Suryakumar Yadav warms up for India’s litmus tests

Surya Kumar Yadav against Afghanistan in Barbados (Image: Debasis Sen)

India were on a modest 87-4 when Hardik Pandya hit the ball straight back at the bowler. Naveen-ul-Haq bent down and got a hand to the it. Suryakumar Yadav, at the non-striker’s end, reacted fast, but no one really knew if he had made it back in time. The Afghanistan players felt they had their man. Surya too was unsure, and said as much to Hardik. When the replay was shown, it became evident that Surya had just about made it. A timely swivel and pushing the bat back in had saved him and India. 

In the very next over, he cut loose. Some fantastic shots all round the wicket, and all of a sudden, India were in the ascendancy. He enjoyed some of them, including a six straight back over the bowler’s head which had the Indian change room in raptures. Surya kept still for a few seconds after hitting the shot, and it was a pose for every photographer at the ground. A fantastic half-century yet again, and India had pushed what looked likely to be a total around 160 up to 181. After the game against the USA, where he played a match-winning knock in tough circumstances, Surya had yet again played a game-changing hand. With Hardik in tow, he took India to safety, and thereafter it was the bowlers who did the job with precision. 

Surya, it can be said, has seen it all. For a while in 2020, we had all questioned the index for making the Indian team. The one and only criteria should be performance. However, in the case of Surya, there was reason to be believe justice wasn’t served. Surya performed superbly in the IPL. He did so consistently, and also did well in domestic cricket in the 2019-2020 season. And yet, he was made to wait far longer than he perhaps needed to.

Image: Debasis Sen

I remember speaking to Surya when he wasn’t getting picked. My questions were clear –

How does a player who is perhaps expecting a national call-up take a disappointment like this? What impact could it have on his mental equilibrium? Could Surya overcome his selection blues?

To his credit, Surya did just that. Every opportunity he got, he made it count. Every match was redemption for him, a platform to showcase his incredible skills and justify the tag as the world’s best T20 batter. In the last T20 World Cup in Australia, he was India’s best batter, and many believed also the best in the world.

And yet, the questions haven’t fully stopped. A failure against Pakistan had tongues wagging. He doesn’t perform in key games was the murmur. It is classic sport. It tests you, however good you are. And if you are a true devotee, you will surely find a way out.

That’s why sport is unique – the only endeavour that allows you to fail in public and then come back and win in front of the same audience. Surya has as well. He is a champion of this generation, and has come back a better player this World Cup. That’s what will define him. To win it for the Indian fans. His own fans. And this is when the fans need to stand by him and the team.

Surya knows that the journey will get tougher from here on. Australia await on Monday,  and England have already shows glimpses of their 2022 form. And if India are to go past Australia and England, they will need Surya in this form. For, in full flow, his is the fearless-batting template that India has been missing in World Cups. For the sake of Surya and India, one hopes he does it for one more week. For that will mean India are in the final and on the cusp. It will mean redemption for Surya and relief for a billion. From the evidence on hand, there is reason to believe he can. And with him, India can as well.