IND vs SL 3rd T20I: Suryakumar Yadav plays book cricket

Dilshan Madushanka, the Sri Lanka left-arm seamer, had worked up some nippy pace and bounce, and also generated some initial movement, to have Ishan Kishan nicking to slip. Later, seeing Suryakumar Yadav move outside off stump, Madushanka followed the batsman with a fast, high full toss. Most batsmen would have probably tried to fend it away in surprise, or at the most, tried an awkward slog.

But Suryakumar remained committed to his scoop, despite being caught off balance by the ball speeding into him. After connecting, he fell to the ground and recovered to see the ball had sped over the fine-leg boundary.

In the same over, three deliveries later, Suryakumar now made some room in the opposite direction, outside leg stump. Again, an alert Madushanka followed the batsman. Suryakumar flicked him for six over deep backward square leg this time.

During the Indian innings, the broadcasters flashed a table showing that Suryakumar had hit 99 boundaries in the middle overs in T20Is since the start of 2022 (and he would hit a few more on the night on way to a third T20I century). The next best was Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza, with 55. That is the kind of gulf between the rest and Suryakumar Yadav at the moment.

Suryakumar hit nine sixes during his unbeaten 112 off 51 balls, the rest of the India line-up managed five to make 110 off 69. Having won the toss on a green-tinged Rajkot pitch where the new ball flew around for the first few overs – contrary to the flat-track reputation of the venue – India rode on Suryakumar’s genius to post 228 for 5. Sri Lanka crumbled for 137 in the 17th over, 11 wides inflating a total in which no batsman scored more than 23, to lose the three-match series 2-1.

These are very early days as India look to revamp their T20I batting unit after the top-order failure in the 2022 T20 World Cup. But the contours of what could be a much more aggressive top order were visible in this Sri Lanka series, with the likes of Ishan Kishan and Rahul Tripathi ahead of Suryakumar, anchored by the solid Shubman Gill.

Tripathi provided the counter-punch in the Powerplay at No 3 – something India have often missed in the past – after Kishan’s exit off the fourth ball of the game. Dashing down the track, lofting, slogging and sweeping hard, Tripathi kickstarted the innings with 35 off 16.

Tripathi left the stage just before the Powerplay ended, though, and the main act arrived.

On a surface on which Gill would find it hard to accelerate, and Hardik Pandya and Deepak Hooda would almost immediately hole out to the straight boundary-riders, Suryakumar put on yet another astonishing display of hitting that only he could have conceptualised and executed.

Having leaked numerous boundaries to all those outrageous scoops and flicks, Sri Lanka tried bowling wide outside off. Suryakumar waited for the slower, wide yorker and sliced it over the square third-man boundary for six. It is incredible how he is able to delay the uncoiling from his set-up, let the slower one arrive and still generate so much distance on the hit.

An understated whip

The whip through midwicket is an under-rated aspect of his game, understandable with all the creative hitting getting the attention. At times, that whip is timed so well it beats both long-on and deep midwicket, but even otherwise, Suryakumar invariably places it well enough between those two to have space for the second run.

The six over extra cover to the spinners is the one shot he has always had and liked, way before he went on to considerably expand his repertoire around the ground. Off successive deliveries, he deposited Maheesh Theekshana in that region.

The step-up, of course, has been that he treats pacers with the same disdain now, and with a much greater range. In the last over, having reached the hundred in the 19th off just 45 balls, Suryakumar toyed with Chamika Karunaratne.

Two back of a length, wide slower balls – the first was flat-batted like a rapier tennis forehand for a flat six over extra cover, to the second, Suryakumar walked outside off and wristed it to the deep backward square-leg rope for four. Then he had a satisfied laugh and walked off, a friendly arm around Axar Patel, who smacked 21 off 9 in another display of how far his hitting has come along.

Suryakumar has become only the fourth batsman from a Test-playing team to score three T20I centuries, and they have come in three different countries too – England, New Zealand and India. He has taken just 43 innings – Colin Munro is a distant second with 62 innings, while Glenn Maxwell has played 90, and Rohit Sharma 140.

You look at the numbers from any view – and Suryakumar is so far out in front of the pack. He strikes at a mind-numbing 180.34 and hits a boundary every 3.74 balls in T20Is, and still averages 46.41.

But the impact he has had is perhaps best captured beyond the realm of numbers; at the awards function of the Mumbai Cricket Association at the Bandra-Kurla Complex ground in the city on Friday evening, some of the loudest cheers rang out when Suryakumar’s name was announced as one of the award winners. And he wasn’t even present. Not just fans, but even peers, juniors, seniors and administrators are under the spell of SKY. And Saturday night in Rajkot was another reason why.

BRIEF SCORES: India 228 for 5 (Suryakumar Yadav 112*, Shubman Gill 46, Rahul Tripathi 35; Kasun Rajitha 1/35) beat Sri Lanka 137 (Kusal Mendis 23, Dasun Shanaka 23; Arshdeep Singh 3/20) by 91 runs
India won the three-match series 2-1

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