Team India Horizon So Close, Yet So Far for Suryakumar Yadav
Suryakumar Yadav has been in scintillating ball-striking form in this IPL, but is still bereft of donning India blue
"Happy birthday, Surya. I hope you have a good season ahead. I want to tell you that you are not far from making a place in Team India," were Rohit Sharma's kind words for Suryakumar Yadav as the Mumbai-born celebrated his 30th birthday in the UAE bubble.
In a country like India, where even if you stick your hand into the batting pot while being blindfolded, you'll come up with world-class batting talent, touching 30 without claiming the India cap can be a very unsettling place to be in. Since these words were coming from someone of the stature of Rohit Sharma – the Mumbai Indians skipper and India's then white-ball vice-captain – it must have meant a lot to the not-so-young Suryakumar Yadav.
SKY's reminder to Indian selectors
Hurting after the Team India snub, Yadav struck his highest IPL score as he remained unbeaten at 79 off just 43 deliveries, to take Mumbai over the line in a 165-run chase against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
If not for the Surya special, the chase could have turned out to be tricky on the bigger boundaries of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
It was not just the runs he scored, after walking in to bat at 37/1 and seeing the dismissals of Ishan Kishan and Saurabh Tiwary around him, but the panache and majesty of his strokes which stood out. Yadav started slowly, wisely seeing off Washington Sundar while batting at close to run-a-ball and accelerated once he had his eye in.
When he did, nobody was spared. Dale Steyn's 144 kph short of length delivery into the pitch was cut off the back foot. Yuzvendra Chahal's trademark loopy leg spinner beside the tramline was creamed for six over extra-cover.
The right-hander lofted Mohammed Siraj for a boundary to finish off the match. His gesture of Main Hoon Na (keep calm, I am here) said a lot.’
Even when Virat Kohli gave him an earful during the innings, trying to shake the youngster's resolve, he did not reply in kind. Rather, he just shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and went on. The kind of maturity he showed, not just in his innings but in his body language, was telling of the determined head on his shoulders.
Reason Behind the Team Indian snub
With the middle order slots still not sealed in India's white-ball outfit, the team could have benefited from SKY's maturity. The batsman, who was a predominantly leg-side player earlier, has worked on his off-side game in the COVID-19 break and has become a much more well-rounded player this season.
From 2018 onwards, Surya has been quite consistent. He has been delivering the goods for Mumbai Indians this season on the back of 512 and 424 runs in 2018 and 2019 respectively at averages of over 30 and strike rates of 130 plus.
Why Didn't the Selectors Back Him Then?
Yadav was among the front-runners for bagging a Team India berth for the Australia tour. There is little doubt that he has the quality and the temperament to represent India but the issue is that there are only as many spots up for grabs.
Keeping the Rohit Sharma controversy aside, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill already provide India with more than enough riches for the opening slot. Given that skipper Virat Kohli is an automatic choice at No 3 and the type of game that Surya has, he had to beat either Shreyas Iyer or Manish Pandey in the race to the No 4 and No 5 spots.
Surya's IPL 2020 Numbers Better Than Pandey
With performances that Shreyas Iyer has given for Team India the last time they were in action, it would be a stretch for Surya to dislodge him, but he can certainly give Manish Pandey a run for his money, at least in T20Is, if not in ODIs.
In IPL 2020, Pandey has scored 183 runs at a strike rate of just 107.01 in the middle overs. On the contrary, Suryakumar Yadav has aced the middle over challenge, striking at 144.73.
Among batsmen having faced a minimum of 120 deliveries in this edition, only Sanju Samson, Nicholas Pooran and Shikhar Dhawan can boast of better strike rates. Even skipper Virat Kohli has only managed an ordinary strike rate of 107.08 in the middle overs.
The selectors though decided to trust the players who had the spot in possession before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into a tailspin. While Pandey has more points in the bank for ODIs at the moment, there could have been a consideration to pick Yadav ahead of Manish Pandey in T20Is on the basis of the above-stated numbers.
This season, the Mumbai Indians batsman has scored 362 runs from 12 matches at an average of over 40. If someone asked you who is the more explosive batsman between Suryakumar Yadav and Quinton de Kock, most would go for the latter. Despite some glorious pick-up shots from the South African wicket-keeper batsman, he has only struck at 140 in the season as compared to Yadav's 155.
After Surya's mature knock of 79* all but sealed the playoff spot for Mumbai Indians, he has become the second-highest run-scorer for the franchise this season.
Sky's the Limit
While the uncontrollable cannot be influenced, what is in Suryakumar Yadav's hand is to keep delivering. To do it more consistently than any other Indian middle order batsman and leave no option for the selectors but to pick him the next time they meet.
To nitpick, Yadav's top four scores in the IPL are all 70s. As someone who now bats at No 3 and is no spring chicken, he will be better served to convert those into centuries. It may sound a bit overambitious in T20 cricket, but regardless of the format, three figure scores are generally the difference between being almost there and being there.
As Team India's head coach Ravi Shastri tweeted after Surya's classy knock against RCB, if the Mumbai boy can remain strong and patient, sky's the limit for SKY.
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