India have persisted with Suryakumar Yadav the ODI batter due to his potential, but he has not converted the opportunities into performances, and he is now in a race against time to prove himself before the World Cup, writes Naman Agarwal.

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The list of players who have scored more than 1,500 runs in T20Is at a strike rate of more than 175 includes only one name – Suryakumar Yadav. To put into perspective just how otherworldly that is, the next highest strike rate for any batter with more than 1,500 runs in T20Is is nearly 20 runs less than that of ‘SKY’.

To add to that perspective, his T20I runs have come at an average of 46.52. Only two batters who have scored more than 1,500 runs in T20Is have a better average than him: Virat Kohli and Mohammad Rizwan. Both have strike rates of less than 140.

SKY has shown that he can consistently provide the best of both worlds, score extremely quickly, and yet score big regularly – in a format where players often spend their entire careers figuring out the right trade-off between the two.

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It is reasonable to expect that a player who can do that in one format of the game must have the quality to replicate some, if not all of it, in another. That is what the Indian team banked on when they gave provided SKY numerous opportunities in ODIs, hoping him to come good. Unfortunately, he hasn’t yet.

If SKY has been exceptionally good in T20Is, he has somehow managed to be unexpectedly poor in ODIs. After 25 matches and 23 innings, his career tally stands at 476 runs at an average of 23.80. No other specialist batter has batted more than 20 times in the top seven for India in the 21st century with a worse batting average.

Lack of role clarity

SKY’s 23 ODI innings have come at five different positions, between Nos.3  and 7. He started off his ODI career at No.5 and got off to a brilliant start. After six games, he had scored 261 runs at an average of 65.20 and a strike rate of 104.

For a while, it seemed India had found that middle-over hitter who could also take on spin, but things started going downhill after that: in his next 17 innings, he hasn’t managed to score a single fifty and has crossed thirty only twice.

It has not helped that the Indian ODI middle-order batters have been hit by injuries, forcing the team management to move SKY around to fill voids. It has messed with his tempo, resulting in failures, and in turn more shuffling around of the batting order in an attempt to breathe life into his ODI career.

The finisher’s role

With Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant unavailable, India started the three-match ODI series against Australia in March 2023 with SKY as their designated No.4. Two golden ducks later, he was pushed down to No.7 for the third match. While he got another golden duck, there was a feeling that a role in the lower middle order would suit him much better.

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The idea was that coming in to bat in the second half of the innings at six or seven, he would be able to effectively treat the rest of the innings as a T20, which would allow him to pace it to perfection. While it sounds a good plan in theory, India do not have a lot of time left before the World Cup for him to find his feet in that role.

In the second match of the series against West Indies, SKY came in to bat in the 25th over, at 113-4. It was an ideal opportunity for him to play himself in and make it big. The selectors and management seem sold on his abilities and quality as a cricketer and rightly so. One good knock, one big score, and all of it would have been vindicated and the noises would have been shut.

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He got off to a decent start as well, but just like his last few ODI innings, it ended in disappointment when he tried to cut a turning ball from Gudakesh Motie and hit to point. Another tame dismissal.

Running out of time

India have a maximum of 10 ODIs ahead of their first World Cup match against Australia on October 8. In all likelihood, Iyer and KL Rahul should return to the squad and the playing XI by then to bat at four and five, followed by Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja.

This leaves SKY with a handful of opportunities before Iyer and Rahul return, to prove his worth and book a place in the World Cup squad as a finisher and a backup middle-order batter.

India have persisted with him for long, and have not been swayed by his well-below-average numbers. However, he has to provide at least one glimpse, one reminder of what he brings to the table before the World Cup to make it to the tournament. And he does not have a lot of time left to do that.