His stumps pegged back, Richard Ngarava wore a bemused look. The bounce is supposed to be consistent in Australia but he'd just been undone by an over-spinner that scooted low, totally defeating his intention to work the ball off the backfoot. He stood there contemplating the unfairness of his dismissal, with helplessness writ large on his face. It wasn't, however, the first time Ngarava had given that expression, for Suryakumar Yadav ramping his attempted tramline yorker for six over backward square leg had left him equally confounded.
A week ago, India had lost half their side for 49 by the time Suryakumar got his eye in versus South Africa. His 40-ball 68 coming at a strike rate of 170 could not prevent them from hitting the first roadblock of their campaign, but it shone a bright light on his temperament. India did not find themselves in that deep a ditch against Zimbabwe, but the loss of half-centurion KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant within a space of 14 deliveries had sucked a lungful of momentum out of their innings. Suryakumar once again proved to be the bearer of impetus, leveraging his uncanny ability to hit the gaps as soon as he walks out chewing on a gum, bringing with him a rarefied air of assurance.
Craig Williams may have become the only left-arm orthodox spinner to get rid of Kohli in T20 World Cup history, but there was not a trace of apprehension in Suryakumar's aerial whip off the first ball he faced, from the part-timer. It was timed so well that it nearly fetched him a boundary, if not for the diving effort by Wellington Masakadza, who'd earlier missed a catch having stationed himself a long way in from the fence to intercept the doubles Rahul and Kohli were pinching from right under Zimbabwe's nose.
Masakadza even slipped in a quiet 14th over, but India made amends by taking 18 in the next off Blessing Muzarabani. It's only a matter of time before Suryakumar explores the scoring avenues behind him, and a pacy good-length ball set the stage for his beloved ramp. With his customary length meeting such bitter treatment, Muzarabani went full without summoning either mid-off or mid-on to the rope. It was a rookie mistake, and Suryakumar made him pay with a tonk down the ground. Having conceded 9 off three balls, Muzarabani was a nervous wreck, and understandably so. A couple of flickable freebies were gift-wrapped and extended to Hardik Pandya as India took the maiden steps towards an imposing late flourish.
Henceforth, the bowlers entrusted to operate at the death grabbed the ball with a sense of trepidation. It was as if the remnants of confidence in their being evaporated, and execution skills followed suit. As per Craig Ervine, the plan was to bowl tramline yorkers from left-arm over but Ngarava could land just two out of four, with Suryakumar pouncing on both errors. He opened his bat face to carve a full-toss over short third for a boundary before going down on his knee to play a scoop that laughed in the face of the coaching manual. He planted his frontfoot across to establish a strong base, took the ball on the full and guided it dexterously over long leg with the panache of a Broadway superstar.
Tendai Chatara has his own limitations as a bowler, in that he is military-medium. But accompanying the shortage of speed was a clear lack of game sense. He tried to bounce Rahul only to hurt his figures before feeding balls in the slot to Suryakumar, who joined the elite club of 1000 T20I runs in a calendar year in style with a maximum over covers. It's noteworthy that the No.4 batter took 433 fewer balls than opener Mohammad Rizwan to cross the landmark while maintaining a strike rate in excess of 180.
Suryakumar produced encores of that lap sweep in the final over to cap off India's nitro-boost finish, perhaps in a bid to tell the world that the former wasn't a fluke by any means. 79 runs came off the last 5, a rich harvest that he thought was a consequence of bullish optimism. ''I think the plan was very clear when me and Hardik were batting together. He said we should take a positive route and we started hitting the ball and never stopped,'' Suryakumar asserted.
As India topped the table Rohit Sharma was a proud captain who duly acknowledged the worth of Suryakumar's heroics, especially at a time when the batting unit hasn't clicked in unison and carries around a few misfiring members, including the skipper who has survived the PowerPlay just once in six matches. ''What SKY is doing for the team is remarkable, just coming out there, playing that way, taking the pressure off the others. We know his ability, and it allows the guy at the other end to take his time. The dugout can really be at ease when he bats, and he's shown a lot of composure when he's batted. We expected this from him, and he's gone from strength to strength,'' Rohit highlighted.
Suryakumar and Kohli have done the heavy lifting for India thus far in the tournament, with Rahul coming to the party in the last two league matches, but it's imperative that others chip in as well. Individual brilliance can only take you so far, even if it is coruscating as that of Suryakumar.