Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
In September 2019, in a series decider against South Africa, Virat Kohli became the first captain to decide against chasing in T20 internationals at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. His reasoning was this: he wanted to challenge India out of their comfort zone in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, but they ended up losing that match.
That World Cup, which was originally supposed to be held in Australia in 2020, was pushed back by a year and shifted to India in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. India's bat-first concerns, however, lingered and became more alarming after they dawdled to powerplay scores of 22 for 3 in the T20I series opener against England and then 24 for 3 in the third game.
After losing the toss again in the fourth, and facing a must-win, Kohli reckoned that he would've opted to bat anyway and test out the line-up even if the toss had gone India's way. Jofra Archer had Rohit Sharma plopping a return catch and KL Rahul, the other half of India's first-choice opening combination, according to Kohli, managed to break his binary sequence of 1,0,0, but gulped down 17 balls for his 14.
Ishan Kishan, who had belted a 28-ball half-century on his T20I debut on Wednesday, had suffered a groin strain, so the team management threw Suryakumar Yadav into No.3. He had made his international debut alongside his Mumbai Indians team-mate Kishan in that match, but didn't get to bat. In the field, Suryakumar had looked as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. He hustled from the boundary and dropped Johnny Bairstow in the outfield before just about hanging onto a skier in the same over.
On Thursday, after missing the third game, Suryakumar returned but had no such jitters. He dispatched the very first ball he faced from Archer for an agenda-setting six, never really let up, and showed India the way to bat first. Archer banged in a chest-high lifter at 144kph, but Suryakumar swiftly jumped back and nailed a one-legged pull with gum-chewing swagger and jaw-dropping timing.
Suryakumar had pulled off a similar outrageous hit - a reverse-scoop - off Archer over Jos Buttler's head for six in IPL 2020. At the post-match virtual media interaction, Suryakumar revealed that he was well-prepared for Archer's hit-the-deck bustle.
"My plan was very clear when I went into bat," Suryakumar said. I've seen him [Archer] in the last two, three seasons in the IPL also. I've watched all of his games in international cricket as well. So whenever a new batsman comes in, what plans he has... Obviously I had my plans as well when I went in to bat. It was a great opportunity for me to bat at No. 3 for India. I knew that he'd come a little short at me so I really wanted to execute that and I was really happy with the way things went."
Mark Wood then cranked his pace up to 148.5kph, but Suryakumar rose on top of the bounce and laced him through the covers for four. Then, when Chris Jordan explored a fuller length and aimed for off stump with a blameless delivery, Suryakumar manipulated the field by opening the bat-face and gliding it away between backward point and short third man for four. Despite Rahul's go-slow, Suryakumar's sustained intent and aggression saw India gallop to 45 for 1 in the powerplay.
With Suryakumar taking England's fast men for runs, Eoin Morgan turned to Adil Rashid to burgle a few quiet overs, but Suryakumar picked him apart, too, in clinical fashion. All up, he hit 23 off eight balls from Rashid; only Mohammad Hafeez, Glenn Maxwell (twice) and Martin Guptill have scored more runs off Rashid in a T20I, but then again all these batsmen had the benefit of facing more balls than Suryakumar did.
Rashid usually starts by threatening the stumps and then unleashes the wrong'un - he did Kohli like a kipper with the variation - but once Suryakumar put those attempted googlies away, Rashid didn't quite have a Plan B. After splicing a sweep for four, Suryakumar dashed out of the crease, collapsed his back leg, and launched him inside-out for six next ball.
In Rashid's next over, Suryakumar stretched so far across and outside the line of off, taking the lbw out of equation and drilling a sweep through square leg for four. That big reach from Suryakumar forced the legspinner to go much shorter and outside off. It came out as a half-tracker that was scythed through cover-point for four. It brought about a dominant 28-ball half-century for Suryakumar and although he was dismissed in controversial fashion, his blazing effort put India on course for a slightly above-par 185 for 8, which they could defend despite the onset of heavy dew.
Speaking to Star Sports at the post-match presentation, Kohli delivered a glowing appraisal of Suryakumar's maiden international outing with the bat.
"Very very happy. Again, I would like to mention Surya's innings," Kohli said. "I think playing at this level with top quality bowlers who bowl at pace, it's not easy to just walk in and it's your first game and you start off like that [monster six off Archer's bowling], it was outstanding.
"We all were quite stunned with that start and he completely stamped his authority from ball one and then the bowlers were under pressure throughout the way he played. The leggie as well - he maneuvered the bowlers beautifully. He put us in a great position and allowed the likes of Rishabh [Pant] and Shreyas [Iyer] and then Hardik [Pandya] to do the job they do and get us to that total eventually.
"So big credit to these youngsters. They're coming in and grabbing the opportunities and that's something that I am a big fan of. The first few opportunities you make a mark and you set your standards high and then you help Indian cricket along the way. I think it's great signs for the Indian team."
The competition for spots in India's line-up continues to heat up in the lead-up to a home World Cup, but Suryakumar has made a compelling case for himself with his dynamic T20 approach, something that his captain had promised on the eve of the series opener.