Suryakumar Yadav’s international career might appear in its infancy to the naked eye, but a closer examination would reveal a multi-layered iceberg beneath the tip of his recent successes. The 30-year-old from Mumbai most recently earned a maiden Test call-up as a cover for the injured members of Team India’s squad – Shubhman Gill, Washington Sundar, Avesh Khan – in England.

 

Yadav finally received the selectors’ nod after a consistent run of good scores in the ongoing Shikhar Dhawan-led-India’s tour of Sri Lanka. He was declared the Man of the Series in the ODIs and top-scored with a half-century in the first T20I, as well.

Fading promise

For those who have followed his decade-long journey in domestic cricket, this was a throwback to the promise he had shown in the 2011-12 Ranji Trophy season for Mumbai. He was on the verge of being plunged into the international arena, before controversies overshadowed his displays with the bat.

 

Yadav’s fitness issues became a headache for his coaches while there were also complaints about his “hothead” nature. He reportedly got involved in an on-field altercation with team-mate Shardul Thakur in 2014. Reports of infighting and indiscipline followed, as Yadav was stripped off the Mumbai captaincy across formats. The potential star looked like fading even before taking off.

Coming of age

It was finally in the 2016-17 season when it appeared that Yadav was ready to mature as an individual and evolve as an athlete. “Yadav decided to break the rut, transform his attitude, fitness and batting and mental discipline. That discipline even stopped him from playing certain shots in matches until he knocked off targets,” writes ESPN Cricinfo’s Shashank Kishore.

 

His eating habits changed, he bulked up to aid his power hitting abilities, and he spent hours and hours in the nets. “He was distracted, demoralised,” coach Chandrakant Pandit had said, for whose team Yadav turned up as 21-year-old to score 182 in a club game. “It was a phase, but you define someone by how they bounce back. He acknowledged there were issues and he worked on it. That is the first step. To know there’s a problem. Hats off to him.”

Agony and ecstasy

Yadav continued to pile runs both on the domestic circuit as well as in the Indian Premier League (IPL). He crossed the 5,000-run mark in First Class cricket at an average of above 44, including 14 centuries and 26 half-centuries. His T20 strike rate, after the IPL 2020, was above 140 across 150 T20 innings, alongside a List A average of 37.55 and a strike rate of 103 in 87 innings. The famous 43-ball-79* against Virat Kohli’s RCB in that edition of the IPL also earned him a ‘viral’ status online.

 

On the back of his promising form, he was one of the strongest contenders for the limited overs side to tour Australia last year, where the likes of Sundar, Md Siraj, Shardul Thakur et al impressed on debut. Yadav, however, failed to make the cut. But he stayed patient and waited for his opportunity, which finally came in the form of the T20I series against England earlier this year.

He became one of Team India’s first 30-plus aged debutant, among specialist batsman in decades. One would have to go back as far as 1981 to find the last successful batter to do so for India, in the form of TE Srinivasan. S Badrinath was given a T20I break in 2011, but that remains to be his only game in the format.

 

Yadav wasn’t required to bat in his debut game, and when the opportunity came beckoning, he grabbed it and how. He was declared the Man of the Match for a 31-ball-57, including a first-ball six in the fourth match of the series. “I’m just trying to be myself inside, talk to myself, keep things simple and it becomes easy inside,” he had said in the post-match ceremony.

He finds himself in a squad against England yet again, and the five-match itinerary of the upcoming Test series means that Yadav is likely to get game time. Indian fans wouldn’t mind another first-ball maximum, but the stage is set for something even bigger from an earnestly blossomed cricketer.

Image credits: Instagram/Suryakumar Yadav