Suryakumar Yadav has not played Test cricket for India yet. However, he is batting as well as he has ever done, and deserves a chance to play the longest format, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Whenever you discuss Suryakumar, the first thought is invariably about him dominating T20 cricket. Blessed with shot ever imagined, and some beyond them – he has set the world alight in the shortest version. He is among the first names on India’s T20I team sheet, and seems on the verge of becoming a regular starter in ODIs. That leaves a Test cap the only one left for him to conquer.
He was part of the squad that toured England in 2021 – though that was more of a COVID-19 backup – but was not included when India returned to play in the same country this July. A few days ago, he hinted that a Test call-up may not be far away, and that he enjoys playing First-class cricket. The question, though, is whether he has done enough to warrant a Test spot, and if India are brave enough to throw him into the deep end.
His First-Class statistics, while not as exceptional as his T20I numbers, are decent in their own right. An average of 44.01 across 77 matches is not a tally to be scoffed at. Those runs have also come at a strike rate of 63, indicating that he likes transferring pressure onto the opposition. But are these numbers enough to propel him into the side ahead of some of the others?
His Mumbai teammate Sarfaraz Khan averages 81.33 – the second-highest in history – and strikes at almost 70 in First-class cricket. Hanuma Vihari has long been India’s next in line, without really getting a sustained run in the side. Shreyas Iyer has not done much wrong since he debuted against New Zealand last year. There is also a temptation to trial Shubman Gill in the middle order, considering his recent struggles at the top of the order and the resurgence of KL Rahul as a Test opener.
So, it is not as if India do not have options available to them. Each of the aforementioned batters, in fact, seem more suited for Test cricket than ‘SKY’. Barring Sarfaraz, they have all played Test cricket for India as well. That said, Suryakumar is a special talent and has the ability to tilt the game on its head in a trice. He rarely backs down – an indispensable quality to have in the middle order – especially when packs of fast-bowlers or spinners come hunting.
A First-class average of 44 also demonstrates consistency. There is the odd day where he gets out trying something extravagant, but more often that not does he get that blend right and is dealing in the currency that matters – runs. He averages 56.44 in his last 10 First-class innings (though the last of these was in February 2020), scoring two centuries and two other half-centuries.
He might not have played any First-class cricket since the pandemic, but that is because he has prioritised other formats, and has spent countless hours honing on that particular craft. There is also the fact that there has been only one season of Ranji Trophy on this side of the lockdown. His short-format commitments have not allowed him to play much red-ball cricket, but he is almost certain to thrive if he gets the opportunities.
If included, he will form a fearsome middle and lower order alongside Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant. There will be games where the troika will fails, and India will not get the desired push. But even if one of them gets going, they will take the game away from the opposition.
It is, in many ways, an unconventional mindset, especially in the longest format, where preservation of wicket is perhaps more vital than run-scoring. However, Test cricket is evolving, largely because of what England have done in the past few months. If India try to take a leaf out of that book and have match-winners in their middle order, they might not find anyone better than Suryakumar.
He also has an aura of indomitability around him at the moment. Whenever he walks out to bat, the opposition knows they have to be on their toes. Those at the ground feel they are in the midst of something special, and those at home strap themselves to their seats and sit glued to their television sets. This will not last forever. But as long as it is present, India must capitalise on it.
There is a possibility of his Test career not taking off at all. Countless players viewed as white-ball specialists have struggled in the longest format. From Michael Bevan to Chris Harris, Suresh Raina to Jason Roy, the list is long. But it somehow feels wrong if Suryakumar does not get that opportunity at all. His insane peaks in T20Is have forced him into the reckoning. He is also batting as well as he has probably ever done (or would), which should count for something – perhaps even more than the numbers his peers have produced.
It was only after two or three seasons of consistent IPL scoring that he was considered for a T20I gig. What he has achieved since is the for the world to see. Test cricket is a different kettle of fish, but there is precedent, and more importantly, belief, that Suryakumar can make this his playground as well.
For most, it may not be much. For Suryakumar, it is a lot.