On Monday, Tamil Nadu wicket-keeper batsman N Jagadeesan hit 277 off 141 balls (25×4, 15×6), the highest individual score in List A cricket. Again rub your eyes in disbelief as Tamil Nadu rode on that knock to take a colossal 506/2, the first time a team passed 500 in a 50 over game. A week earlier, Samarth Vyas of Saurashtra hit 200 off 131 balls, breaking the record for the fastest double century by an Indian in List A cricket.
Though these scores have come against Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur respectively, it shows the shift white ball cricket is undergoing. Average scores go up all the time and batters are encouraged to keep attacking throughout the innings when the conditions are right.
This is why there was chagrin over India’s timid approach with the bat in their T20 World Cup semi-final loss to England. They were well aware of the derring-do they had to show with the bat, such as England’s approach, yet they fell back to a standard setting under the pressure of a knockout match.
The exception, of course, is Suryakumar Yadav, whose dazzling series of shots across the ground inspire awe. After excelling in the World Cup, Yadav took that form to New Zealand’s T20 series where he hit an unbeaten 111 off 51 balls to help India to a 65-run victory in the second game.
As India tries to rebuild and put things in order for the T20 World Cup 2024 in the Caribbean and the United States, it is clear that they need to find more players with Yadav’s skills and mentality. It is the domestic system that is likely to surrender these candidates. As England have shown with their white-ball success, the whole system needs to adopt a T20 specific mindset – replacement coach VVS Laxman called this before the New Zealand series – to make things click.
It may take some time for Yadav’s 360-degree range approach to trickle down to the domestic level and affect young hitters, but Vyas – whose double century against Manipur included 20 fours and nine sixes – is already feeling a change.
“Because of players like Surya, that culture comes in, of playing these shots. Usually these shots are important in T20s. If the bowler executes the yorker well, you have to improvise and move on the crease like Surya or AB de Villiers used to do. The more options you have, the better,” said 26-year-old Vyas.
Shots behind the wicket have become a requirement for manipulating the field in the shortest format. While the likes of Jos Buttler and Glenn Maxwell have been playing the scoops, ramps and switch hits for a while now, Suryakumar is a breath of fresh air, especially as not many Indian hitters are that inventive.
For example, lefthanded batter Tilak Varma says he has started expanding his reach. The 20-year-old from Hyderabad played for Mumbai Indians in IPL 2022, scoring 397 runs in 14 matches (Avg 36.09, S/R 131.02).
“As a junior I played more red-ball cricket. In the last year and a half I have worked a lot on my T20 cricket,” said Varma, playing for Hyderabad in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy. “I improved many different strokes such as sweep and reverse sweep. I have molded my game to T20s because you need to have very good attack speed. Playing these different shots puts more pressure on the bowlers. So I adapted to that.”
Jagadeesan is a top-class batsman who is fairly conventional in his methods, usually targeting areas on the ground to take the pressure off. While he doesn’t want to give up his strengths, he also strives to find new scoring zones. “Every day I try to improve the nets and try to play different shots. There’s no time when you want to be complacent and happy with the way you’re playing. There should be improvement in every session,” he said.
If all this helps India to find several ‘360-degree’ hitters, it will certainly bode well for their T20 prospects.