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Suryakumar Yadav: Behind square, one step ahead of bowlers

His T20 batting in the last three years has been a perfect mix of flair and functionality

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Suryakumar Yadav is ready in a power position with a high back lift early, but executes shots deliciously late  •  AFP/Getty Images

Suryakumar Yadav is ready in a power position with a high back lift early, but executes shots deliciously late  •  AFP/Getty Images

One good way to appreciate some of Suryakumar Yadav's unbelievable shots is to pause the video at the point of impact.
Alzarri Joseph bowls a slower offcutter into the pitch, wide-ish outside off, cutting in, ending up on off and middle. Suryakumar is in his power position when the ball is delivered: back foot on middle, front foot outside leg, hands high, bat in the air.
Upon picking up the line and length, he lifts his bat high, looking for a back-foot shot, but the movement back in cramps him up. His back foot lifts in the air, he doesn't arch his back, and meets the ball with an upwards open face.
It is an excellent recovery and manipulation of the field - point and third are up in the circle - but pause the clip at the point of contact. It looks like the ramp will clear the infield comfortably enough, and teasingly dribble away for four. He doesn't have room or the pace to do anything more.
Now release the pause, and watch both his feet lift off the ground and back away towards leg to give him the slightest bit of room. The wrists then unfurl dramatically to turn this ramp into an upper cut, and, somehow, the ball travels all the way for a six.
Richard Gleeson bowls length on leg stump. The line is likely a reaction to Suryakumar, who has backed away to make room. He is likely following him. Suryakumar still manages to move further away and play a drive inside-out.
Pause it at the time of connections, and it looks he is going over extra cover. And not just because images are 2D but also because the bat face is pointing towards extra cover.
Now release the pause, and watch Suryakumar bend his back knee to get under the ball, and then use the wrists to play a near-impossible slice to send this ball sailing behind point for a six. He has driven this with an open face - possibly even closing on the other side - from outside leg for a six behind point.
Just to prove it is no fluke, Suryakumar repeats the exact same treatment to an exactly similar delivery from Chris Jordan in the same match at Trent Bridge.
There is another Joseph delivery pitched similarly, but Suryakumar gets inside the line to play a pick-up shot. Only he adds a late flick to it - helicopter-shot-like - to send it for a six behind square on the leg side. At least here you know from the path of the bat that he is looking to go behind square.
Pat Cummins possibly sees Suryakumar jump across early and goes wide outside off with a length ball to follow him. Cummins' natural action gives the ball some shape in. At the moment of connection, it looks like he is going over midwicket but there is serious whippage and helicopterage to take it for a six behind square on the leg side.
One thing common to all these shots is how late Suryakumar plays them. He is ready in a power position with a high back lift fairly early, but he executes the shots deliciously late. The ramps to short balls are often connected when the ball is past the wicket - sometimes from outside leg - and occasionally they are played so late they go to the left of the wicketkeeper.
If Suryakumar played in a league of another country, there would be enough clips of incredible shots to run a full-fledged Twitter handle. Be that as it may, highlight reels alone do not make a cricketer. Highlight reels are great, but they don't tell you the context.
Suryakumar is also a highly successful T20 batter, who loves fast bowlers but manages himself pretty well against spinners too. The shots he plays are borne out of necessity. Teams try to counter power-hitting by defending boundaries down the ground. Hard lengths have emerged a difficult ball for power-hitters.
Suryakumar seeks to use the empty spaces behind square. These are shots he didn't always play. This is an evolution he has made during the course of his career. He started making big runs in the IPL in 2018 but his strike rate would be stuck in the 130s. But in the years 2020, 2021 and 2022, he has been striking in the mid-140s in the IPL. What he has worked on has worked.
Since the start of 2020, 91 batters have scored at least 1000 runs playing in the IPL, BBL, PSL, CPL and T20Is between current Full Members. Suryakumar has scored 46% of his runs behind square; Rohit Sharma is second at 44.2%.
However, it is the efficiency behind square that makes Suryakumar stand apart. There are batters who attempt to go behind square more often than him but nobody comes close to his strike rate of 230.40 whenever he goes behind the wicket.
Going deeper, Suryakumar hits a boundary behind square every 7.4 balls he faces, and every 2.4 balls he goes behind square. Nobody comes close. He has hit 54 sixes behind square, more than anyone else. He has been in control of 91.1% of the boundaries he has hit behind square - again the best.
Over this period he has taken 51 balls from outside off and put them behind square on the leg side for 141 runs. From the line of stumps and outside leg, he has hit 27 balls for 32 runs behind square on the off side.
Teams will already be working on how to deny Suryakumar those runs behind square but without opening up easy boundary options down the ground because he can hit a long ball too. How that plays out will be interesting, but for now he has given us a delectable bank of unbelievable shots that would make for a great montage. A highlight reel of both flair and functionality.
Stats inputs by Shiva Jayaraman

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo