In his own words, Suryakumar Yadav is a calm person both on and off the field these days. And there’s good reason for this sense of surety about him.
The past month has seen him play some stellar knocks in domestic cricket. In the recently-concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy – India’s premier domestic T20 tournament – Yadav finished as the third-highest run-scorer, notching up 392 runs in 11 matches at an average of 56 and a strike-rate of 169. His innings of 80 and 94 not out (against Punjab and eventual champions Karnataka) in Mumbai’s last two games of the tournament were right out of the top drawer.
To top it all, he was declared the captain of the Mumbai team for the upcoming Ranji Trophy season, a role he has played in the past. “I’m in a good zone,” Yadav told Scroll.in after a practice session at the Mumbai Cricket Association ground in Bandra Kurla Complex on Wednesday.
The 29-year-old has been a batting mainstay for Mumbai for many years now. After making heaps of runs in age-group cricket, the right-hander was the highest run-scorer for his team in his first full Ranji Trophy season in 2011-12.
Strokemaker, innovator, courageous, naturally talented, match-winner – these are adjectives that have been used to describe Yadav ever since he made his first-class debut in 2010. But there is another term that is often associated with him: unrealised potential.
For an average follower of the sport, the first memory of him would be, perhaps, from the Indian Premier League, a tournament he has won with Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians. For KKR, he batted lower down the order and won several matches with impactful cameos, and for MI, he set the tone at the top of the order in their title-winning run last season. But anyone who follows Indian cricket a little more closely will tell you that there is much more to Yadav than just the flashes of brilliance seen in the IPL.
For a player who showed such immense promise at the start of his career, he has failed to force his way into the Indian team despite sustaining at the highest level in domestic cricket for nearly a decade. The missing piece in his journey so far has been a lack of consistency, of course. And he knows that.
“Over the years, there have been several instances when I’ve told myself that it’s high time I start being consistent,” said Yadav. “But the process of analysing my game closely started in 2017, actually. I thought hard about what’s lacking in my game, what has held me from playing for India in the last five to seven years. I would speak with my friends, teammates and family about my game.
“I’ve played many seasons for Mumbai and I thought it’s about time I started winning games single-handedly for my team. That was a thought which ran in my mind constantly. My focus was only on winning games for Mumbai single-handedly, the rest would fall into place.”
This new-found dedication soon showed results as Yadav scored 512 runs in IPL 2018, the most by a Mumbai Indians player. He even got 360 runs at an average of 51.42 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last year. In IPL 2019, too, he opened the batting for eventual champions MI with an impressive average of 32.61. But an underwhelming run in the last Ranji Trophy season (273 runs from five matches at an average of 34.12) prompted him to dig deeper for the ongoing season.
“In Mumbai, the off-season period has rains throughout. So I went to other places like Bangalore, Indore and Dharamshala to get outdoor practice,” said Yadav. “I got a lot of time to spend on myself, I would keep batting from morning to evening. The practice sessions in those days were quite different from the ones I usually have. I would call net bowlers and just keep batting. I analysed what I had been doing for the past two-three years, the knocks that had made a mark and helped me grow. I would keep analysing and visualising, keep watching videos of my batting and identifying areas to work on.”
There has been one other significant change for Yadav: the introduction of meditation in his life.
“There were days in the off-season when I would meditate twice,” he said. “I had heard people had been using it and I thought why not give it a try. And now because of meditation, I feel I have much more clarity while batting. I am making smarter decisions at the crease. Every time I bat or even have a chat with my teammates, I feel I’m calm and in control. I take time to settle in at the crease, which wasn’t always the case earlier.”
The devotion to the game, the meditation, and the run-scoring spree has resulted in Yadav being looked at as a genuine prospect for the Indian team, which is not something that has happened often in his career. With the T20 World Cup scheduled next year, another good IPL season could get him in the reckoning.
“Of course, I am waiting for the opportunity to play for my country,” he said. “I feel I am pushing that door really hard. But you can only control what’s in your hands, so I’m focused on performing well in the upcoming domestic matches. It will be great if I’m selected for the Indian team but if not, I will still be scoring runs here.”