In front of 82,507 spectators in Melbourne against Zimbabwe at the world’s biggest stage, Suryakumar Yadav played outrageous lap sweeps from outside off-stump, to find boundaries on either side of fine-leg. At Mount Maunganui last week, he created impossible angles for runs behind the wicket, the stroke-filled hundred against New Zealand again justifying the moniker of Mr 360.
For the past year-and-a-half, Yadav has strained every sinew to carve a wagon-wheel with the inverted V as focus, becoming one of the most feared T20 batters in the world. That begs the question whether Yadav can extend this outstanding run of form into Test match cricket.
‘Absolutely’, says Yadav’s first India coach Ravi Shastri.
Yadav’s style of play in T20s may be at odds with the approach needed to succeed in the longest format. But Test cricket itself is changing fast. England’s ultra-aggressive batting approach since Brendon McCullum took over as coach with Ben Stokes as captain has produced results. That would give dynamic stroke-players like Yadav hope.
Yadav was confident of coming into Test reckoning when asked after his sensational hundred in the second T20 win against New Zealand at Maunganui on Sunday.
“That time is also coming, because when we start playing the game we do with the red ball only,” he told a media interaction. “I’ve played first-class cricket for Mumbai too. So, I have a good idea about the format. I enjoy playing the format. Hopefully the Test cap will also come soon.”
Shastri, who was India’s coach until late last year, had pushed for Yadav’s initiation in Test cricket by persuading the selectors to name him as a replacement player on the 2021 England tour. With the spate of injuries in the team and uncertainties due to Covid, Yadav was even in the mix to debut had the final Test at Old Trafford not been postponed.
Under Shastri, from Rishabh Pant’s promotion to No 6 to Ravindra Jadeja’s to No 5 over Ajinkya Rahane at the Oval Test, India were willing to draw tactical plays from white-ball cricket, looking to break matches open with counter-attacking moves.
Recently, during a live broadcast with Yadav present, Shastri called him a three-format player. “This guy can play Test cricket and I’ll tell you what, he can surprise a few. Send him there at number 5 and let him stir it up,” he said on Star Sports. Yadav, 32, was delighted, making it known he wants to make up for lost time.
YADAV’S ‘FIRST-CLASS’ YEARS
Yadav made his first-class debut way back in 2010. He wasn’t batting too differently then. “My first impression was that he was very unorthodox and fearless, someone who would score 70-80 quick runs in a session and change the game. He would play the late cut, sweep and play to different areas of the ground even in long-formats. He always had that ability to demoralize the opposition quickly,” said Wasim Jaffer, former India opener and Yadav’s first skipper at Mumbai.
“Even with so many seniors like myself, Rohit Sharma and Ajit Agarkar, he was not afraid to play his game. That is something that struck me about him. It’s difficult to bat this way in Mumbai where you are expected to be disciplined and not hit the ball in the air. Credit to him. He had a very strong mind.”
In his first full season, Yadav scored 754 runs in nine Ranji games, including a double hundred; he also got a hundred in Duleep Trophy. He then suffered a slip in form. “When you experience failure, people tell you ‘this is not how you should play’. That’s when he became unsure and got a little defensive. But he came out of that well,” said Jaffer.
Yadav’s 5,326 first-class runs in 77 matches have come at an average of 44.01. “He is a lot better than that,” Jaffer said. “Had he stuck to his attacking approach, he would have done even better. He has not done justice to his red-ball cricket. But if he is given a chance now, he will succeed because his confidence is sky high. He is batting in another league.”
For Yadav to make it to India’s middle-order though, he would need to jump the queue. Shreyas Iyer’s bright start in Test cricket will allow him a decent run while Hanuma Vihari has been dropped for the upcoming Bangladesh series. Mumbai’s Sarfaraz Khan with back-to-back seasons of 900 plus Ranji runs is still waiting for his chance.
Jaffer believes that be it starting with India A, Yadav’s red-ball skills should not go untrialled. “He wants to play Test cricket. That’s half the battle won,” he said. “Test cricket has changed dramatically. In the end, you need players who can put runs on the board. Even in T20s, he doesn’t bat with a slogger’s technique. Besides, he plays the short ball well. He plays spin well. So, why not? Once he plays 20-30 balls, his natural instinct will take over. We have seen that with Rishabh Pant.”