How Suryakumar Yadav became the template for India's new batting style

Yadav is perhaps India’s most important batter this T20 World Cup


For the Parsee Gymkhana club in Mumbai’s Marine Drive, Suryakumar Yadav is the most important cricketer in its lineage. He is, after all, the first player from the club to play for India. Yes, Farokh Engineer, Rusi Surti, Polly Umrigar and Nari Contractor also wore India whites, says club vice president Khodadad Yazdegardi, but they all played for Parsee Cyclists.

When he got the India call in 2021, he told me the dream had been fulfilled. I told him our dream would be only be fulfilled when he plays Test cricket. —Khodadad Yazdegardi, vice president, Parsee Gymkhana club

“When he plays for his club, he only wears club colours. If he wears the helmet, he tapes over the India colours,” says Yazdegardi. Even while playing for India, Yadav keeps track of every club game. The club, in turn, ensures that he gets all training facilities when he is not playing for India.

“During the Police Shield (2021), he carried two kit bags during matches—one was his own, and the other was full of gloves, pads and T-shirts, which he distributed among the club players,” says Yazdegardi. “The prize money he got went to the groundsmen. Whenever he is in Mumbai, he wants to hit the nets. He trains for hours and hours, and is still grounded.”

Some would say he has had to be so. A late bloomer—he debuted at 30—Yadav has now become the template for India’s new style of T20I batting, and is arguably its most important batter, especially heading into the World Cup. There is no anchoring or pacing; just playing shots from ball one. Take, for instance, the 22-ball 61 against South Africa in Guwahati on October 2, or the brilliant 117 off 55 against England at Trent Bridge in July.

Currently ranked second in the world, Yadav’s strike-rate in 2022 is a whopping 180.29, while his career strike-rate is 176.81 across 34 matches. He has hit 50 sixes in T20Is this year; the first player to do so in a calendar year.

For a guy who made his first-class debut in 2010 for Mumbai, Yadav had to wait more than a decade to wear the India blue. He made his T20I debut in March 2021, and played his first ODI that July.

“He always had that X factor, be it when he played in Under-15 or Under-19,” said Milind Rege, the former Mumbai selector who spotted Yadav’s talent and also resurrected his career. “He has finally realised his potential. He is too good a player at this level [to be ignored]. We had earmarked him for big things. What made him stand out was not just his cricketing ability at the junior level, but also his cricketing IQ.”

Though the family has roots in Uttar Pradesh, Yadav is a dyed-in-the-wool Mumbaikar. Growing up, his father, Ashok, an electrical engineer with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, always encouraged him to play. The boy had to choose between badminton and cricket, and chose the latter.

Those who have watched him from his early days, including Rege, point to Yazdegardi as the man who guided the youngster. Yadav played for the Parsee Gymkhana from 2008 to 2011. He later played for Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Shivaji Park Gymkhana and Dadar Union, but it was Yazdegardi he called up when he found himself out of favour with the Mumbai team. Between 2011 and 2013, there had been reports of Yadav becoming temperamental, frustrated and allegedly indulging in groupism in the state and club teams. He wanted to return to Parsee Gymkhana, and was welcomed back with open arms. “There was a lot of frustration regarding his career, but I kept telling him that one day the door would open,” said Yazdegardi. “When he got the India call in 2021, he told me the dream had been fulfilled. I told him our dream would be only be fulfilled when he plays Test cricket.”

During his lean patch, former administrator and columnist Makarand Waingankar introduced Yadav to a website called One Giant Mind, which taught meditation techniques. This helped Yadav channel his frustration in a positive way.

Said former Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni: “From the day I first saw him in 2010, his special talent was obvious. What was special about him was his confidence. Few people have that kind of confidence from the beginning. Also, he is an all-format player, not just a white-ball specialist. His first-class record, with a strike rate of over 60, 14 tons and 26 fifties, speaks for itself.”

Everyone THE WEEK spoke to talked about Yadav’s commitment and work ethic, despite his troubles in the past. “He has worked hard to develop these special skills,” says Kulkarni. “I am just glad that players like Shardul Thakur and Surya, who have played over 10 years in first-class cricket, have remained optimistic about one day playing for India and have worked towards it.”

Former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, who has watched Yadav from close quarters as Mumbai Indians coach, called him a 360-degree player. “He hits really well over the leg side, flicks to deep backward square particularly well, and he is a good player of fast bowling and spin. He is quite a confident person. He backs himself and he is never going to step down from a challenge or any situation that arises in a game. I feel he thinks he can win that situation and go on and win the game for his team.”

Kulkarni felt that Yadav’s time with Mumbai Indians also helped him get noticed, especially 2018 onwards. Interestingly, to the surprise of many, the team retained Yadav for 08 crore and let go of Hardik Pandya in the previous auction. Yadav, however, has repaid that faith. “Every time I see him, he has taken his game a notch higher, which is a good sign as a player,” said India and MI captain Rohit Sharma. “He seems to be getting better and better every time.”

Perhaps the most enduring image of Yadav’s IPL rise was his “main hoon na (why fear when I’m here)” gesture en route to a victory against the Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2020. His captain and Indian fans would hope that Yadav keeps that confidence going Down Under.