Prudent India wisely backing Suryakumar Yadav's ODI prospects

The Mumbaikar's one-day game is plagued by irregular game time and lack of window to grasp the format's varied tempo while he has flourished and dominated the T20I scene. 
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Two successive first-ball ducks have emboldened the narrative. The knives have sharpened. And if they were in any doubts, the Indian fandom is now convinced there is no One-Day batter inside Suryakumar Yadav and that the selectors and the management are placing their bets on a player who can't outlast an opposition beyond 20 overs. 

In times such as these, with unprecedentedly smaller attention spans and the acute shortage of patience we carry, it's only expected that the golden ducks in two consecutive outings would further intensify the scrutiny around the Mumbaikar. 

That the extravagant right-hander, who had failed to cross thirty in six of his last eight outings, got out plumb LBW without a run in the next two versus Mitchell Starc's inswingers was bound to trigger the insensitivities and result in unabashed mockery of the player's 50-over prospects. 

Naysaying around him aside, the majority outside is overwhelmingly convinced that the think-tank is wasting precious game time that they could reserve for talented hopefuls waiting in the wings to grab the same middle-order openings. Sanju Samson and Rajat Patidar, talents as good as they are, have understandably propped up in discussions amidst Suryakumar Yadav's struggles. 

But here's a thing: India backing Suryakumar Yadav is no shade on Samson. The roles could easily have been reversed, and the same team management would've called for similar show of patience for the mighty talented Kerala right-hander. The question, then, is why the backing? For clearly, this is a player averaging just above 25 after 20 innings in the middle and in a system not short of limited-overs batting depth, are India seeing 50-overs mettle where there doesn't exist one? 

And if so, why isn't this team giving him entry points at the death that would entail T20I scenarios and allow him to maximise strengths that he has nailed the shortest format with? 

Why India are wise in backing Suryakumar Yadav

To answer this question, we need to first tone down our emotional wranglings and respect decisions made at the international stage. We tend to impose our insecurities on our favourite sporting teams and start to assume and imply there is no more amateurish body in the world. Rather than claiming trained professionals to have failed in spotting the simplest of details picked by our untrained eyes, if we respected and waited to assess the logic behind calls made by the teams we follow, we would realise the answer is always lurking on top of the move itself. 

Suryakumar Yadav is a product of the environment he has grown into an Indian player with. Ever since his much-deserved debut, the aggressive right-hander has had a One-Day career put on the backburner by the sustained build-up towards back-to-back T20 World Cups. No Indian batter has played more T20Is since Suryakumar Yadav's debut, but he has also skipped nearly half of the ODIs played as a result. 

The 32-year-old's 20 innings in the longer version out of 38 possible outings have not only been sporadic and irregular but also ones where he has often had to walk in and blaze on the foundation laid by a top-order so good they could drop a World Cup and Champions Trophy match-winner after one year of sustained strife and still bring in an upgrade in the world's finest young talent, sandwiched between two all-time one-day greats. 

The only time Suryakumar batted in a line-up missing Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli at the top, he bagged 'Player of the Series' honours in Sri Lanka. What would now be taken on the outside for a false dawn, it was a start encouragingly in line with the great upskilling and range expanding that the right-hander has gone through from his initial years playing the IPL.

Those improvements have been evident even when he has found it difficult to stitch together substantial scores in ODIs: for all the criticism around his average, this is a player striking at 102.36 and doing what the situations have demanded out of him. It perhaps debunks the idea that the management may have ill-spotted the hole where SKY is the best plug, as, by design, he has walked into situations requiring him to blast off. 

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In the ODIs played by him, Suryakumar Yadav is averaging a per-innings worth of 21.15 balls in the middle. In the same outings, Shubman Gill has played 61.58. Even at No.4, if you regularly come out to bat beyond the 35th over, it just becomes a necessity to press on the accelerator. And if the opportunity to anchor an innings is available only after rare top-order collapses, the chance to adjust and adapt the tempo associated with the format is just as rare as has been the opportunity to play. 

For Suryakumar, these opportunities have arrived at his doorsteps only when one or two of Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer or KL Rahul have been injured or unavailable. With no top-order vacancy, and Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja being India's premier all-round cricketers at No.6 and 7, it is only now, when the team management knows that Pant will not be around for the World Cup, and Iyer, too, could be sidelined, have they found the space needed for SKY to bed into the rigours of the 50-overs game. 

This reality and the nuance is not lost on the selectors and the management. Why, they operate in the world of wiseness and empathy of the kind that fans from outside can't associate themselves with. The think-tank doesn't seek instant gratification, mindful of the fact how difficult international success can be when a player has to navigate through irregular appearances and inadequate opportunities to build on specific gains. 

When we seeth from Suryakumar opening up his stance to counter the most firing left-arm assault seen in recent times and getting out LBW, the management budgets for the quality of the threat and the delivery produced by Starc in their assessment and also the breathing space their player requires. 

And the best window to enable that is indeed at No.4. You see, India, too, know they can ask one of their allrounders to bat up the order and provide SKY the 41-50 overs bracket to just attack his way to impactful cameos via his extraordinary 360-degree range. But they also don't want to lose the player's single biggest utility: spin domination.

They can ill-afford to. This is an Indian batting line-up that loves pace on the bat more than spin robbing them of the timing and the connection required to consistently belt it across the turf. The top-order has two undoubted geniuses, but also players whose wings wristspin has held back frequently with age and time, now needing players around them capable of nullifying the spin threat to ease their lives. 

With KL Rahul nailing No.5 and workload constraints commanding that Hardik, Jadeja be best retained down the order, Suryakumar has to bat No.4 in Pant and Iyer's absence. This is a player that dominates spin in T20Is: striking at 152.3 while averaging 50. Notably, even in ODIs, his strike rate doesn't take much of a beating. Adjust for the length of the format, and a strike rate of 118.3 and an average of 34.5 don't look shabby, do they? If anything, nailing spin with the harder lengths, trajectories and speeds in T20I is tougher than ODIs. 

This ability to dominate spin and put the pressure back on the opposition could be key to India's World Cup campaign later in the year, where across the board, they will be facing heaps of quality spin and any hiccups and failure to put their plans off could mean giving opposition seamers the run-cushion and the luxury to attack Indian batters with their lengths. 

Ultimately, not on all days you will have a Starc running through this Indian top-order and it is then, you would need all the utility that players like Suryakumar Yadav bring to the table against a wider array of threats in varied situations. 

We need to be wiser about such things or at least be thankful there are people wiser than us to look after players in the Indian camp.