It was fascinating to watch the captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore (and the India cricket team) Virat Kohli, with the score on 99/3, try to rile Suryakumar Yadav up as the latter was taking Mumbai Indians to a table-topping win in the Indian Premier League.
It was fascinating because Kohli would have been part of the selection committee meeting that decided not to pick Yadav in any of India’s teams for the tour of Australia.
It was fascinating because Kohli clearly thought his bowlers weren’t getting the job done and felt the need to get into Yadav’s mind space.
But it was fascinating mainly because of how Yadav listened, then simply walked away and focussed on the job at hand.
The MI No 3 didn’t just set up the chase. He even finished things off with a four and the calm manner in which he achieved his goal spoke volumes about his class. The variety of shots played through the innings of 79 (43 balls), on a wicket where other MI batsmen didn’t exactly cruise, showed that Yadav is clearly in a very good space right now.
It must have made Kohli feel pretty helpless and watching the innings up close would have reinforced the fact that Yadav has taken his mental game to the next level.
Over the last few years, we have seen many young talents, from Rishabh Pant to Prithvi Shaw, make their way to international cricket but then stumble in the face of pressure.
But some might reckon, Yadav’s already gone through that phase.
In 2011-12, his first full season for Mumbai, Suryakumar Yadav delivered on the early promise by topping Mumbai’s run charts in the Ranji Trophy. He hit a double-century against Orissa in only his third match of the season and followed it up with another century in the next match. He ended the Ranji season with 754 runs at an average of 68.54 and a strike-rate of 85.00.
He capped off the season with yet another century in the Duleep Trophy. He had a mad streak; a streak that demanded playing shots; a streak that was seemingly sustained by the need to destroy the opposition.
However, his form took a remarkable dip in the next season as he scored only 73 runs in six first-class innings. Soon, there was talk of his technique, his temperament, his fiery temper.
But then, just like that, he bounced back in the next season. His talent was obvious to all watching but whether he could keep it together at the highest stage was the big question.
The questions only got bigger when he quit Mumbai captaincy in 2015 after he was allegedly involved in a verbal spat with team-mates. His red-ball form tapered too and for a while, it seemed like he would only be remembered as one of those players who were destined to forever live on the fringes of selection.
The change came about in 2018 when he rededicated himself to the game. He travelled around India in the pre-season, spending money from his own pocket in an effort to get better. The anxiety that used to plague him around every selection meeting simply melted away into the process.
The results showed right away and it has stayed that way in white-ball cricket. Yadav’s form isn’t a flash in the pan... that much should be clear.
2018 IPL (for MI) - 512 runs, avg of 36.57, SR of 133.33
2018-19 Mushtaq Ali trophy – 360 runs, avg of 51.42, SR of 145.16
2019 IPL (for MI) - 424 runs, avg of 32.61, SR of 130.86
2019-20 Mushtaq Ali trophy – 392 runs, avg of 56.00, SR of 168.96
2020 IPL (for MI) - 362 runs, avg of 40.22, SR of 155.36 *— * ongoing season
Where to from here?
If Yadav seeks inspiration, he doesn’t have to look any further than Mayank Agarwal. The Karnataka opener was consistently ignored but then when he finally got the call-up, he made it count. The wait made him stronger and the Mumbai batsman must make it do the same for him too.
Very few batsmen in the T20 format in India can shift gears as effortlessly as Yadav; fewer still have the variety of shots that he has and he must continue to marry these qualities into consistency.
“Time and time again, no matter the situation, he (Surya) continues to show the class of a player he is,” said MI skipper Pollard. “He must be very, very disappointed not to don the blue as yet for India but I think he is very, very close.”
Pollard added: “Imagine someone batting at that strike rate after two early wickets. Deep down inside he must be very very disappointed to not have donned the blue for India. He just keeps getting better. Again as an individual if you keep staying consistent, you will be rewarded. Nothing happens before its time.”
For now, Yadav must know that he is making all the right noises; noises that made even Kohli want to get in his ear. In a way, he must be pleased... he didn’t go to them, he made them come to him.