As the clouds captured the fading red-orange rays of the setting sun over Mohali, and with India aiming to deliver a final psychological blow to their demoralised opponents, Suryakumar Yadav confidently emerged from the pavilion and entered the arena.
There was one last opportunity to inflict pain! Yadav, who has been struggling for form in the 50-over format for some time now, was filled with determination as he strode onto the very ground where `Hitman` Rohit Sharma had once amassed a rapid double-century. In the stands, a banner read, “Hit `em for six, SKY!”—a script to which the tall Mumbaikar was more than willing to adhere.
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The Aussie bowlers only had themselves to blame, uncharacteristic in their inability to find the right lines and lengths, however, it was astonishing batting from the hosts that enthralled one and all on Sunday. Put in to bat, a Virat Kohli-less Indian side were off to a rollicking start despite losing opener Ruturaj Gaikwad for just eight runs inside five overs.
An unrepentant Shreyas Iyer put doubts over his fitness to rest, going absolutely berserk to make his World Cup inclusion in India’s middle order a very realistic possibility. He blasted his third one-day century, having got a reprieve on 101 when Sean Abbott floored a close catch off his own bowling. Only two balls later in the same over, Abbott watched the ball escape over the rope, and slumped to the ground, cursing his own fate. Shubman Gill was not far behind, hitting a fluent 97-ball 104 for a sixth ODI century and fifth this year.
And before very much longer, Australia knew they were in real trouble, as India put up 243 with seven wickets remaining. Ishan Kishan could not stick longer than 18 balls, but captain KL Rahul and Yadav offered a stark reminder of their astonishing firepower with their authoritative knocks. Between the two, Yadav was most belligerent, muscling six sixes between long on and backward square and as many fours to set Holkar stadium alight.
With a half-century that looked well-constructed and devoid of his celebrated signature 360-degree hitting and now a full-fledged 360-degree show, Yadav seemed to have cracked the ODI code really well. Very few hitters clear the boundary with such relative frequency, or with a similar perfect combination of serenity, power, ease and disdain. Yadav simply turned all of this into an art form.
Like a true hero, he seemed to use his sixes as an expression of undeniable superiority. Not over Green or the opposition, but over his recent lean patch. It was worth a lot more than those 16 runs off the four deliveries, because of the impact they had on him.
Of all people he is most closely associated with, the right-hander was perhaps the happiest to have justified head coach Rahul Dravid’s confidence in him to return to form in ODIs. “Surya is in the World Cup team. We completely back him. We back him because he has a certain quality and an ability that we have seen in T20Is. We know about the impact he can make at No. 6. He can change the course of the game. There has been total clarity that we are behind him. Hopefully, he can turn it around in these three games. The first couple certainly,” Dravid had told the reporters ahead of the Australia series.
Yadav smashed the third-fastest half-century in ODIs by an Indian, with his blistering 50 coming in just 24 balls. Current chief selector sits atop the list with a 21-ball 50 against Zimbabwe in 2000, followed by 22-ball fifties by Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag, Dravid and Yuvraj Singh. In the overall 13 ODIs that he played this year, Yadav has 275 runs under his belt at an average of 25.00 with a strike rate of over 113. After his brutal knock on Sunday, Yadav’s ODI figures stand at – 659 runs from 29 innings at an average of 28.65 with a strike rate of 105.60, including four half-centuries from 27 innings.
Sure, there were bigger, better sixes on display but Yadav’s devastating quartet of sixes off his Mumbai Indians’ teammate Cameron Green captured one of his greatest qualities – the ability to turn bowlers into Sisyphus from Greek mythology. Rightly so!
Green has one of the most vigorous seam-bowling actions, having broken threatening partnerships in various instances for Australia, so much so that match commentators seemed contractually obliged to call him the ‘partnership breaker’. As much as you can point to Green’s relatively poor execution in the 44th over of the Indian innings and his reluctance to vary his length, few batters ever punish a bowler so emphatically. Suryakumar became the hunter and Green, the victim.
His shots were all over the place, with the first sailing towards deep backwards square leg, the second towards fine leg area, the third being a loft over deep extra-cover and the fourth being a flick over deep mid-wicket. The size of his maximums had most of us reaching for our internal thesaurus, while several others made up their own words: ‘monnnstrous’, ‘huuuuge’, ‘gigaantic’. But how about ‘SKY-high’?
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