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The method and the man - how Suryakumar Yadav does what only he can

Knowing his game, a lot of training, and being a step - or three - ahead of the bowler are the secrets to Suryakumar Yadav's success

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Another day, another mesmerising performance. Against Sri Lanka in Rajkot, Suryakumar Yadav struck an unbeaten 112 off 51 balls, with seven fours and nine sixes. His innings helped India clinch the three-match T20I series 2-1. Ever since he made his T20I debut, in March 2021, Suryakumar has produced such knocks with remarkable consistency. Here's an attempt to find out how he does what he does.
Knowing his game inside out
Suryakumar made his T20I debut at the age of 30. By then, he had already played 170 T20s - the most for any player before representing his country. While not getting the call must have been frustrating, his passion for the game kept him going. In his own words, wherever he played, he tried to put up a show.
A delayed debut made him hungrier, but it was the time he spent playing domestic cricket and the IPL that helped him know his game well. He has a T20I career strike rate above 180, but you rarely see him trying to muscle the ball. He knows his strength is timing the ball, and he relies on that to score his runs.
"You don't have to tell him anything," Hardik Pandya said after Saturday's game. "He is always clear about his plans and that's the reason he is successful in this format; he doesn't doubt his ability."
In the first T20I, Suryakumar was caught at short fine leg when he failed to execute a scoop. The same shot brought him more than 28% of his runs on Saturday. During the innings break, he was asked about his innovative shots, and if he premeditates them. "Yes, a few shots are predetermined," he replied, "but these are all my shots, which I have been playing since the last one year."
Quick off the blocks
In 43 T20I innings, Suryakumar has three hundreds, and all three have come while batting at No. 3 or lower. No other non-opener has scored that many T20I centuries. A big reason behind Suryakumar's success is that he hardly takes any time to get into his groove; a six off his first ball in international cricket was perhaps a foretelling of the future.
His first-ten-balls strike rate in T20Is is 154.55. Among batters from Full-Member nations, only Marcus Stoinis (172.73) and James Neesham (156.82) are quicker off the blocks (minimum 100 balls). However, Stoinis and Neesham mostly bat at No. 5 or lower, where they are expected to throw their bats around straightaway. Suryakumar, batting at No. 4 or sometimes at No. 3, doesn't always have that freedom.
But his quick starts mean he doesn't really have to play the catch-up game. That's why each of his centuries have taken fewer than 50 balls. In fact, eight of his 16 50-plus scores have come at a strike rate of more than 200. The slowest of those - 51 off 36 in the second T20I of this series - came at 141.66.
360-degree wrists
Everyone knows Suryakumar can play shots all around the park. What allows him to play that 360-degree game is his 360-degree wrists. He can open them to carve a full delivery over deep third, or close them to scoop the same ball over fine leg.
On Saturday, he was most destructive over the fine-leg region, smashing 32 off six balls with the help of two fours and four sixes. He also picked up seven runs off two balls to deep third, including a six.
"The boundaries behind [the stumps] are actually 59 to 60 metres, so I just try to clear them," he explained. While he mentioned he was still trying to master that six over deep third, his ability to clear the fine-leg boundary is unmatched.
Since his T20I debut, he has hit 27 sixes over fine leg. The next best in that period is Mohammad Rizwan with 13. Suryakumar was in control of 25 of those 27 sixes, which means only two came via a top edge. As he said, those are indeed his shots.
One step ahead of the bowler
On ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out show, former Sri Lanka allrounder Farveez Maharoof said that if a bowler has plan A in place, Suryakumar has plan B and plan C already lined up. The batter, too, spoke along the same lines after the match.
"There are a few strokes that are predetermined," he said, "but, at the same time, you got to have other shots as well in your armoury, because if the bowler bowls some other delivery, then you also have to be ready with other strokes."
He also tries to figure out from the field what a bowler might do next, and uses the field to his advantage. At times, instead of aiming for a six, he is happy to time the ball over extra cover or mid-off for a four, as there's inherently less risk in that. At the death, when fast bowlers generally have the fine leg inside the 30-yard circle, he uses the scoop to pick up the boundaries.
Preparation makes perfect
The frequency with which he is playing these innings can mislead viewers into thinking it's easy. It is anything but. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes.
"I think it's really important to put pressure on yourself when you are preparing for the match," he said. "What you do in your practice sessions, what process and routines you follow is very important. If you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you are practising, then it gets a little easier in the game.
"Of course, there's a lot of hard work involved, but at the same time you got to be doing some quality practice as well. At the end of the day, you should know what your game is and how you are going to get your runs."
Later, in a chat with Rahul Dravid on, he said: "During the net sessions, I only try to hear the sound [of the ball] off the bat, [to know] if I am hitting the ball well. I set [imaginary] fields for myself whenever a bowler is bowling, and try to time the ball as much as possible. And if I am happy with the sound off the bat, even if it has been only ten minutes, I come out of the nets."
Fitness and family support
Dravid narrated an incident from two years ago when Suryakumar took the Yo-Yo test at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru and "dived to get across the line" instead of running all the way through.
"That was actually the turning point," Suryakumar said when Dravid asked him about his fitness journey. "After I got married, my wife has been pushing me really hard in terms of nutrition, in terms of staying fit. We talk about cricket a lot when I go back home, and we discuss how we can get better, how we can be one step ahead at this level, and we really enjoy doing that.
"My family has played the most important role in my cricketing journey till now. They have sacrificed a lot. When I started, they were the ones who helped me. In my family, there's no history of sports. My dad is an engineer. So I had to be a little different for him to see a spark in me and push me."

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo