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Match Analysis

With every innings, 'free spirit' Suryakumar moves one notch above the rest

He is more dynamic, bats with more freedom, and teams are perhaps yet to catch up with him as well as they have done with some others

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Suryakumar Yadav makes you question the wisdom of platforms. This is a different tournament, we are told. You have to get used to new conditions, new ground dimensions, new attacks every third day. There is no room to make a mistake. Ask South Africa. Ask Australia. Extra bounce, prouder seam on the ball, cold conditions, big square boundaries here, small square there, it is a nightmare for batters.
And then Suryakumar comes, on his first tour to Australia. mind you, and scores 225 run at a strike rate of 193.96, a good 24 points ahead of the next best strike rate in the tournament (min. 50 balls), and does it without fuss. It's not just here, but everywhere.
Shiva Jayaraman from ESPNcricinfo's stats team has quantified this transcendence of conditions or superiority over other batters, whichever way you want to see it. Against Zimbabwe on Sunday, he scored 61 off 25 while his partners managed just 27 off 25 while he was at the wicket. In IPL games and internationals between full members this year, he has played 16 innings of 20-plus balls, in 15 he has been quicker than his partners. Rilee Rossouw comes the closest with 13 out of 15. This includes matches from IPL, BBL, CPL, T20 Blast and T20Is between full members.
We have heard it said often, especially during this tournament, that it's not about strike rates but about what the team needs from them, which is all true perhaps. But when you watch Suryakumar bat, it's almost as though it's just a clever way others find to explain their own limitations. It is almost tempting to ask other batters how and why Suryakumar doesn't need balls to get used to conditions and bowlers.
There are cricketing explanations for what is happening. Suryakumar is more dynamic, bats with more freedom, and teams are, perhaps, yet to catch up with him as well as they have done with some of the other batters. R Ashwin put it well.
"The way Surya is batting is wonderful," Ashwin said. "He is free-spirited, has free will. He is at that stage of his career… not quite a spring chicken but still early in his international career. The kind of shots he is playing is complementing other batters in the team.
"Sweep shots. You don't expect somebody to play lap sweep and square sweep to fast bowlers. But Surya plays these. We know that. That is one of the reasons he complements other batters really well. If you see, those who counter spin well are the ones who play the sweep and the reverse sweep. So you just can't be hitting the ball down the ground and expect to hit sixes. If Surya's batting merges with people who can hit down the ground, it is a wonderful combination."
It is not just that he swept a fast bowler, he actually had the audacity to go over square leg when fine leg was back and then go over short fine when the fielder was brought in. And he dragged both of these from wide outside off, working against the angle from left-arm over.
Coach Rahul Dravid credits Suryakumar's success to the hard work behind the scenes. "That's why he is the No. 1 T20 player in the world at the moment, because of that consistency in a format where scoring at a strike rate that he does actually doesn't… it's not easy to be consistent with the kind of strike rate he's going at," Dravid said. "So, it's just fantastic the way he's playing. I think he's been very clear in his processes. He's very clear about his tactics.
"One of the things about Surya is just the amount of hard work that he's put in in the nets, in thinking about his game, his fitness. If I look at Surya from a couple of years ago, just to see how he takes care of his body and the amount of time he spends on his fitness, I think he's just really earning the reward for a lot of the hard work that he's put in on and off the field, and long may it continue.
"He's been absolutely phenomenal for us. He's just a joy to watch. It's a pleasure to watch him bat when he's in that kind of form. Every time, he puts on a show, without a doubt."
That just leaves us with one of the mysteries of this game. He has a great strike rate at the death. He is one of the best in the powerplay. He can build an innings. He can start going sooner than anyone. Then why not try this free spirit - this free will - sooner in an innings? Isn't it all about what is best for the team?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo