“If the sky could dream, it would dream of Dragons,” wrote Ilona Andrews in their book “Dragon Unleashed”.
Now pause. Stare at that statement. Okay, might be a little confusing, now look at that statement from an Indian cricket team perspective.
There is a SKY that is dreaming, one that is dreaming of dragons.
Suryakumar Yadav’s entry into international cricket is pretty late but like that dialogue from Rajinikanth’s movie, Baba, SKY “Late-a vanthalum latest-a vandhuirukaan” (I will be the latest, even if I come late). He’s 32, a late bloomer but that kind of bloomer that has now become the face of India’s T20 plans.
A complete 15 years after India’s first T20 World Cup title, here they go once again as one of the prime favourites. As the batter himself said ahead of India’s first practice game against Western Australia, “There’s a few butterflies and a lot of excitement.”
Look at any Indian team in the yesteryears, the focus has perennially been on the heavy-reliance on the top-order, the spin unit and now, the emerging pace unit that threatens to take the game away from the opposition. But amidst all of these departments, there is one unit – the middle-order – that is slowly leaving others gasping for their breaths.
Suryakumar’s abilities in T20 is elite and unparalleled. Finding a batter like him is almost close to impossible, actually scratch that, it is impossible. If there is one thing that the right-hander has shown over the last few years in the Indian Premier League, it is his ability to thwart bowling units like they were club bowlers.
Even the best of pacers, Jasprit Bumrah, might attest to the abilities of the 32-year-old. The Mumbaikar’s influence on the T20I side is such that his numbers are close to impossible for others to reach. In fact, across all T20Is this calendar year, Suryakumar averages 40.05 and murders the bowlers with a strike-rate of 184.56.
An elite batter in T20 cricket
Only 24 players have an average of over 40 in the calendar year (2022), without applying any filters. Now throw in a filter of ten innings, the numbers reduce to nine. If a strike-rate of 150 is the base then, there are only three players in world cricket: Matthew Wade, David Miller and Suryakumar. And neither of them have scored as many runs as the Indian batter (801 runs).
It is incredible to even imagine the thought of someone being so incredible. It is even more fascinating that you don’t have to imagine that in India because Suryakumar exists. He is perhaps one batter that the country has never seen, rather, he is one batter whose skillset is unrivalled in world cricket, at the moment.
Forget all the recency bias, across India’s T20I history, no batter has an average of 35+ and a strike-rate of 170+ ever. Suryakumar is India’s best-ever T20 batter and his success almost lies in the fact that he isn’t afraid. Throwback to the first-ever delivery that he faced in T20I cricket: a 144kmph bumper was put away into the second-tier. It was Jofra Archer, who is still perhaps one of the best bowlers across formats.
The audacity that he possesses is yet again rare. One of India’s long-time struggles, with Virat Kohli in the middle-order was tackling spin. New Zealand, in 2016, applied the brakes against India with spin, and has been a repetitive pattern for so many years, but not anymore.
In T20s since 2020, Suryakumar’s strike-rate against the tweakers is only bettered by one Indian batter: Sanju Samson. But even then, there is none to match his average of 42.14 in the country. He is a package that could be hailed as the ‘X-factor’ with the bat, that could land India the ultimate title – the T20 World Cup.
Sky-rocketing stocks in T20I cricket
For the longest time, the 32-year-old’s exploits were limited and restricted to just T20 cricket and in specific - the IPL. But ever since he made his international debut, he has transcended the boundaries like it never existed. One of his trademark abilities is to find the gaps and the boundaries from the get-go.
Not only does he have escalated numbers in the shortest format, his uber-attacking approach has also made others live up to that kind of expectations in the country.
Australia as a country is a different beast, one that Virat Kohli could attest. The crowd there only gets behind a player if he has performed in the country. But in Suryakumar’s case, it might be totally different. Even when he hasn’t played a single T20I in Australia, expect at least a whole section of crowd to come out to the venue with his mask.
43 players have played a min of 25 T20Is since 2020 but none have a better strike-rate in the first ten deliveries (154.2) than Suryakumar. Just to give more context to all of this, the average strike-rate for batters in their first ten deliveries since 2020 amongst top-ten sides has been 114.5. It is just imperative to think that a lower-order batter would go into one of the most crucial tournaments for India as their flag-bearer.
Suryakumar is a species, one of a kind – at least at present in world cricket – which India are blessed with. He’s one dragon that India has always dreamt of and it is not the dreams that make us kings, it is the dragons.
He is one dragon carrying the hopes of 1.2 billion people, waiting to breathe fire.