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Feature

Tarouba Thursday offers glimpses of a future with a lot of Tilak Varma in it

In his maiden international game, on a tricky pitch, Tilak scored a 22-ball 39 that almost took India to victory

In Ahmedabad in March 2021, Suryakumar Yadav hit the first ball he faced in an India shirt for six.
Just under two-and-a-half years later, he was at the non-striker's end when another Mumbai Indians batter opened his India account with a six. Tilak Varma did it off his second ball rather than his first, but the shot he hit was every bit as thrillingly nonchalant as Suryakumar's one-legged pull off Jofra Archer.
Alzarri Joseph was the bowler on this occasion, and the ball was the kind a left-hand batter might ordinarily play in the direction of mid-off or extra-cover: on a length, angling across from over the wicket to finish on or perhaps just outside off stump.
Tilak sent it soaring over square leg, standing more or less still and playing a shot that was more swipe than flick, except that verb doesn't do justice to how languid he made it look, with his bat starting over his left shoulder and finishing over his right and his wrists coming into play at the moment of impact.
We've seen it in the IPL, this way he has of directing balls to unexpected parts of the field with shots that look almost textbook - until you watch them again. You might remember, for instance, a wristy, inside-out loft over the covers off a Mayank Markande wrong'un, when he met the ball outside leg stump with his back foot brushing the return crease.
On Thursday in Tarouba, he brought this ability to international cricket, scoring a 22-ball 39 that was match-winning in all but one sense: it put India firmly on the road to victory, and it wasn't his fault that they stumbled over its last few miles. In a match where no one on either side scored a half-century, he achieved the best strike rate (177.27) of the three batters who passed 30. He did this on a tricky, two-paced pitch where hitting through the line was far from straightforward, and in conditions where hitting into the wind was often treacherous. And he did this in his first innings in the West Indies, in any format.
Nearly every time he faced up, Tilak passed the eye test. He's done this right through his career; he's always seemed to have time to play his shots, and a way of seeming in control of his emotions in tricky situations
None of these mitigating factors were visible in Tilak's batting. He hit three sixes - that flick-swipe to get off the mark, a swivelling pull off his next ball, and a loft over long-off with his back knee on the ground - and each of them was a six from the moment ball met bat. Of all the ingredients that contributed to the purity of his ball-striking, perhaps the most fundamental was his footwork. There was a smoothness to his movements that at times belied their complexity, most tellingly when he sashayed across his stumps to stymie Romario Shepherd's wide-line attack, but even in quieter moments such as the single he took off the first ball he faced from Akeal Hosein, when he collapsed his back knee to create space for a square cut against a ball pitching on the fuller side of a good length.
Nearly every time he faced up, Tilak passed the eye test. He's done this right through his career; he's always seemed to have time to play his shots, and a way of seeming in control of his emotions in tricky situations. It's why he's already being spoken of as a future all-format superstar, even though he's only 20, and he's only played nine first-class games.
The future is the future, unknowable and traitorous, but if the sure-footedness of his Tarouba Thursday was anything to go by, there will be plenty of Tilak Varma in it.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo