With Suryakumar Yadav’s inclusion in the India Test squad, his year has fully blossomed. Heralded as a star ever since he embarked on a run-spree in the Ranji Trophy in 2011-12, the Mumbai and Mumbai Indians batter is now in the India squad in all formats. And perhaps at the right time, too, for these interim years of struggle have sharpened his skills and broadened his mind to fit the bill as an India cricketer.
Even though there is no doubt that Suryakumar can succeed in the longest format of cricket, his selection still begs the question: why now? What does he bring to the table that prompts the selectors to bring him in?
Suryakumar has everything that a batter needs: a keen eye, a solid defence, a full range of strokes, an ability to switch gears when needed, and a stable temperament. An expert at lofted strokes, especially towards the leg side, Suryakumar can put on a show with his awe-inspiring strokes in all formats that few can replicate. And now he also possesses the reverse-scoop and the unique pull stroke to collect runs behind the wicket, too: a 360-degree batter. But he can also dazzle with copy-book strokes; his lanky frame combined his all-round strokeplay is not unlike watching Kevin Pietersen at his best.
Another product of Mumbai’s rich batting stables, Suryakumar made his debut in December, 2010, as a 20 year old. He top-scored for his side in that low-scoring game in Delhi, scoring a 73, but it was in 2011-12 that he made everyone sit up and take notice: he was the highest run-getter for Mumbai, scoring 754 runs at 68.54, with five half-centuries and two centuries, including a 200 (232b) against Odisha in Cuttack.
He suffered a blip in 2012-13, a season best remembered for Sachin Tendulkar’s participation ahead of his final year of international cricket. From 2013-14 to 2017-18, Suryakumar didn’t average less than 38 in all season of the Ranji Trophy.
The disciplinary issues that surfaced in 2014-15 – there was internal strife in the Mumbai team and he was removed as captain in the middle of the tournament – would have unsettled him, and overcoming mental hurdles would have made him more rounded. Shreyas Iyer was the next star on the horizon and would eventually receive his India cap sooner. Shreyas, in 2014-15, scored a bucketful of runs, a run that eclipsed even Suryakumar’s 2011-12 feat.
What seemed to revive Suryakumar’s fortunes was his Indian Premier League record. He had just one half-century in 54 matches till 2017, and then he turned it around. He scored 400 runs or more (512 in 2018) in all editions of the IPL since then, barring the latest one. But the statement had been made. He featured in the Deodhar Trophy in 2018, and has been considered a prominent white-ball Indian player ever since.
Wasim Jaffer had once told Sportstar that IPL performances seem to be necessary to be noticed by a “lot of bigger eyes.” And it probably did play a role in his selection in the Indian white-ball squads this year. He may not have set the stage alight, although he did win the player of the series award in the ODI series in Sri Lanka in July. But he did enough to show why, at age 31, he is still seen as having a bright future in India colours.
But why he has been chosen for red-ball cricket, despite no signals that he is considered a Test prospect, is a mystery. Is his white-ball game so good that selectors feel he may add a new dimension to the Indian batting line-up? And where do they want to fit him – at the top of the order or in the middle-order?
The answers to these questions may or may not be found in the coming days. But this much seems certain: better days are ahead for him.