Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan hold the key to India’s World Cup prospects

All eyes are on Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan to lend dash and depth to the Indian batting line-up in the coming World Cup

Suryakumar Yadav in action
Suryakumar Yadav in action

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Can Indian cricket team end their agonising wait for a major ICC crown this year? The air of anticipation will be heavy as the ICC 50-overs World Cup returns to the country for the first time since 2011. The ongoing white ball series against Sri Lanka is only a part of the build up which will hit a crescendo over the next few months.

It will not be long before comparisons start being drawn between Rohit Sharma’s men, who look like a work in progress, with M.S. Dhoni & Co., who boasted of enough class and experience in their ranks including a certain Sachin Tendulkar.

With a spate of injuries to key players, the inconsistent form of a number of their frontline batters including the skipper, lack of enough firepower in the middle order and the dithering over the choice of spinners, enough headaches are already piling up for head coach Rahul Dravid and the team management.

The balance sheet of Indian cricket for 2022 is a mixed bag with a decent win percentage (60 per cent across all formats) but failure to seize the big moments. It’s in this context that the unbelievable forms of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan are raising hopes that the unlikely duo could be India’s go-to men this year.

Surya, no spring chicken at 32 and toughened by years on the road, has now sealed the talk about his place in both formats of the white ball game. The angst of the Mumbai Indians batter after failing to make the cut even in a jumbo squad for the tour of Australia in 2020 after an exceptional IPL season in the UAE seems a distant memory. He has emerged as arguably the best T20 batter in such a star-studded lineup over the last six months.

A bit of statistics-crunching here will not do any harm. The phenomenal consistency which Surya showed in the latter part of the year—after a rather forgettable IPL season for Mumbai Indians—rewarded him with more than 1,150 runs in 30 T20Is during the year while he became only the second Indian batter after Rohit Sharma to hit two T20 centuries in a calendar year in international cricket.

Two superlative efforts and against quality attacks in overseas conditions: a 117 off 55 balls against England, followed by an unbeaten 111 off 51 balls against New Zealand last month gave ample evidence of a batter in the pink of form.

“He has actually become a 240 degrees player, if not the new Mr 360,’’ says Pravin Amre, former Indian Test player and former coach of the Mumbai Ranji team, who has worked closely with both Surya and Kishan.

What caused the transformation of Surya, who learnt the ropes of batting in a rather conservative cricketing environment of Mumbai? “It’s a question which I have been often asked as in Mumbai, the guiding philosophy is to put a price on your wicket.

The fact remains that while Suryakumar had been prolific during his grind in domestic cricket over the years, he had often displayed an attacking streak in him, which not many were aware,” Amre was quoted by Gulf News as saying.

“The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) had organised a tournament some six years ago at Eden Gardens when Surya, playing for Mumbai, had executed an astonishing switch hit against Ashok Dinda of Bengal who had quite a lively pace. After the current season, the selectors will have to take a call about ensuring him a place in the ODI squad as well with the World Cup looming,’’ said Amre, who had been the go-to person for most Mumbai-based batters including Ajinkya Rahane to sort out problems in their craft.

Just watch highlights of Surya’s recent century against the Kiwis in November on YouTube and it will leave you spellbound. Carrying on the good work on the hard Australian wickets during World T20, his confidence level was so awesome that the ramp shot that he executed against Lockie Ferguson over square leg (or the scoop by using the fast bowler’s pace behind the wicket) can leave you gobsmacked.

“I wanted to be at the non-striker’s end when he scored a century in the second game as he makes batting look easy. We all want to bat like him, and he is an inspiration for young players. Everything is going as per plan for him,” remarked Ishan Kishan about his Mumbai Paltan mate.

“I have played with him in the last few years at Mumbai Indians, and he is very particular about his hydration, sleeping pattern etc. His energy and work ethics are top class,” he added.

Ishan, who himself had to cope with a fair bit of criticism after he failed to deliver in last IPL after becoming the highest paid Indian player in the mega auction, has meanwhile silenced his critics when he blasted the quickest double hundred in an ODI with his 210 off 126 balls against Bangladesh. He found an ally in the wicket for some audacious stroke play, but let’s also give credit where it’s due as the rivals had a decent pace attack and quality spin options in left-arm Shakib Al Hasan and off spinner Mehidy Hasan Miraz.

A product of India’s Under-19 assembly line, the pint-sized wicketkeeper-batter from Jharkhand had sparkled off and on since IPL 2020 in the UAE, though there were questions raised about his temperament and a lack of consistency. While it remains to be seen if the powers that be are ready to consider him as the left-handed foil to Rohit Sharma as opener in the ODI format, the free-flowing cricket of Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav (and of course Rishabh Pant if he regains fitness) look the best options if India are to undergo a paradigm shift in their approach to white ball cricket.

If the candidature of Ishan needed a strong endorsement to consider him as the ideal opening partner to the ‘Hitman’ in both formats of the white ball game, it came from no less a stalwart than Brett Lee.

Speaking on his own YouTube channel, the former Australian speed merchant-turned-TV pundit recently said: “With this deadly double, Ishan has staked a strong claim to open for India in the ODI World Cup at home in 2023. Will this happen? I don’t know. Should it happen? Hell, yeah it should. The guy just scored the fastest 200 in ODI history. But if he can show consistency, stay fit and be around over the next few months, he should be a sure shot opener for India at the World Cup.’’

The match-winning innings against Bangladesh has also convinced Uttam Mazumdar, a childhood coach of Kishan, that he is now ready for bigger things. “The maturity he showed in pacing his innings for the second 100 during the double century speaks volumes of the progress he has made ever since he took a bow in international cricket last year. I was all along convinced though of his ability to play the big innings at the highest level of the game. He had just scored a 279 against Madhya Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (domestic 50-overs contest) this season.

“In the Ranji Trophy too he had once played a marathon innings of 274 against Delhi, an effort which had 14 sixes. It’s really up to the team management to select the best players for the ODI World Cup at home this year, but I think we have got enough ammunition to win back the cup at home,’’ Mazumdar said.

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