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Match Analysis

Suryakumar Yadav and Virat Kohli: one flies as the other fights

They both scored half-centuries against Hong Kong but they were extremely different innings

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Yasim Murtaza, Hong Kong's left-arm spinner, looked at his captain Nizakat Khan in disbelief. He had just been swept for two consecutive boundaries off the first two balls Suryakumar Yadav had faced - both placed on either side of the fielder at deep square leg.
It wasn't the response he had anticipated because until then Virat Kohli and KL Rahul had been milking similar deliveries - tossed up slow just outside off stump - for singles on the off side. Hong Kong's joy at dismissing Rahul in the 13th over with India 94 for 2 quickly dissipated and they were under the pump within minutes.
Until Rahul fell, Hong Kong's strategy had been simple but effective - an apt demonstration of the old cliche 'sticking to the basics'. They tried nothing fancy and weren't showing nerves against an opponent who was extremely out of their league.
It helped that they had been bowling to two batters - Rahul and Kohli - who were trying to fight their way back into form. Rahul, in particular, had barely showed an inkling of throwing the bowlers off their lengths in the powerplay. His only aggressive shot in this period was a swat for six off a free-hit.
Kohli too was far from fluent in only his second match after a break of more than a month. The pitch in Dubai wasn't conducive to carefree strokeplay, so he started working the ball into gaps and running as hard as he could to keep the score moving. In the modern-day T20 context, Kohli's innings may have been classified as a struggle, but there he made a concerted effort towards rediscovering his fluency.
Kohli willed himself to bat long and give himself the best chance of capitalising in the death overs. It was about staying in the fight. His trademark strut and swagger hadn't disappeared altogether, though, and he occasionally played big shots like the two towering sixes deep into the stands over midwicket - the second more eye-catching than the first. Yet, Kohli's performance was a grind.
It was another reminder of how the game waits for no one. Here was a bonafide legend trying to catch up with the times, trying to keep pace by looking to play shots - like the reverse paddle - he normally wouldn't.
After ten overs, Kohli had made 15 off 18 balls without a boundary. In the 11th, immediately after a drinks break, he seemed to flick a switch as he stepped out to drill legspinner Mohammad Ghazanfar down the ground. And in the 13th, Kohli struck his first six - a clean slog sweep over deep midwicket. India's innings had reached a take-off point, and Suryakumar came to the crease with six overs to go.
Unlike Kohli, who had done the hard work to cash in later on, Suryakumar needed no sighters. He was the definition of plug-and-play, and he played as though he was in a different dimension to Kohli.
His 360-degree skills were on display within two balls of his arrival, and the contrast was striking at that moment. There was Kohli's hard grind at one end and Suryakumar's jaw-dropping innovation at the other. His strokes in the V behind the wicket, like the ramp or scoop, have their origins in colony cricket, where he played with a rubber ball on hard cement.
While Kohli was playing by the book, Suryakumar had different options for similar deliveries, as though time stands still as he gets into position to play his strokes. Like the lap shot against medium pacer Aizaz Khan.
Anticipating a shorter length, Suryakumar had shuffled across his stumps to access the area over short fine leg. When he realised he had given away his intention a split-second early, and allowed the bowler to go fuller, Suryakumar readjusted in an instant. Legs wide apart and at full stretch, he went low to get his eye line below the ball and scoop it over the wicketkeeper's head. It was an expert manipulation of angles.
For all the innovative shots he plays, the key to Suryakumar's execution is his stable base, along with clarity and calmness. When he sees a delivery coming, he has two options ready and in a split second his exceptional hand-eye coordination allows him to play the shot he wants. He got to his fastest half-century in T20 internationals - off 22 balls - with back to back sixes, using his wrists to power the ball over the point boundary.
"Some of them are obviously predetermined," Suryakumar said of his 360-degree game at the post-match presentation. "I feel this format is about what you think and how you prepare when you go into bat. Most of them are [predetermined], at the same time, you've got to be playing in the present as well.
"I felt the wicket was a little slow, the way I was watching it from outside, but my plan was clear in that situation: take the tempo up and just express myself. I just loved it. I think you have to be flexible; you should be quick to bat at any number. I love and enjoy it [batting in different positions]."
Rohit Sharma, Suryakumar's captain in India and Mumbai Indians colours, summed it up perfectly when he said, "honestly the kind of innings he played today, words will be short."
Kohli was on 33 when Suryakumar joined him. As they walked off together after adding 98 off 42 balls for the third wicket, Kohli gave his team-mate a bow and insisted that he lead them off the field. Suryakumar had flown to 68 off 26 balls, while Kohli had fought hard for 59 off 44.
"It was a heartening gesture for me," Suryakumar said of the moment Kohli asked him to lead them off the field. "I was wondering why he was walking behind me. I told him let's walk together. He is such an experienced player and I had great fun batting with him. We talked a lot about what to do in that situation. Having experience in that situation was important. I had fun batting with him."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo