In front of 82,507 spectators in Melbourne against Zimbabwe on the world’s largest stage, Suryakumar Yadav played outrageous lap sweeps from the outside to find the boundaries on either side of the fine leg. Last week at Mount Maunganui he created impossible angles for runs behind the wicket, the strike-filled hundred against New Zealand once again justified the moniker of Mr 360.
For the past year and a half, Yadav has strained every nerve to carve a wagon wheel with the inverted V as the focus, making him one of the most feared T20 hitters in the world. That raises the question of whether Yadav can extend this excellent form to Test match cricket.
“Absolutely,” says Yadav’s first India coach Ravi Shastri.
Yadav’s style of play in T20s can be at odds with the approach it takes 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 paid off. That would give hope to dynamic hitters like Yadav.
Yadav was confident of getting into the test reckoning when asked about 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 only do it with the red ball,” he told a media interview. ‘I have also played first-class cricket for Mumbai. So I have a good idea about the format. I like playing the format. Hopefully the Test Cap will also be available soon.”
Shastri, who coached India until the end of last year, had pushed for Yadav’s start in Test cricket by persuading the selectors to appoint him as a replacement player on the 2021 tour of England. 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 was prepared to pull tactical moves from white-ball cricket, looking to break open matches with counter-attacks.
Recently, during a live broadcast with Yadav present, Shastri called him a three-format player. ‘This man can play test cricket and I’ll tell you what, he can surprise some. Send him there at number 5 and let him stir things up,” he said on Star Sports. Yadav, 32, was elated and said he wants to make up for lost time.
YADAV’S ‘TOP CLASS’ YEARS
Yadav made his first-class debut way back in 2010. He didn’t hit much else 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 played the late cut, sweep and played to different areas of the ground, even in long formats. He always had the ability to quickly demoralize the opposition,” said Wasim Jaffer, former India opener and Yadav’s first skipper in Mumbai.
“Even with so many seniors like myself, Rohit Sharma and Ajit Agarkar, he was not afraid to play his game. That’s something I noticed about him. It’s hard to hit like this in Mumbai where you’re 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 matches, including a double hundred; he also got a hundred in Duleep Trophy. He then suffered a form error. “When you fail, people tell you ‘don’t play like that’. Then he got insecure and got a little defensive. But he came out of that pit,” Jaffer said.
Yadav’s 5,326 first-class runs in 77 matches averaged 44.01. “He’s much better than that,” Jaffer said. “Had he stuck to his attacking approach, he would have done even better. He hasn’t done his red-ball cricket justice. But given the chance now, he will succeed because his confidence is sky-high. He hits in a different competition.”
However, for Yadav to reach India’s middle order, he must be at the front of the line. Shreyas Iyer’s good start in Test cricket will give 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 Yadav’s red-ball skills, even starting with India A, should not go untested. ‘He wants to play Test cricket. That’s half the battle won,” he said. “Test cricket has changed dramatically. Ultimately, you need players who can put runs on the board. Even in T20s he doesn’t hit with a slogger’s technique. He also plays the short ball well. Spin he plays well. So why not? Once he plays 20-30 balls, his natural instincts take over. We have seen that with Rishabh Pant.”