Suryakumar Yadav
Suryakumar Yadav of the Mumbai Indians walks back to the pavilion after getting out in the Tata Indian Premier League match against the Delhi Capitals at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, Delhi, on April 11, 2023. Yadav is going through a run of poor scores and his return to form is critical to strengthening the Mumbai batting. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

What’s happened to Suryakumar Yadav? The Mumbai Indians’ batter can’t get past the first ball. He’s had golden ducks in four of his last six innings; the last one was in the Indian Premier League game on Tuesday. Hard to believe, he’s the same batter who ravaged the IPL bowling attacks over the previous two seasons.

His IPL scoring was so phenomenal that Yadav was called up for international duty. In the Asia Cup in the UAE and the World Cup in Australia, Yadav impressed with his ability to score swiftly with strokes around the wicket in T20 matches. Strokes all around the wicket: that’s his specialty which earned him the moniker “360-degree player”. He’s arguably the best 360 player since South Africa’s AB de Villiers.

Yadav’s scoring feats in T20 games has earned many admirers, including former Indian captain Virat Kohli. What is remarkable is his ability to score in every match. He didn’t seem to have an off day. A poor day in the office for Yadav would be an sub-50 score.

How runs dried up for Suryakumar Yadav

So mesmerising was his batting that Yadav was named to the Indian team for One-Day Internationals and Test series. He did play the ODI series against Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Australia but couldn’t make the Test playing XI in a middle-order brimming with talent.

Suddenly, Yadav seemed to have lost his touch. The 32-year-old is no longer the run machine, as batting form deserted him. Yadav struggled to put bat to ball, and ducks made an unlikely entry against his name in scoring sheets.

On Tuesday, the Mumbai Indians beat the Delhi Capitals in the game between the basement teams in the IPL 2023 points table. And that match encapsulated Yadav’s troubled times. Usually a safe pair of hands in the outfield, Yadav spilled a straight-forward catch from Axar Patel at the long-on boundary: the ball slipped through his fingers before landing on his face and over the face ropes. Yadav missed the catch, conceded a six and injured his eyebrow.

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The same eyebrow came into play when Yadav batted. He came to the crease when Mumbai’s chase of Delhi’s score was precariously placed. Seamer Mukesh Kumar dug the first ball short to Yadav, and the Mumbai batter swiped it in front of his eyebrow. It was a shot he had played a thousand times with success. It was the same hook shot Yadav played against the first ball he faced in international cricket. It was a bouncer from England pacer Jofra Archer, and that vanished into the stands.

It was a shot that brought Yadav plenty of runs. But not this time. It went into the hands of the fielder at fine-leg. With disbelief writ large on his face, Yadav trudged back to the dugout, thinking that nothing could go right for him at the time. That concern was evident when the television cameras found Yadav deep in conversation with Delhi head coach Ricky Ponting. I’m sure Yadav’s wretched form figured in that discussion.

How Suryakumar Yadav can regain his touch

Ponting can guide Yadav out of his run-drought. As a prolific scorer for Australia, the former captain too had gone through barren spells. All batters do. Recently Kohli emerged from what was said to be a patchy form when he went through three years without a century. Recently, Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma also struggled to post good scores until Delhi bowlers crossed his path.

Most of the time, poor form stems from a lack of confidence. In other cases, errors creep into the batting technique. Or it could be a combination of both. Most coaches recommend a back-to-basics approach. An eagle-eyed coach can spot any flaws in the technique and suggest remedial action. Practice and more games will help restore confidence.

Yadav has plenty of wise heads around him. They will steer him back to his scoring ways. The Mumbai Indians badly need it. The last-ball win against the Delhi Capitals is hardly convincing. They certainly haven’t turned a corner. Captain Sharma has returned to the scoring charts, and Mumbai will need Yadav to step up as well. Or else another miserable campaign is on the cards for the five-time champions.