They are calling it the shot of the series: Suryakumar Yadav’s thunderous punch over covers for a six. It was quite something. As the former West Indies captain Daren Sammy, a batsman who knows a thing or two about walloping big sixes, says “what wrong did (the bowler) Alzari Joseph do?”
Nothing much. It was a back of length delivery homing in on the off stump but Surya wasn’t content punching it for a couple. Neither was he in a slog mode – he seldom is. Most of his shots come from the calculated ‘shape-holding’ T20 book of batting. Hold shape, stretch the upper body, extend the arms to its fullest, strive to maintain balance even at that tipping over point – and wham. Most of the time, it comes down to the way he positions himself in a shot.
This one was incredible even for such a batsman. The first thing to note was that there was no width on offer: the ball was gunning for the off and middle stump. The old bowler’s saying: hit the top of the off. Oh well, even that is now in the bin in this T20 era.
Surya stands a bit opened-up in his stance that he often does: the back foot parallel to the crease, and almost edging to the off stump. The front leg points down the pitch. Now, just before Joseph’s delivery hits the pitch, the front leg lifts a bit and presses down. That’s all he needed for the power and the positioning.
.@surya_14kumar showing what he’s made of in this superb half-century! What about that for an innings?
— FanCode (@FanCode) August 2, 2022
So what made him go for this shot? Perhaps the length. Certainly not the line. Either he picked up the length way early or anticipated it, Surya seemed ready. The length allowed him to get up, under, and punch on the up. He had to get the minor tweaks right to get his body into the right position. And so, once the front leg lifts and presses, he is largely still.
He can’t afford to move his body in line or its right or do much for any itsy bitsy teeny weeny movement can upset the whole apple cart: the balance would go awry, the momentum would be lost, the power would weaken, and the trajectory too can be affected. It could go straight up and not clear cover or the man at the deep.
And so he stirs into action, but doesn’t move much. The arms go under the ball and it thrusts up vigorously. The extension of the arms to the fullest and the holding of the post isn’t merely for aesthetic or the ego. It’s what is needed to kickstart the trajectory, the power, and for the ball to travel the distance. They call it holding the shape. As he reaches the apogee of his arms, the upright upper body holds the shape, and the right foot just about moves a bit to hold the pose for that instant longer. For balance. That’s all. The white ball was thrown from beyond the extra cover.
Improving his off-side play
In 2018 or 19, there was a talk going around that Surya was more comfortable on the leg side – with respect to big hitting, that is. There was also a talk within Mumbai Indians, led by their coach Mahela Jayawardene on improving his strike rate.
This elegant knock from @surya_14kumar won India the game. Spectacular batting!
— FanCode (@FanCode) August 2, 2022
Surya once explained to The Indian Express what transpired. “In 2019, he [Jayawardene] sat with me and explained it to me… what I should do in the powerplay and what I should do after powerplay. Obviously, he wanted me to be a better cricketer at that moment and contribute more by being a little more smarter. So he just sat with me and he was like it’s upon you completely. He said only one thing, whenever you’re batting after the powerplay, just try and hit a lot of gaps, take twos, run hard between wickets and the strike rate also will be amazing. So I just did the same thing.”
There weren’t any particular chats he remembered with Jayawardene about the off-side play but he had decided to up his all-round game. “Yeah, I knew I had to work a lot on my batting again because people will come up with different plans. So I had to cover all the areas or tick all the boxes, which I couldn’t do in the first year with my team,” Suryakumar Yadav had told this newspaper.
From being asked to take singles and twos to trying to cover all areas, he has now become one of the best T20 batsmen in the world. This shot in the Caribbean, in a series that’s likely to be forgotten soon, would linger in the mind. The quality of the shot is best captured in the incredulousness in Sammy’s voice. When you get respect from a man who has been there, done that, you know you are on the right track. Suryakumar Yadav certainly is.