Matches (16)
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One-Day Cup (5)
Match Analysis

SKY shows no limit with tailor-made response to tricky Afghanistan assignment

Batter has uncanny ability to read situation and respond with requisite power and placement

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
India may have won comfortably in the end, but the first half of the first innings didn't look so comfortable. Despite Rishabh Pant's breezy cameo, the first seven overs brought India just 54 runs. Then Suryakumar Yadav happened.
These weren't conditions for touch players to be able to go at T20 pace. Because the pitch was slow, it became easier to set fields: without pace on the ball batters can't access the whole field. Two kinds of batters succeeded: those who have the ability to put the ball into unconventional areas and those who had the power to clear the shorter straight boundaries.
Surya can do both. Surya did both. Often both are connected. Before Suryakumar, too, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli tried the sweep, but they kept playing it to the deep fielders even though there could only be two men back. Suryakumar's wide array of sweeps meant he deliberately missed the fielders with his version. Anyway, bowlers are wary of his sweep, plus when he manages to get success, he can draw a ball too full, which is the natural response to a sweep.
Most noticeably Suryakumar did that to the pace bowler Azmatullah Omarzai. He swept a ball from wide outside off, turned the rest of the over into overpitched deliveries, and then went down the ground. Surya scored only 14 behind the wicket in this innings, which is an unusually low percentage for him. The slowness of the pitch required him to his use his muscle more, and so he did.
The same probably happened with Rashid Khan, whom Suryakumar said he doesn't pick out of the hand. And yet he knows which shots are on, and plays them regardless. He came into this match having scored 86 runs off 58 Rashid deliveries without getting out to him. He only improved the record with 16 off six in this game. Rashid, too, was guilty of going too full, which didn't quite succeed in hampering the sweep.
Suryakumar read the conditions superbly, telling Hardik Pandya they needed to do the bulk of their scoring before the ball went old. That this innings came on the back of his 49-ball fifty against the USA, which was again precisely the innings that the situation required, makes it remarkable. The intent here also meant Rashid bowled himself out as early as the 14th over. Pandya took most of that final over, but Rashid did come close to getting a fourth wicket.
In the pantheon of the typical Suryakumar masterclasses, this one might not end up being much more than a footnote. That in itself is a tribute to the T20 genius he is, a perfect marriage of skill and intent. What looked like a struggle for Rohit and Kohli suddenly began to look like good batting conditions. Not only did the run-rate jump from 7.71 before his arrival to 9.6 while he was at the wicket, he also scored 53 of the 96 runs that came while he was at the wicket despite playing fewer than half the balls. Except for Pant, who can hit balls finer than most batters, thus scoring behind the wicket, nobody came even close to Suryakumar's strike-rate in tough conditions.
Watching Suryakumar bat in this fashion right after Rohit and Kohli, you wonder if it is just a question of intent. That pair's intent has improved but they just don't have the vast scoring options that Suryakumar has. As with other Indian batters, left-arm spin does remain an unfavourable match-up for Suryakumar, a variety of bowler Afghanistan didn't have. And that is a small weakness that you are allowed to have when you are so good.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo