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Suryakumar Yadav celebrates his half-century against Afghanistan in the Super Eight clash at Bridgetown in Barbados on Thursday. Image Credit: Source: BCCI-X

Dubai: It’s not easy to be the world No. 1 and it’s tougher to maintain the status. Ask Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Lionel Messi. One thing they will accept in unison is that any slip-up from their high standards leads to their skills and temperament being dissected in detail.

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Suryakumar Yadav, the world No. 1 Twenty20 player for the last two years, faced immense criticism over his lack of performance after another failure in the first two matches of the current Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies and USA. He guided India to a 47-run win over Afghanistan in their first Super Eight match in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Thursday. The massive win has given the Men in Blue the edge towards booking a place in the semi-finals, where the top two teams from each group will advance to the next stage.

Suryakumar’s turnaround

Going by his track record in ICC tournaments, after a series of failures in the 50-over World Cup at home, the Indian batter was in a tricky situation. The battle-hardened Suryakumar Yadav trusted his instincts and produced a match-winning half-century against the USA in New York.

With confidence back and the spring returning in his strides, SKY, as he is known to his fans, rose to the occasion to toy with Afghanistan’s bowling on a pitch that was not conducive to strokeplay. He used the angles to execute his sweep to perfection when the ball was not coming onto the bat. He also played some belligerent drives straight through the field to show that he is a complete 360-degree player.

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Suryakumar Yadav hits a four off his trademark sweep shot. Image Credit: AFP

Key partnership

Suryakumar walked in at a time when India were in trouble after losing the wickets of skipper Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant at the end of the seventh over. He faced a stiff challenge from Rashid Khan, who was denting India’s dreams with his third wicket in the match when he dismissed Virat Kohli, who was looking ominous after getting his eye in.

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Suryakumar relishes challenges during the middle phase of the innings when he tries to wrest the initiative back from his rivals. He showed why he is the most dangerous player in those circumstances as he took the match away from Afghanistan, in the company of all-rounder Hardik Pandya.

The duo put on a 60-run partnership in just 31 balls to take India past the 180-run mark when the par score on the pitch in Bridgetown is 157.

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Jasprit Bumrah celebrates the dismissal of Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who is upset with playing such a rash shot. Image Credit: Source: ICC-X

Player insights

“I have practiced and simulated a lot for those scenarios. I enjoy batting in the overs between 7-15; that’s where the teams try to wrest control,” the 33-year-old told the official broadcasters during the mid-innings break. “I started chewing my gum harder when Kohli got out, but I have the experience and knew with left-handers coming in, it would make the bowlers alter their length and line. It was important to keep the intent positive. When Rohit said he expects more from me, it inspires me as he understands my game.”

The Suryakumar cracked his 19th fifty in the format, while Afghanistan captain and leg-spinner Rashid Khan and fast bowler Fazalhaq Farooqi claimed three wickets each.

Bowling dominance

Pandya and Axar also contributed with the bat to give Afghanistan a daunting target, which only grew in size when Indian ace Jasprit Bumrah struck with his second ball to dismiss the dangerous Rahmanullah Gurbaz and followed it up with another one of Hazratullah Zazai to push Afghanistan to the wall. From there, it was just a matter of formality as at no point did the Afghanistan batters threaten to overhaul the target.

Bumrah has been the wrecker-in-chief for India with three for seven in his four overs, taking his wicket tally to eight in this World Cup. Left-arm pacer Ashdeep Singh continued to prove his worth by claiming three wickets, while Kuldeep Yadav, playing his first match in this World Cup, boosted his confidence with two wickets and left-arm orthodox spinners Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja claimed a wicket each.

India will next meet Bangladesh at North Sound in Antigua on Saturday, where a win will all but seal their place in the semi-finals.