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Indian Premier League 2023

Suryakumar Yadav’s hot streak is reverting to the mean, and that’s OK

Suryakumar Yadav bowled Ashton Agar, 3rd ODI, Chennai, 2022/23
Abhishek Mukherjee by Abhishek Mukherjee
@ovshake42 3 minute read

Suryakumar Yadav’s recent decline has been as steep as his phenomenal rise. Yet, there is little to worry about his current slump, writes Abhishek Mukherjee.

In 2022, Suryakumar Yadav had perhaps the greatest year any batter has ever had in T20Is. He slammed 1,164 runs in T20Is in 2022, one of only two instances of a batter reaching four figures in a calendar year in the format, after Mohammad Rizwan’s 1,326 in 2021.

Of course, aggregate scores can be a function of matches played, and Surya’s 31 T20Is are indeed the second-most in a year (he played a match fewer than Bhuvneshwar Kumar, in the same year).


What made Surya’s year special was the fact that no one in the world had got even 500 runs at a strike rate more than his 187 in a year. He also averaged 46.56 in 2022, which meant that he was plundering runs at an absurd rate without getting out.

Extend the streak to his debut in March 2021, and the numbers barely change – the strike rate reads 181 and the average 44 across 42 matches. It indeed ranks among the greatest streaks in the history of T20Is, even all Twenty20.

There was no indication of him losing form at the start of 2023. Across six T20Is at home – three against each of Sri Lanka and New Zealand – he made 267 runs at a strike rate of 153. Slow by his standards, express by anyone else’s, especially if they get out only four times across 175 balls.

His T20I form had impressed the selectors enough to give him a run in ODIs, first for a second-string side that toured Sri Lanka in July 2021, then in South Africa, then against the West Indies at home.

After six matches, his average stood at 65.25 and strike rate at 104. To back someone in one format based on their success in another is always risky, but the selectors seemed right at that point.

Then began a strange slump. Surya averaged only 15.63 across his next 14 ODIs. There were a few voices of concern, but they got buried in his achievements in T20Is.

Meanwhile, the selectors did something curious: with Shreyas Iyer injured, they summoned Surya for the Test series against Australia. They might have hinted at the same, because Surya had played twice in the Ranji Trophy earlier this winter – after a gap of three seasons.

He played in the first Test match, made eight runs, and was never recalled. Despite his ordinary run, he was retained for the ODIs.

There, he fell first ball in each of the three matches. Worse, he did not even put bat on ball in the entire series. A nightmarish ordeal without a doubt, but from another point of view, he failed to put on bat on ball thrice in a row, an ordeal that greater cricketers have faced over the course of an innings, let alone a series – is three balls enough to conclude anything about form?

Copywriters used to make full use of the slightly construed acronym, ‘SKY’, in their headlines – ‘SKY is the limit’, for example; they quickly switched to ‘SKYFALL’.

Yet, all he had done was failed in three ODIs, where he had failed over his last 14 outings where he had still been backed, and on debut in Test cricket, where his selection ahead of time had raised a few eyebrows.

But now, at the IPL, he was back to his territory, to reclaim what had been his for years. Surya does not boast of an outstanding IPL record – his strike rate is 136 – but between 2020 and 2022, he struck at 145.

In 2022, in particular, he had continued with his habit of scoring rapidly without getting out – his average of 43.28 complimented the strike rate of 146. While not in the same league as his feats in international cricket, he did have an excellent eight-match outing before an injury cut his season short.

Expectations were, thus, high when he stepped out against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He walked out with Mumbai Indians on 16-2 after 4.3 overs, and ran three singles off the first five balls he faced. Before he faced a sixth, he lost Rohit Sharma, and Mumbai were 20-3.

As is often the case, the senior man chose to drop anchor, while young Tilak Varma launched into the Bangalore bowlers from the second ball he faced. Surya’s role had been set: he did not hit a single boundary off the first 14 balls he faced. Verma had already outscored him.

It was not that he had been trying to find the boundary but failing. With Tim David and young Nehal Wadhera to follow, he backed himself to bat deep into the innings. It was not until Michael Bracewell bowled a full-toss that he played the first aggressive shot, for four.

Bracewell followed with a long-hop that he cut to point, and that was that. He had been playing to a plan that had come off in the past – just not on this occasion.

Mumbai changed their approach in their first home match of the season, against Chennai Super Kings. This time he arrived at 64-2 after 6.3 overs. Rohit and Ishan Kishan had already laid the platform.

Surya drove the first ball he faced to long-on for a single. He swept the next ball, from Mitchell Santner. MS Dhoni caught it on its way, then appealed, then reviewed, and got the decision in his favour.

How often do you get caught off the glove down the leg-side to a flat, fast ball from a spinner?

Suryakumar Yadav may return to his pomp. Or he may not. However, the current across-formats streak of 24 runs in six innings is inadequate for a prediction either way.

In all Twenty20 cricket, he has struck at an impressive 147 so far in 2023, while getting out once every 32 balls. For perspective, his corresponding numbers in 2021 read 148 and 18. In his favourite format, he has been scoring just as quickly while not getting out.

Surya’s Twenty20 strike rate in 2022, the year in between (176) was superhuman, an aberration by any standards, and is unlikely to be repeated. Looking at 2021, 2022, and a truncated 2023 in unison, the numbers do seem to fit in to one’s usual expectations of data with one peak.

If he can keep doing in 2023 what he has been doing so far, that should suffice.

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