The past year has been a roller-coaster ride for Suryakumar Yadav. He finished the last season of the Indian Premier League as the highest run-getter for Mumbai Indians. And on Tuesday, he played a match-winning knock to take MI past Chennai Super Kings and into the final. But the period between all this has been a testing one for the middle-order batsman.

About five months ago, Mumbai dropped Yadav from the playing XI for their Ranji Trophy group game against Punjab. The 41-time champions hadn’t won a single match in the season until then and were desperate to find the right combination.

It was a jolt for the 28-year-old, as he had been a regular in the team’s batting line-up since he made his first-class debut in 2010. At the time of being benched, though, he was averaging a modest 32.85. Not the worst, but definitely not in sync with the caliber that Yadav possesses. He knew he had to make amends, and he did that soon enough.

A few months later, the right-hander emerged as one of the highest run-scorers in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He hammered 360 runs at an average of 51.42 to take his team within a whisker of the final. The Mumbai Indians management must’ve licked their lips seeing the kind of form he was in.

Suryakumar Yadav stats

Matches Runs Average
First-class 72 4818 43.01
List A 77 2000 33.33
T20s 137 2605 29.60
IPL 2019 15 409 34.08

However, unlike the last IPL, Yadav struggled for consistency this time around. At the end of the league stage, he averaged just 28.16. Again, not abysmal considering the T20 format, but far from noteworthy. He didn’t look out of touch, though. He had nine 20-plus scores in the 13 innings he played. But he managed to convert only one of those starts into a half-century.

Just like in the domestic season gone by, Yadav had once again reached a point where he had to prove his worth. He did that and then some more versus CSK on Tuesday.

Chasing 133 at the Chepauk, Yadav walked out to bat after just two deliveries of the innings. MI skipper Rohit Sharma had been sent packing and his counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni could sense a big opening. It was imperative for the visitors to not get ahead of themselves at that time. They’d done well to restrict the hosts to a slightly below-par total, but the pitch was behaving true to its nature – sluggish with sharp turn.

MI’s No 4 batsman Ishan Kishan was forced out to the middle in the fourth over as their other opener – Quinton de Kock – perished playing an aerial stroke. That was, however, the highest point CSK would achieve on the night. From there on, it was a Yadav show all the way. He put the result beyond doubt by adding 80 runs for the third wicket along with Kishan, with the latter scoring a mere 28 runs in the partnership.

Imran Tahir then provided CSK a glimmer of hope by removing Kishan and Krunal Pandya off successive deliveries in the 14th over. But Yadav wasn’t going to be denied his moment of glory as he got together with the in-form Hardik Pandya to knock off the remaining 32 runs. He stayed not out on 71 off 54 balls and hit ten boundaries during his knock.

It was truly a masterclass from a player many believe hasn’t lived up to his potential. On a difficult pitch, with three world-class spinners in Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and Tahir turning the ball square, Yadav showed a steely resolve to play within himself. None of that flashy stuff fans got used to during his days with Kolkata Knight Riders. Tuesday was all about manipulating the field, picking the gaps and waiting for the loose deliveries.

Suryakumar Yadav celebrates his half-century on Tuesday – Deepak Malik / Sportzpics for BCCI
Suryakumar Yadav celebrates his half-century on Tuesday – Deepak Malik / Sportzpics for BCCI

In a match where the highest strike-rate for any other batsman with more than 20 runs was 127.59 [Dhoni], Yadav scored at 131.48. And unlike the CSK captain, who whacked three sixes, he didn’t send a single ball over the rope. That isn’t to say he played a dull innings. Right from the late-cut, the square-cut, the cover-drive, the straight-drive, the flick past mid-wicket, the pull, and the scoop – he must’ve made AB de Villiers proud with shots to literally all parts of the ground.

“It was very important for one of the top three or four to play till the end on that pitch,” Yadav said after the match. “It wasn’t going to be easy for someone new to come in and get going. I thought it was time for me to put my hand up. We saw what happened in the first innings, I just wanted to play down the ground and focus on singles and doubles and wait for the odd boundary.”

Much of the credit for Yadav’s success must also go to Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma and the team’s management. The weakest link for the three-time champions this season has been their upper middle-order. With the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Evin Lewis and Ben Cutting in the dugout, it must’ve been tempting for them to ring in some changes for the crunch game.

“He [Yadav] is probably the best batsman in our lineup against spinners,” Rohit said at the post-match presentation. “I have seen him from close quarters, he knows how to use the pace and is quite aware of what he wants to do. We always knew he was going to come good.”

Mumbai Indians are peaking at the right time and seem well-placed to take home a fourth IPL trophy. They’ll be hoping Yadav repays the faith once again this Sunday.