All eyes on SKY as Mumbai hope for batting boost

He hasn't played a game since December, and Mumbai need him to hit the ground running

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
Suryakumar Yadav brings up a record-equalling fourth T20I hundred, South Africa vs India, 3rd T20I, Johannesburg, December 14, 2023

Suryakumar Yadav hasn't played a game since scoring a hundred in a T20I in Johannesburg in December  •  Associated Press

As Mumbai Indians began training at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with the April heat not yet as sweltering as it tends to get, there was no sign of the man they hope will help turn their IPL 2024 campaign around.
After undergoing extensive rehab following ankle surgery, Suryakumar Yadav finally joined the Mumbai camp on Friday, had a long training session later that day, and skipped Saturday's net. So while there was no official confirmation that he was match-fit to play Delhi Capitals on Sunday afternoon, the one line from Naman Dhir who had filled in at No. 3 in Suryakumar's absence, stated simply: "He has joined the camp, and is available."
As per a Mumbai Indians statement on Friday, "Surya came in earlier than the team and spent close to an hour batting in the nets. Following his long batting session, Surya did some training and mobility drills followed by catching up with his teammates, and speaking with Mark Boucher, head coach, and Kieron Pollard, batting coach, during the course of the practice."
And his return, potential though it may be at this stage, can not come soon enough. Mumbai have lost their first three matches of the season, and while they have started poorly and recovered in IPLs past, this year they conceded the highest total in IPL history in one defeat, and were reduced to 20 for 4 in another.
With the exception of Tilak Varma, who has 121 runs in three innings, no other batter has aggregated more than 70 yet this season. Mumbai's scores of 162 for 9 (chasing 169), 246 for 5 (chasing 278) and 125 for 9 (batting first) have been inadequate, with no part of their batting order firing as it should.
Suryakumar has been out of action since December last year, suffering an ankle injury while scoring a T20I century in South Africa, so while there might be high expectations on him to get going right away, he could well take some time to approach the highs of last season.
And what a high it was: 605 runs in IPL 2023 at a strike rate of over 181. Suryakumar was only the second player - after Chris Gayle in 2011 - to score more than 600 in a season at a strike rate more than 180.
He has been Mumbai's highest run-scorer since he returned to their side in 2018, his 2641 runs coming at a strike rate of 146.55. Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan are next in the list with their corresponding numbers reading: 2073 at 129.23, and 2055 at 135.64. And when Suryakumar succeeds, Mumbai do too more often than not, winning 15 of the 21 games in which he has scored a half-century since 2018. That's a win percentage of 71.43, only bettered by Ruturaj Gaikwad (73.33%) and Shubman Gill (77.27%).
Should Suryakumar return against Capitals on Sunday, it gives Mumbai some options for their team combination. If, in the playing XI, they persist with Dhir, who has scores of 20, 30 and 0 so far, they could play an overseas allrounder like the seamer Romario Shepherd or offspinner Mohammad Nabi to strengthen their struggling bowling attack instead of Dewald Brevis. However, Akash Madhwal's return with a three-wicket haul was also a positive in their most recent defeat to Rajasthan Royals. Otherwise, Suryakumar could come in as a straight swap for Dhir.
Nabi was among the first to bat in the nets on Saturday and had a 20-minute stint while primarily trying to hit big shots. When Mumbai played Royals at the Wankhede, the opposition spinners Yuzvendra Chahal (3 for 11) and R Ashwin (0 for 27) got enough assistance from the pitch. The same surface could be used on Sunday, and Capitals have several left-handers in their batting order.
As part of Mumbai's CSR initiative, over 20,000 kids from NGOs across the city will be in attendance for the game against Capitals, braving the afternoon heat at the Wankhede. Watching Mumbai win will be a cool life experience, and a 'Surya dada' special could make it happen.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7