It has all boiled down to this. A decade of promise has flown by, and he is into his 31st year now. When the international debut finally arrived, he didn’t get to bat despite his team using five batsmen. A game on the bench later, he’s been promoted to No 3. Among the most fearsome fast bowlers in the world is ready to charge in. It’s not quite a bouncer, but Jofra Archer can make the ball climb even from good length. Suryakumar takes a short step across in his open stance, grounds the right leg firmly and wallops the stomach-height ball over fine leg, his left leg careening up in the air. Archer smiles and shrugs as he walks back, and then-captain Virat Kohli lets out a scream in the dugout. There have been few better opening statements; Suryakumar makes 57 off 31.
That first shot is all the more memorable as that is how he made his name initially at Kolkata Knight Riders, that is what his natural game is — using the pace and playing behind the wicket. “I would play a lot of rubber-ball cricket with my friends during the rainy season on a hard, concrete surface,” Suryakumar once said. “The boundary on the off side was 30-40 metres but the leg-side one was 70-80 metres. I started playing the scoop, lap… it has all come from there.”
Pick-up over deep square leg
Six off Josh Hazlewood
Over 13.3, vs Aus, 3rd T20I, Hyderabad
Flick behind square
Six off Anrich Nortje
Over 6.4, v SA, 1st T20I, Thiruvananthapuram
Suryakumar’s versatility and adaptability while executing another of his staple strokes comes to the fore in these two versions.
The first is heaved off a slower one from the crafty Josh Hazlewood, the second is sweet-timed off a 148kph missile from Anrich Nortje. The result is the same.
The stance is also the same, back foot ending marginally outside off stump, front foot starting just inside leg stump. For Nortje, the crouching Suryakumar ends up standing tall, the front foot absolutely straight at the time of contact.
For Hazlewood, because he has to do the heavy lifting given the lack of pace, the front foot is bent; it is almost a scoop-flick that forks up the ball, the bottom hand swooping down and arcing up in a swift swipe.
The Nortje flick —on a spicy green wicket on which the South Africans had been 9 for 5 — has been provided additional thrust by that late snap of those wrists. Suryakumar has been made to hop and fend first ball, but he responded with audacious
Ramp over wicketkeeper
Six off Jofra Archer
Over 18.5, vs RR, IPL 2020, Abu Dhabi
Four off Alzarri Joseph
Over 9.6, vs WI, 3rd T20I, Basseterre
Jofra Archer was breathing fire. Hardik Pandya had barely got out of the way of a beamer, and a bouncer had crashed into Suryakumar’s helmet in the same over. A shaken Suryakumar had a chat with Pandya, who told him to expect a yorker.
Suryakumar steadied himself, stretched wide – back foot on off stump and front foot on the leg-side wide-marker – as the ball arrived full, and deftly twirled the bottom hand at contact to send it soaring over the keeper. He avoids emotional displays these days, but could not help thwacking his bat on his pads.
Another lively pacer from the Caribbean, Alzarri Joseph, dug in a short ball at Suryakumar on India’s tour this August. The ball started outside off, but cut in alarmingly at the batsman around throat height. But when it arrived, Suryakumar had already twisted his body into a ‘C’ shape, the dimensions of which show just how flexible he is. The feet are together on middle and leg, the right knee has extended as far as five stumps outside off, and the head is positioned five stumps outside leg. All of this is so contorted that his head is extending a mere inches above the height of the stumps. Still, he doesn’t forget the final flourish of the wrists to impart further momentum to the stroke.
Helicopter whip over wide long on
Six off Adam Zampa
Over 12.4, vs Aus, 3rd T20I, Hyderabad
Batsmen generally slog when they want to go over midwicket, as swinging across the line is the most natural way to generate power. But Suryakumar’s strong wrists and quick bat-speed, and as importantly, his intent, make the whip-flick a productive stroke for him through midwicket. Unlike the norm where batsmen gently tap a delivery off the pads to vacant midwicket – hoping to take two by the time the deep fielder runs in – Suryakumar tries to beat deep midwicket and long-on for a four even when he is whipping along the ground.
Here, Adam Zampa tossed the ball full into Suryakumar, just outside the leg-stump line. Batsmen looking to hit straight are often cramped by that angle into them from leg-spinners.
But as he skips out a couple of steps – moving outside leg and inside the line of the ball – Suryakumar is never looking to hit straight, so Zampa’s angle doesn’t constrain him. Rather, he sets up a firm base with the front leg and unleashes a powerful helicopter-whip, the back leg arcing up in the air just after contact as the ball carries into the crowd beyond deep midwicket. An instant earlier, right before contact, he could also have gone inside out through the off side from the same position. Just incredible.
Drive over extra cover region
Six off Daniel Sams
Over 9.4, vs Aus, 3rd T20I, Hyderabad
Suryakumar’s bread-and-butter stroke is to wallop spinners over extra cover, a risk most are loath to take and a skill many do not possess. Spinners are alright, but charging a fast bowler and carving him 81 metres into the second tier beyond extra cover? That too a left-armer bowling into you from round the stumps? Even to conceive of it boggles the mind, but Suryakumar’s flawless execution elevates this shot to one for the ages.
This is no full toss or half-volley, in fact Daniel Sams’ delivery has risen just over the height of the stumps when Suryakumar’s bat meets it. The ball is on middle stump, so not only is Suryakumar making room to overcome the angle, but the line as well. He may have moved a few feet outside his crease, but the front foot is rock-steady when the bat comes down.
Every bit of him is primed to provide the ball the optimum balance of elevation and distance – the full, near-circular extension of the bat-swing, with the blade almost touching the back of his shoulder at the end of the followthrough; the steely snap of the wrists closing the bat-face just after contact; the front foot getting on the toes and uncorking the rest of the body upwards; the back slightly arched backwards. His pose resembles a golfer’s after teeing off.
Cut behind square
Four Off Keshav Maharaj
Over 10.1, vs SA, 1st T20I, Thiruvananthapuram
Four Off Adam Zampa
Over 8.5,vs Aus, 3rd T20I, Hyderabad
Suryakumar is crouched and coiled in his stance, ready to spring out if there is slight flight, or to keep maintaining a low base in case the trajectory is flatter. It is the latter both times, so he chooses the cut. His stance is such that he needs almost no width from the bowler, it is all his own creation. The back foot is on middle and the front foot around leg in somewhat open fashion. To Maharaj’s delivery, which pitches on off and turns away just a bit, he makes no movement apart from thrusting the front foot out slightly, from where he can spring back and generate momentum on the cut. Crucially, the front foot does not go across at all, just a few inches straight down the track. There is plenty of outward extravagance in Suryakumar’s batting, but there is tremendous economy of movement too.
To Zampa’s delivery, the slightly tighter line on middle requires him to actually back away if he is to play the cut. But the front foot really isn’t an obstruction to begin with, it is the back foot that needs to make way for the bat-swing; so a late jerk drags the back foot outside leg stump, the front foot automatically is pulled alongside, and the ball screams past backward point.