By the time Suryakumar Yadav came to bat at Guwahati’s Barsapara Cricket Stadium on Sunday, 2 October, India had already got off to a sublime start. After playing a crucial knock of 43 runs from 37 deliveries, skipper Rohit Sharma lost his wicket to Keshav Maharaj in the 10th over, leading to Yadav’s arrival.
These two players are no strangers – they have spent their formative years together in Mumbai. In his first-class debut, Yadav took part in the El Clasico of the Indian domestic circuit – Mumbai vs Delhi. Then only 19 years old, the situation he came to bat in was a lot more precarious than on Sunday.
At 94/4, Mumbai relied on two youngsters to stabilize the innings, and they did so effectively. Sharma scored 37 runs, while the star of the show was Yadav, scoring a half-century in only his first Ranji Trophy game.
The talent was there for all to witness, but the career graphs of the two players are not quite the same. Sharma, the unequivocal next-big-thing turned out to be exactly that, while Yadav spent the entirety of his 20s playing domestic cricket and the Indian Premier League.
Yet, when India will compete in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 later this month, it will be Rohit Sharma's first limited-overs ICC event, and he will rely on no one more than his buddy from the budding years, as now, Suryakumar Yadav is not only the best T20I batter in the Indian team, but arguably, in the world as well.
5000+ runs in first-class cricket and 3000+ runs in List A cricket corroborate Yadav’s efficacy in the domestic circuit, but for his global recognition, the Indian Premier League deserves credit.
‘Sky’ was signed by Mumbai Indians in 2012, but after playing only one game, where he was dismissed for a duck by Marlon Samuels, he moved to Kolkata Knight Riders in 2014. It turned out to be a career-defining move.
Yadav featured regularly for the Knights, playing 54 matches during his four-year stint. Yet, given they had the likes of Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey and captain Gautam Gambhir to comprise the top-order, Yadav had a very specific role of simply smashing the balls out of the park, usually playing as a number 7.
The Mumbaikars' Reunion
Yadav scored only one half-century in those four years at KKR, and unsurprisingly, it was a match where he batted in number three. After being released ahead of the IPL 2018 auction, Suryakumar reunited with Mumbai Indians. This time around, however, the MI team management was not willing to commit the same mistake as six years ago.
In his first match of IPL 2018, where he batted in number four, Sky scored 43 runs from 29 deliveries. Skipper Rohit Sharma knew all about what the batter can produce, for he had seen it first-hand, and very soon, he vacated his opener’s slot for Yadav.
The outcome was rewarding, as in the first match as an opener, Sky scored a half-century. A golden duck in the next match was not enough to fluster Sharma, who had enough belief in Sky to continue playing him as the opener, and the latter repaid his captain's faith by playing a stunning knock of 72 runs from 47 deliveries in the very next match.
One could make a case of the phrase being unnecessarily over-used, but in this case, since that match, there indeed has been no looking back for Suryakumar Yadav.
Entering a Different League
He scored 936 runs in the first two seasons of his second stint with MI, but striving for further improvement, Sky bettered a very crucial aspect of T20I cricket since IPL 2020 – his strike rate. Except for the 2014 season, where his role specifically was that of a finisher, he never scored at a strike rate north of 140 in IPL, but since IPL 2020, his numbers are – 145.01, 143.43 and 145.67.
Among the Indians who have scored 1,000+ runs in IPL since 2020, Yadav has the second-highest strike rate (144.74), behind only Sanju Samson, but the latter has an inferior average. If we calculate BASRA (batting average + strike rate aggregate), Yadav ranks fourth among the Indians, and second among those who are a part of the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup 2022.
The International Numbers
Despite scoring 1412 runs between IPL 2018-20, it was only in March 2021 that Suryakumar Yadav got a chance to make his international debut. The first match was pretty uneventful from his perspective – chasing a target of 165, India got over the line at the loss of only three wickets, with the batter not getting a chance of showing his class.
The scenario was very different in his second match. Having lost the previous game, the English bowlers had a fantastic start. India could only score 21 runs from the first 21 deliveries, and in the 22nd delivery, Rohit Sharma was dismissed by Jofra Archer.
In came Yadav.
The bowler he was facing, Archer, is one of the most lethal pacers in the world currently, purely because of his unparalleled amalgamation of pace and accuracy. Archer banged the delivery short, aiming to bamboozle the new batter and give him a taste of international cricket.
But, lo! Yadav lifted one leg from the ground, got in position, and despite the lightning speed of the bowler, he somehow managed to have ample time to play a pull shot over fine leg for a six. History was made instantaneously, as he became the first-ever Indian batter to hit a six in his first T20I delivery.
Sky scored a half-century in his first international inning, but more importantly, it marked the auspicious beginning of the emergence of India’s new trump card. India won that match, and 26 of the next 32 T20I matches he played. Yadav scored less than 40 runs in four of the six defeats where he was a part of the playing XI – further highlighting his importance in the team.
Is Suryakumar Yadav the Best T20I Batter Currently?
His first year in international cricket was impressive – 244 runs in nine innings at an average of 34.85 and a strike rate of 155.41. But his numbers in 2022 are beyond impressive, with statistics showing why it will certainly not be an exaggeration to say Suryakumar Yadav is currently the best batter in T20I cricket.
He has scored 793 runs in T20I cricket this year – the most by any batter in men’s cricket. His 2022 T20I strike rate (185.28) is also the best among those who have scored a minimum of 450 T20I runs this year.
Most T20I runs in 2022 – Suryakumar Yadav (793)
Highest T20I strike rate in 2022 (minimum 450 runs) – Suryakumar Yadav (185.28)
Since his debut last year, the Indian batter has recorded the highest BASRA (217.14) in T20I cricket among those who have faced a minimum of 200 deliveries.
When Sky struck his latest half-century, in his last match against South Africa, he became the fastest player to accumulate 1000 T20I runs, doing so in only 573 deliveries.
The late bloomer might have blossomed in his thirties, but when he did, he blossomed with a bang, one that is powerful enough to send ripples across the cricket fraternity. With the T20 World Cup appearing on the horizon and India’s seemingly-formidable side still having its fair share of drawbacks, Suryakumar Yadav is the silver lining in what is otherwise a cloud-capped ‘Sky.’
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