As India ready themselves for the all-important final Test at Old Trafford, they still have a few questions to answer, and Suryakumar Yadav’s selection could add the right dynamism to the Indian middle order, writes Divy Tripathi.
When asked on Sports Tak if he was surprised at his omission from the white-ball tour to Australia last year, Suryakumar stated, “Well, not surprised, rather I felt a little disappointed when the team for Australia tour was declared. (Because) I was batting well and scoring runs… but as they say, the show must go on. So, I didn’t think much about it and the next day I played a game.”
The game he refers to here was Mumbai Indians’ encounter against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2020 IPL where he went on to score a match-winning 79 runs off 43 balls, with a staring contest with Virat Kohli making headlines.
There had to be something special about the man from Mumbai for his non-selection to have been the talk of Indian cricketing circles even before he made his India debut. While his rich white-ball cricket form led to his eventual selection in the limited-overs squad, later he was also picked for the England Test tour following injuries to certain players.
Though a surprise inclusion, his case has been advanced by several former cricketers, who have high praise to offer for his skills in the longer formats. As India gears up to face-off against England in the last Test from Friday, could it finally be the right time to field the Mumbai player?
While the traditional approach has been to not tinker with the playing XI, India under Virat Kohli have thrown up unlikely heroes of late, who have shed their inhibitions to play and contribute to the side under dire circumstances. Besides, there is the issue of Ajinkya Rahane’s form.
The Indian vice-captain has scored a mere 109 runs in the series at an average of 15.57, and the lack of self-belief was most evident in the second innings at The Oval, where he failed to cash in on what was one of the best days to bat in the series. In these circumstances, it would not be the worst decision to let a fresh face in to bolster the visiting side.
The Indian lower middle-order seems to have finally got going after a match-winning effort in the last game. The presence of a stroke-maker like Suryakumar, who will look for scoring opportunities could help the likes of Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur, who are both known to go for their shots.
In this series, it has been seen that the impetus provided by the lower middle order has allowed the tail-enders to bat with greater freedom.
While there is a good option in Hanuma Vihari, who has also played a number of first-class games on the county circuit and has a solid reputation after the famous Sydney vanguard, the advantage Suryakumar brings is the fearless approach he would bring in to the side.
His first-class average sits only at 44.01, which is lower in comparison to some stalwarts in the Indian first-class setup including Vihari, Manish Pandey, and Shreyas Iyer. But there is something about Suryakumar’s batting.
His last first-class ton was against Saurashtra in the 2019/20 season, when he scored a blistering 134 runs off 130 balls to give his side a chance to go for the win after Mumbai had conceded a first-innings lead in Rajkot. In that season, also the last time he played FC cricket, he scored 508 runs in five games at an average of 56.44.
One of his major career knocks in first-class cricket came in the 2015/16 Irani Trophy, better remembered for the massive target of 480 runs being overhauled by Rest of India, where he scored a dauntless 156 for his Ranji team Mumbai. What stood out though was the disappointment that was writ large over his face after a relatively tame dismissal.
It is perhaps this fight which was referred to by India legend Farokh Engineer in his interview with Sports Tak before the Headingley Test, when he batted for Suryakumar’s inclusion. “Personally, I’m a huge, huge fan of Suryakumar Yadav. I think he’s a class player. I would certainly prefer him to Pujara or Rahane. Pujara and Rahane are class players, but Suryakumar Yadav is a match-winner…should be certainly in the team, because he is an aggressive player. He’ll get you a quick hundred, a quick 70-80.”
There are those who might still dismiss Suryakumar as a mere white-ball specialist, but then it wasn’t long ago when a white-ball specialist played a crucial role in an India win away from home. In the post-match press conference after the WTC final, India skipper Virat Kohli had talked about the need to reassess team strategies, “You have to reassess and re-plan, and understand what dynamics work for the team and how we can be fearless. Bring in right people who have right mindset to perform.”
India have done well against England, but the series is far from won, and their middle-order still remains uncertain. In these circumstances, it won’t be a bad idea to reassess and replan, and Suryakumar might just be the boost that the side needs.