“You came in and completely changed the momentum of the game. On a pitch that wasn’t as easy as you made it look, to be honest. It was a brilliant knock to watch from the other end… I was completely blown away… I honestly believe that if you bat the way you did today, you can literally change the complexion of the whole game against any team in the world.”

This was Virat Kohli speaking with Suryakumar Yadav after India’s victory against Hong Kong at the 2022 Asia Cup, where the latter scored an unbeaten 68 off 26 to guide his team to victory. Kohli, who himself scored a half-century in that game, had the best seat in the house to witness a brilliant exhibition of shots. The former India captain showed no hesitation in doffing his hat to Suryakumar during a chat on bcci.tv.

It’s been a rapid rise after a long wait for Suryakumar. Having made his List A debut as a 19-year-old, the Mumbaikar had to wait for 11 years to make it to international cricket. “I am waiting for the opportunity to play for my country,” Suryakumar had told this writer in 2019. “I feel I am pushing that door really hard.”

Indeed, he went on to burst through that door and in the two-and-a-half years since he arrived at the biggest stage, he has become the trump card in India’s batting order. The right-hander, who has been earning plaudits all around for his form, is arguably the Indian men’s team’s most important weapon in the shortest format.

Most runs for India in T20Is since Suryakumar Yadav made his international debut:

Player Inns Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s
Surya 32 1045 117 38.70 591 176.81 1 9 93 63
Rohit 34 964 74 30.12 660 146.06 0 7 92 51
Virat 21 784 122* 56.00 568 138.02 1 8 66 28
Rahul 20 594 69 33.00 454 130.83 0 8 47 28
Hardik 25 582 71* 34.23 385 151.16 0 2 48 29
Courtesy ESPNcricinfo

There is a wow factor about Suryakumar’s batting that has perhaps never been seen in Indian cricket before. The ability to consistently hit boundaries to all corners of the ground against both pace and spin, the blend of unorthodox and conventional strokes, the fearlessness to go after bowlers from ball one, the ability to soak in pressure and unleash it back on the opposition, the audacity – it all leads to a unique, thrilling experience watching him bat.

At the moment, the 32-year-old comes close to matching what would be widely accepted as the definition of an ideal T20 batter. He usually bats for India in arguably the toughest phase of an innings – from over No 7 to 15 – and gives his team the edge with his aggressive game-style from the get-go.

Best strike-rate for India in T20Is since Suryakumar Yadav made his international debut (minimum 100 balls faced):

Player Inns Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s
Surya 32 1045 117 38.70 591 176.81 1 9 93 63
Hooda 9 293 104 41.85 188 155.85 1 0 27 13
Hardik 25 582 71* 34.23 385 151.16 0 2 48 29
Karthik 19 273 55 24.81 181 150.82 0 1 28 13
Rohit 34 964 74 30.12 660 146.06 0 7 92 51
Samson 8 213 77 30.42 149 142.95 0 1 20 9
Shreyas 20 534 74* 35.60 381 140.15 0 4 46 20
Virat 21 784 122* 56.00 568 138.02 1 8 66 28
Jadeja 10 240 46* 48.00 174 137.93 0 0 22 6
Pant 26 530 52* 27.89 394 134.51 0 1 52 18
Kishan 19 543 89 30.16 414 131.15 0 4 59 21
Rahul 20 594 69 33.00 454 130.83 0 8 47 28
Ruturaj 8 135 57 16.87 109 123.85 0 1 13 5
Courtesy ESPNcricinfo

‘Arrogant, in terms of batting not personality’

Looking for boundaries from the start of an innings isn’t new to Suryakumar. He has been known for his innovative shots since the time he played a part in Kolkata Knight Riders winning the IPL 2014 title and building an unbeaten streak that extended till Champions League T20.

What is more fascinating, though, is that he has had a propensity to bat in this aggressive, extraordinary manner since the time he started playing the game.

Long before his international debut and during the many years he spent toiling away in domestic cricket, Suryakumar was going after bowlers in local age-group competitions as a kid.

“We used to have nets at the BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, where Suryakumar’s father worked) ground and that is where I saw him play for the first time,” Ashok Kamat, one of Suryakumar’s first coaches, told Scroll.in.

“Soon after, he got selected for an Under-14 MCA camp where I was the coach. I was instantly impressed because he was a natural talent. My conviction that he would go on to play for Mumbai compelled his father to stick with cricket and not make his son play badminton.”

Kamat remembers being astonished seeing Suryakumar slam a century in less than 50 balls as a 13-year-old.

“Basically, he was a very hard-hitting batter from the start. It wasn’t common at all to see kids hit the ball like that. Once in another Under-14 match, he smashed 125 runs and most of his strokes were pulls,” said Kamat.

“He was so arrogant, I mean in terms of batting and not personality. Right from the start, he would go hammer and tongs. We would say, ‘yeh bowlers ko todta hai (he breaks bowlers).’ That was the only way to describe it.”

Image credit: AFP / Surjeet Yadav

Sidhaant Aadhhathrao, who has represented Mumbai in age-group cricket and even competed in the T20 Mumbai League, has been one of Suryakumar’s closest friends. He reckoned there is a distinct aspect about Suryakumar’s personality that sets him apart.

“One of the biggest plus points for him has always been the clarity he has about his own game,” Aadhhathrao told Scroll.in.

“There is immense competition in Mumbai, as is evident from their success in domestic cricket, and you will find innumerable players with conventionally proper techniques. We are taught to play textbook strokes. But Surya was always different.

“Those shots you see him play through mid-wicket, square-leg and fine-leg, he has been playing them since childhood. When we used to play with hard tennis balls at the BARC ground as kids, the leg side boundary was about 90 meters away and he would clear it consistently.”

Kamat believes Dilip Vengsarkar played a key role in nurturing Suryakumar’s natural game, after the latter joined the former India captain’s academy as a 14-year-old. “He [Vengsarkar] would tell his coaches to not tinker too much with the kids’ techniques and that proved to be a crucial factor,” he said.

Aadhhathrao added, “I remember we had a match against Bengal CC, where the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli played once. It was a Mumbai Under-15 selection tournament and there were players who were scoring centuries off 150-200 balls. But here was Surya, smashing a ton off 37 balls. We were left scratching our heads.

“Where some of us were worried about securing our spots and playing risk-free cricket, he was always unorthodox. He was always flamboyant. He would colour his hair, his beard, his car. He is just that confident and didn’t give a damn about what people would think.

“For example, even the sweep shot is considered unconventional in age-group cricket. But he played it as a kid and didn’t worry even if he got out playing it. All these scoops and risky shots have been a part of his game from the start.”

Sidhaant Aadhhathrao (sixth from left) and Suryakumar Yadav (right corner) after an Under-19 MCA tournament


For all of his talent, though, Suryakumar found a spot in the Indian team quite late in his career. He was a regular in the Mumbai team but, perhaps, a combination of factors led to him being on the sidelines as far as international cricket was concerned.

“It was India’s bad luck that he made it to international cricket so late,” said Kamat. “In my opinion, he should’ve made it when he was 21 years old. People think he has a swagger while batting now but trust me, he has mellowed over the years as he was ignored for the India team. Naturally, that arrogance reduced.”

It is easy to see, based on his career graph, that the turnaround began with his return to Mumbai Indians from KKR. He was promoted to the top of the order and scored heavily in the 2018, ‘19 and ‘20 IPL seasons, along with being a mainstay for Mumbai in domestic cricket.

Even so, it wasn’t before March 2021, when he was 30 years old, that Suryakumar finally got to the senior Indian team.

“I think the most dejected I have ever seen him was when he didn’t get selected for the Australia tour in 2020,” said Aadhhathrao. “There was a lot of buzz around him but he still didn’t make it. But he moved on soon enough and told us he’ll show the world what he’s capable of.”

Aadhhathrao added that the faith shown in him by Mumbai Indians, along with his wife’s support, has been instrumental in driving Suryakumar’s surge.

“Even Rohit [Sharma] being there was important. He has seen what Surya is capable of since they played age-group cricket. And you can see Rohit’s faith in him has remained the same to date. It meant a lot to him and he was determined to repay the faith. He hired a nutritionist, which was something he hadn’t done before. We all used to enjoy having roadside Chinese food and other fast food but all that changed. His focus was at another level from there on,” he said.

“Then the other factor was the support he received from his wife, Devisha [Shetty]. She managed him as a person very well.”

Suryakumar Yadav hasn’t taken his foot off the pedal since he announced his arrival the biggest stage. Staying true to the style he had as a kid, he had begun his journey in international cricket with a six off the first ball he faced. “The little boy inside him would be absolutely turning cartwheels,” former England off-spinner Graeme Swann had said in commentary then.

As Kohli and many others have stated, Suryakumar has it in him to turn a match on its head. And as India aim to bag their second T20 World Cup title in the coming weeks, they will be banking on their talisman to continue his tremendous recent form. A clear Suryakumar Yadav is India’s batting X-Factor.