Suryakumar Yadav has six scores of fifty or more in 20 innings in T20I cricket. Three of them have come from No.3, including the one on his debut against England in Ahmedabad last year, and two from No.4. On Tuesday, he hit his latest half-century as an opening batter, after his partner Rohit Sharma had to retire hurt on 11, turning a potentially tricky chase of 165 into a straightforward one in St Kitts.
Suryakumar has the ability to make batting look ridiculously easy. He did so when he kick-started his T20I career with a hook off the first ball he faced, from Jofra Archer, for six. More recently this July, at Trent Bridge, he walloped 117 off 55 balls in a chase of 216 where no other Indian batter passed 30.
In the third T20I in Basseterre, he unveiled two outrageous shots - like only he can - that defined the game. When fast bowler Alzarri Joseph pounded a near-140kph delivery on a hard length and attacked the top of off stump, Suryakumar stood tall, extended his arms, lifted his left elbow high, and pumped it over wide long-off for six. Joseph then went wide of the crease and angled another sharp delivery into Suryakumar's throat, but he sank to his knees and arched his back almost onto the ground and ramped it over the wicketkeeper for four.
Just like that, Suryakumar took 29 off 15 short or short-of-a-length deliveries, according to ESPNcricinfo's data, which allowed Shreyas Iyer, who can be vulnerable to this style of bowling, some breathing space on a bouncy track. Iyer managed just nine off 13 such balls. On the day, he could afford to evade or fend off the short stuff with Suryakumar going all-out at the other end.
When West Indies went fuller and tried to york Suryakumar, he put those balls away as well. Obed McCoy, fresh off a record-breaking 6 for 17 in the second T20I, only marginally missed his length in the first over, but Suryakumar still carved him away through the covers for four. Then Jason Holder tried to bluff him with a yorker after the powerplay, with a strong leg-side field set for the short offcutter, but Suryakumar was ready for it. He collapsed his back knee to manufacture the elevation he needed to clear mid-on.
Suryakumar was just as nerveless and decisive in the strokeplay against Akeal Hosein and Dominic Drakes. After bringing up a 26-ball half-century with a swept six off Hosein, he stepped back a bit against the older ball, scoring only 23 off his last 18 balls. When he was finally done in the 15th over, India needed only 30 off 33 balls.
"Really happy with the way things went," Suryakumar said after bagging the Player-of-the-Match award. "I felt when Rohit went inside [retired hurt] it was important for someone to bat till about 15-17 overs. I just went out to be myself and expressed it.
"Obviously, we saw yesterday what happened in the second innings [alluding to the pitch slowing down]. So, it was really important, as I said, for someone to bat deep and go on and win the game for the team. So, that was what I was focusing on."
Rohit was effusive in his praise for Suryakumar, saying he made a not-so-easy chase look straightforward.
"Once you get a start in this format, it's always important to convert that because it does well for the team. Of course the thirties and forties for any player look good, but, I think when you get past 70-80 and then go on to get a hundred as well… then you're scoring those runs for the team. I thought Surya batted brilliantly, [he had] a good partnership there with [Shreyas] Iyer and it was quite clinical.
"When you're chasing a target like that, anything can happen, and it's not an easy target. The pitch had something in it for the bowlers. So we knew that we were up for the chase. I thought it was important for us to pick the right ball and right shots on a ground like that."
Suryakumar said he relished the rare opportunity. "Really love it because I've done that before in the IPL as well [for Mumbai Indians]. So, [I] just backed myself and enjoyed it. I was just holding myself back at that moment. I just knew I had to use some pace and stretched my innings and really loved it."
In all likelihood, Suryakumar will slot back into the middle order once Rahul returns at the top, but his growing versatility could be a potent point of difference for India at the upcoming T20 World Cup.