| Mumbai |
Updated: November 21, 2020 4:21:31 pm
“If you are honest and sincere to the game, the game will look after you,” flashed a message on Suryakumar Yadav’s phone, a few days after he was ignored for the tour to Australia. The message was from Sachin Tendulkar. And the well-worn piece of advice from his coach, the late legendary Ramakant Achrekar.
Excitement still ringing in his tone, he recounts the rest of Tendulkar’s message: “This might well be your final hurdle. Your dream of playing for India is around the corner. Stay focused and surrender yourself to cricket. I know you are not one of those who will be disheartened and give it up. Keep going on and give us many more reasons to celebrate.”
Yadav, nursing the wounds of yet another omission, despite a rich haul of runs in domestic cricket and IPL, felt overwhelmed. The disappointment vanished and optimism kicked in. He could see beyond the immediate rejection. “He (Tendulkar) made me understand in one single message that this is how it should be. I have been fair to cricket, cricket will be fair to me someday. The man, who for 24 years gave reason to the world to celebrate because of his cricket, and has endured several ups and downs in his career, has sent me this lovely message. I don’t think I need to say anything further,” he says, a streak of excitement still lingering in his tone.
The days that preluded were tough though. Before the selection day, friends and teammates told him, “deemag pe mat rakhna”. That things will fall in place when the time comes. But he was after all human. “It’s a human tendency that things will keep running in the back of my mind. Thoughts keep on trespassing, reminding me that team selection is around the corner, I have to do well,” he points out. Then, as wicked fortune would have it, he didn’t get to bat in the match the day before the selection. In the previous outing, he had made a duck. To it, I thought ke arre yeh kya hogaya? Score laga nahi. On the day of the selection, I pretended to be calm,” he recollects. Beneath the sheet of pretence, lurked a nervous mind. The next evening, his worst fears were confirmed. He was yet again overlooked. He brooded: “How long will I carry this burden?” Coach Mahela Jayawardene and Zaheer Khan asked whether he was disappointed. Yadav had no answers. A defeated stare spoke more than words. “I didn’t go to practice for the next two days. I was completely quiet,” he adds. The team gave him a break to fight and vanquish the demons all by himself.
At that time, all the hard work he had put in during the lockdown seemed wasted. In those four months of uncertainty, he undertook an intense fitness regimen, shedding 14 kilograms and adding shreds of lean muscles. He gave up rice, chaat, fried stuff and reduced his dinner to just soup and salad. The fitness helped deal with the intensity of a T20 game. “Last two seasons, I used to get tired after playing some 30 balls. I wanted to play at least 40-50 balls before I got tired,” he admits.
Leaner and lighter, he was a different batsman. Yadav was always an elegant stroke-player, this edition he was a fearless stroke-machine. Whereas in the past, a bulk of his runs came in front of the wicket or through the midwicket, this term he expanded the range so effectively that he was a Mr 360 in his own terms. cric
Nothing more illustrated his fine-tuned batsmanship than the reverse-scooped six off tearaway Jofra Archer. The ball before arguably the most outrageous stroke of this IPL edition, he was banged on his helmet by Archer. The two deliveries duly capture the inner steel as much as the daring of Yadav. A batsman who mostly drove and pulled, he has learned to harness the pace of the bowlers too. Another quick, Kagiso Rabada, too would testify about Yadav’s skills. In their last group game, he steered a four past the third man, before flicking him backward of square leg for a six a ball later. It was all fast hands and faster bat-swing. And just to prove his ability against spinners, he launched Yuzvendra Chahal for a six over long-off with nothing but an extension of his follow-through. No frills, no fuss. Some of his Mumbai (domestic side) teammates consider him the finest player of spin-bowling in the domestic circuit.
His wagon wheel betrayed no preferences — he scored all around the wicket. To survive in the league, he needed to be proficient all around the wicket so that bowlers can’t size him up easily. Or as he says: “I didn’t want them to get into a zone where they can block me,” he says. The retooled and renewed approach helped him achieve the foremost of his pre-season goals, which was to score impactful knocks, those in crisis and those that have recall value. The other was to score around 550-570 runs. He managed 480, but he made up for it with impactful knocks. “Every year, I did well. But there was hardly any impact (knocks). Aisa koi knock nahi tha ke sab uske bare baatein kare (there wasn’t a knock which people spoke about). This year I had few knocks that won the game for the team,” he says. Like the unbeaten 79 off 43 balls against Royal Challengers Bangalore, or the 51 in Qualifier 1 against Delhi Capitals. He recollects the Bangalore match, wherein Mumbai were 72 for 3 at one stage, chasing 165: “I couldn’t have asked for a better stage to show what I have. RCB is one of the best sides in the tournament. I wanted to finish the game.” And finish he did.
He straddled various roles too — sometimes, he was the innings stabiliser, around whom the rest flourished; at times, he was the finisher, and often he was the middle-order destroyer. The stroke-play was immaculate as it always had been, now he has forged it with inner steel and ice-cool temperament.
Another significant improvement in his batting has been his strike rate (145), his IPL-best, and phenomenal for someone who usually bats in the middle overs, where there’s neither the field restrictions of the powerplay nor the liberty of death overs. Thus ticking one box after the other, he is inching closer to being ignored no longer. He could wait, score runs and keep knocking on the selectors’ door. “I know the doors would soon open for me,” he says. And now in the darkest hours, he has Achrekar’s message to spread light on his life and career. “If you are honest and sincere to the game, the game will look after you.”
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