India vs England 3rd T20I: Surya shines in defeat

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Soaked in sweat and applause, Suryakumar Yadav walked off the ground as a tragic hero. Just when the elusive shores of victory drew closer, the man who had anchored the ship towards the sands drowned. In the end, India lost the match by 17 runs — the target of 216 always seemed steep — but not after the most refined of hundreds one would behold in a T20 game.

Like all great batsmen — Yadav is on the way, if he could produce more such evenings — he gave hope. The mountain of runs always seemed unsurpassable. At one point, India were 31 for 3, with the established trio of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant all back in the dugout. At another point, India required 120 off 48 balls. The stadium had begun to empty. There were distracted and dismayed faces. An England win seemed all but a formality in a dead-rubber game after India had sealed the series on Saturday.

But Yadav breathed hope, he drilled in a sense of belief that something special was to unfold. Even when the match seemed drifting away from his team, when a win dwindled from the horizon, he believed and made the audience will him on too. He might still be new to international cricket, with experience of only 25 white-ball games. However, he is not too young to scale statistical peaks – he is already 300 days past his 31st birthday – and when he is here, when he is batting as astoundingly as he did in this innings, he promises to orchestrate something truly remarkable in his time.

All it took was a boundary to revert the attention of the distracted audience. His first hit to the fence. He coaxed a low full-toss on off-stump from Richard Gleeson through the covers. He had no natural room to manoeuvre the shot, but manufactured it with a dexterous twitch of the wrists, the last-moment opening of the bat-face. It was just a staple Yadav shot. But in the context, more than a shot. A wake-up call for the England bowlers, an alarm for the dozing spectators.

In that sense, all of Yadav’s strokes were glorious; only some were more glorious. Like a cover-driven six off Gleeson. Yadav backed away, on sixth stump on the leg-side. So, Gleeson flung the ball wide and full. But Yadav possesses such good hands that he stretched his bat, got to the pitch of the ball, opened the bat face and lofted it over extra cover. The greatest quality of his is that he is always moving, yet remarkably still. He can be on his haunches, on the knee, trotting down the strip or shuffling to the leg-side, but is always in control, always a step ahead of the bowlers, always manipulating the gaps.

He has fast hands, and a faster head. He has nimble feet and nimbler wrists. The whirl of the wrists at the last moment helps with placement as well as power-generation. Those wrists were prominent even when he sweeps, a reason the ball goes finer than squarer. The four that ferried him to his hundred too was all wrists — as he glided the ball, one- handed, to the third-man boundary. The century was achieved in merely 48 balls and with not a stroke in anger. It was artistic brutality that afflicted England bowlers.

Bowlers had no answer

And for a good measure of his innings, England were clueless. Jos Buttler, the new captain, just kept shuffling the bowlers and changing the field in wishfulness rather than belief.

He thrust all his hopes on David Willey, England’s most successful bowler. But Yadav consigned him to a square-drive off the first ball before effortlessly dropping to his haunches and flicking him over backward square-leg for a six. Shortly, the seasoned Chris Jordan was creamed through extra cover. Buttler panicked, and of all the alternatives, introduced part-time spinner Liam Livingstone. Yadav took full toll on him, smearing three fours in his over.

Almost immediately, he was pulled out of the attack. Yadav clanged the handbrakes and waited for Livingstone’s reintroduction. He did not strike a boundary for the 12 balls, but blasted two sixes in his next over, the 21-run over that revived India’s hopes. But the scorecard flashed 99 runs off 42 balls. Soon, Yadav had whittled the requirement to 40 off 12 balls, and then 25 off 8 before that fatal shot of his. His clarity of thought and approach would have made MS Dhoni, who was in attendance at the stadium, proud.

He could not wrap up the innings, but on current form, no Indian batsman looks as comfortable in T20s as Yadav does. He reads the ebbs and flows of the match, understands the pulse of the game, bats at the pace the situation demands him to, and could seamlessly straddle multiple roles. He could be a destroyer, enforcer, finisher and even stabiliser. In short, he could be the perfect T20 batsman. Or at least, his hundred was the near-perfect T20 hundred.

If only he had the support — there was none but a rickety Shreyas Iyer, with whom he accumulated 119 runs, of which Iyer scored only 28. But it is days like these and knocks like these that make batsmen. A tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless.





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