right. 

Newslaundry is a reader-supported, ad-free, independent news outlet based out of New Delhi. Support their journalism, here.

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