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Suryakumar Yadav: 'I wanted to do things my way, and it really worked for me'

AB de Villiers is the gold standard for batters in T20 cricket. Using his skills from different sports, de Villiers created magic, conjuring angles and gaps that left bowlers flummoxed and helpless. The term "360 batter" was coined to describe the way he hit to all areas of the ground, opening vistas that did not seem to exist for batters before.

So if you are told you remind no less than Ricky Ponting of de Villiers, you must be something. Suryakumar Yadav is.

Like de Villiers did, Suryakumar hits all around the ground, producing uppercuts, ramps, inside-out drives, lofts, scoops, pulls, sweeps and reverse sweeps in profusion.

On form, he is probably the best T20 batter in cricket at the moment. On the ICC T20I ratings he is second, a few points behind Pakistan opener Mohammad Rizwan. It has been a remarkable and dramatic rise for Suryakumar, who made his India debut in 2021 at 30, after long years on the fringes wondering why he was not playing for India despite his consistent domestic form.

In this interview, which was conducted in September, immediately after the Asia Cup, he talks vividly about his journey in the game; the art of his batting; his guiding lights, including Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma; and about his best friend, life-coach and wife, Devisha.

Firstly, belated birthday. What did your wife give you when you turned 32?
She asked me ten times: "What can I give you?" I said, I don't want anything. [Just] support. Always. That's it.

Tell us about the first time you entered the Mumbai dressing room. I believe Sachin Tendulkar plays a role in this story.
Yeah, it was at Wankhede Stadium. That was my first practice session after I came into the team. I had come from Under-22.

I was a little late that day. And I looked around - where can I sit? It was completely jam-packed. I went to warm up and then when my opportunity came to go and bat in the nets, I wanted to change, I had to put on my pads and all my gear. Sir [Tendulkar] was sitting right next to the Ganesh murti [idol] in the dressing room. He said, "Take this chair and you can sit there. There's room here." I said okay. I just wanted to quickly sit, wear my pads and bat for the first time in the nets. I was very excited. And that's the place where I sit even today, whenever I go to the dressing room.

Do you also remember the MCA U-16 match at Cross Maidan in Mumbai where you impressed selectors by hitting some 140 off 40 balls? Your first coach, Ashok Aswalkar, told us about how one of the Mumbai junior selectors said to you: "Tum itna lamba lamba kaise maarta hai?" [How do you hit it so far]?
Haha. It was a league game and it was about to get over, it was like a dead rubber. I asked the captain, "Can bat I bat No. 3?" And he's like, "Okay, enjoy." And I just went out there and enjoyed myself. I made full use of the short boundary and with those Tugite balls they had at that time, I just kept batting and kept enjoying what I was doing. One of the selectors came and said, "How can you hit such long boundaries in an age-group match? I said "Yehi hai, sir, dekh lo bas" [That's what it is].

Do you remember where that bat is now?
I still have it. I still have the three-four bats which I used to play with in U-15, U-17. Those were bats which were gifted to me by my coach at that time and they are all broken now but I still have them.

You made runs year after year, but you waited agonisingly long for the India selectors to give you a call-up. At one stage you said you were lost in the absence of any acknowledgement from the selectors that you were being considered. Can you talk about this phase?
It was a very long stretch. And it was very difficult in that phase to push myself, keep telling myself that the opportunity will come, you just have to work hard. Because everyone I was meeting was telling me the same thing - just work hard, keep pushing yourself. Sometimes it becomes really easy to say those things and difficult to be practical. I used to do different things every year. "If I do this thing, will this work? If I do that thing, will it work?"

After 2017-18, I still remember, me and my wife, Devisha, sat down and decided, let's do some smart work from here on. You have worked hard, you have come this far, let's do something else and we will see what happens. I started training in a different way. After 2018 I realised what I needed to work on in my game. I started batting more towards the off side. I started dieting. Did a few things which really helped me in the 2018 domestic season and 2019. And going forward, in 2020 my body was completely different.

It took time. It took around a year and a half for me to realise what my body is used to - what will help me, how can I move forward, am I moving in the right direction? Eventually we both realised, yes, we are moving in the right direction. Then everything was on autopilot. I knew what I had to do, how I had to train, how much practice I had to do.

Before that I was just practising, practising, getting a little frustrated sometimes. And I felt there was no quality in that - there was a lot of quantity. But after 2018 there was a lot of quality in my training, diet, net sessions and everything, which helped me really well. And then it was a complete build-up, runs coming in all formats, in the IPL as well. So consistency came with that and finally I broke the door.

In those days, did you carry the frustration home? And how did that have an impact on your relationship with your parents or your partner or friends?
Never. Whatever I used to do on the ground stayed on the ground. We [wife and he] never got frustrated when we were home. The most important thing was, we used to find solutions: how can we get better instead of just being down, thinking, "We didn't do this well, we should have done that." We were looking at the future and we wanted to improve. So I never got frustrated when I was home. We were always on same page together.

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